Monthly Archives: July 2011

One of the aspects of being a technical professional is providing customer service in the process of doing what we do relative to troubleshooting and reparing HVAC equipment. And, providing customer service means that in addition to accomplishing our assigned “hands-on” tasks, part of our job is to sell to the customer. No doubt, some technicians will bristle at the thought that they are engaging in any type of sales process, but, whether they want to admit or not, in order to do their job well, they are, in addition to being a technician, a salesperson.

The reason many technicians have a problem with what I just said above, is that they are part of a society that often presents people who sell goods or services for a living in a negative light. It’s true. Pay close attention to a T.V. commercial that features a “typical” salesperson sometime, and what you’ll note is that terms like smarmy, pushy, dishonest, etc…will come to mind. And it isn’t just modern media that propagates this character. It’s been this way for a long time. In the classic play “The Music Man” the music teacher decides that in order to get parents to buy the instruments needed for lessons, he’ll convince them that if they don’t make the necessary purchase, their kids will go straight to hell. Now, that’s hard sell, isn’t it?

And what about the long-ago T.V. sit-com “WKRP In Cincinnati”.

In that show there was a cast of characters….a couple of cool guys who were disc jockeys, a relatively incompetent but harmless station manager, a weatherman/sports guy who didn’t get much respect, a blonde receptionist….and a sneaky schnook of a guy who wore the same sports jacket to work every day, spent a good deal of his time leering at, and making pitiful (and obviously hopeless) moves on the receptionist, and was just in general depicted in a negative light. And, what was his job at the station? He was the salesperson.

And, it goes on….used car salesmen are depicted as ripping people off, insurance salesmen are considered a relentless nuisance who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, etc, etc, etc….

Well, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be a technical professional and a sales professional at the same time whether you’re just making sure the customer understands what they’re paying for when it comes to their purchase of the parts, supplies, and your expertise in the process of getting equipment repaired, or whether you’re offering them additional services or products in an add-on sales presentation, or, you’re explaining what’s in it for them when they say yes to the  purchase and installation of new equipment. The bottom line is that it all comes down to intent.

If your intent is to make as much money or earn as much commission as possible while providing goods and services to a customer, then, yes, that’s being a “typical salesperson”. But, if you honestly believe that what you are offering provides good value for the customer’s money spent (no matter what the ‘price’ is) and that they’ll benefit from their purchase from you, then, yes, you are engaged in the process of professional selling. You’re completing the sale that the company you work for or own started via marketing and advertising efforts and scheduling of a service call; you’re selling yourself; you’re selling the price and value of the repair you’re accomplishing; you’re selling the customer on the idea that they no longer have to search for someone to take care of their HVAC equipment repair and maintenance needs because you’re now their go-to person for all that. And, you’re selling when you make them aware of additional products or services they can purchase in order to have more peace of mind and be more comfortable.

Yes, you’re a salesperson. And when you tell someone that part of what you do is “sell”, you’re not using a “four-letter word”.

 Until next week…..

Jim Johnson

Learn from yesterday….Live for today….Look forward to tomorrow

 

In Part 1 of this discussion, I brought up the issue of taking or starting over as a service manager and introduced the idea of preparing three memos. No doubt, preparing and distributing these memos to your people takes courage, but courage is something that a true leader posseses, along with other qualities. John W. Gardner, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare directed a leadership study project in Washington D.C. and identified five characteristics that defined the differences between “run of the mill” supervisors and supervisors who not only manage, but also lead their teams.

…..Long-term thinking beyond the day-to-day tasks that need to be handled.

…..Interest in all other departments within their organization, understanding how all departments affect one another in the function of the entire organization.

 …..Operating according to a strict code of values, maintaining a long-term vision and motivating others positively.

 …..Always being willing to work cooperatively with other supervisors and departments.

 …..Not accepting the status quo.

All these are important, but I want to focus on the last one when it comes to preparing your three memos….not accepting the status quo.

Status quo…..thats the way things have always been done here ….nobody else has ever done this here…..etc….etc…etc… When you decide to prepare and present your three memos, you’re not living by the status quo….and as an effective service manager, you shouldn’t be.

As I mentioned, the three memos are on the following subects: What I Stand For, What I Won’t Stand For, and What I Expect From You. And, what you put into these memos is simply identified by the subject. If you believe that your organization is bound by ethics to provide the best service possible, always be honest and above-board, never cutting corners on any job, then that’s what you stand for. Put that in the What I Stand For memo.

When it comes to your What I Won’t Stand For memo, think about the things you simply won’t tolerate. It could be something as simple as those business cartoons, sayings, or jokes people like to collect and post in their office….you know, things like a sign that says “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps!” and other negative things that I personally won’t tolerate because I know the effect it has on an organization and the people in it…. or it could be something more serious than that. Whatever it is, it’s what you won’t stand for, and it’s one of the things that your people have a right to know about you so they can do the best job they can do.

As far as your What I Expect From You memo, consider that some things that we take for granted may need to be listed, such as showing up for work on time on Monday regardless of whether or not the weekend was a wonderful party. Or, you could list every point that’s important to you regarding how your customers will be treated by everyone in your organization.

The important thing to remember is that these three memos are yours, and you are one who needs to decide exactly what goes into them. And, keep in mind that once you have them accomplished, and your people have an understanding of who you are and how you want things done, they’re not chiseled in stone. Things change, and an effective leader changes along with things when necessary. So, if a year has gone by and you feel the need to distribute three new memos, go ahead.

Jim

In a service environment, it often happens that a technician gets promoted to a service management position because of excellent technical skills. Unfortunately, that troubleshooting and service expertise isn’t the only skill set someone needs to be an effective service manager.

If you’re into looking at things from a numbers perspective, here are the percentages regarding successful service management:

People Skills………..85%            Technical Skills……….15%

The way I see the numbers above is that they’re a reversal of what it takes to be an effective technician who is running service calls every day and providing customer service. So, yes, a newly appointed service manager has some people skills, but they need training and information above and beyond their experience level of personal interaction from a customer service perepective. Without some kind of guidance, someone who is new at service management often winds up vacillating between being a pushover or a tyrant, depending on the situation at hand and their level of frustration at the moment….especially if they are supervising a group of former co-workers.

What to do?…..I suggest developing a plan for taking or starting over that shows that, as a supervisor, you’re fair, but firm; that you’re not a tyrant with a complete lack of respect for those who report to you, but you’re not a Casper Milquetoast either.

One perspective on this is: The Three Memos

Like any aspect of leadership, this will take courage on your part, and you can expect to get a variety of reactions from the people you supervise, mostly because they’ve never experienced supervision from this perspective. The three memos have a direct and to-the-point format and leave no doubt as to your level of commitment to doing the best job you can do as a service manager, and they leave no doubt that you expect the same level of commitment from your people.

The subjects of the three memos are:

1. What I Stand For

2. What I Won’t Stand For

3. What I expect From You

With these three memos carefully and thoughtfully prepared, and handed out in the order above at your next meeting, you’ll be on your way to making that 85/15 transition to effective service managment. I’ll discuss the specifics on what can be in each of these memos next time.

Jim

Learn from yesterday…..Live for today……Look forward to tomorrow

If you’re thinking of getting into business for yourself in the HVACR field, are you going to be a licensed contractor, or do you plan to operate as un-licensed as far as your state’s contractor registration agency is concerned?

If you plan to be licensed, there are certain requirements you have to meet. One, is to accomplish the specific exam required in your state. Often,this exam requires that you have knowledge not just about how to repair an air conditioner, but also about the business end of the business…things like what the process would be to file a lien on a property if you weren’t paid for your services, etc…and other legal issues, rules and regulations.

Another requirement may be documentation of a given amount of time you’ve been working in the HVACR trade as a technician. In Arizona, for example, you have to be able to document four years of field experience before you’re allowed to sit for the exam.  And, of course, there are fees, usually in the hundreds of dollars that need to be paid upon your application for the exam, and then, there’s the exam itself.

Like any test or exam that you take, a contractor’s exam can only be accomplished with a passing score if you’re either so incredibly familiar with the topics on the exam via your work experience (not very likely for anybody), or you’ve taken the time to study on the specific topics of the exam. In many cases, the state will provide you with information on the subjects discussed on the exam so you’ll have some idea on what you need to study up on, but that’s no guarantee you’ll pass the first time around.

There are companies who specialize in preparing you to take a contractor’s exam. Some offer you the “no pass, no pay” guarantee, which means that you could be spending some time (intense time) reviewing practice questions, or perhaps memorizing certain information. The fee these companies charge varies, as well as the amount of time you’ll spend with them. In some cases, an exam preparation company will guarantee that they will prepare you for as many re-takes as necessary for you to get a passing score on the exam.  Signing up for a preparation class, seminar or workshop is like anything else you purchase. Do your research and ask questions to make sure it’s right for you.

This idea of intense preparation for a contractor’s exam often brings up a question: If someone lived in a state that didn’t require experience documentation, would it be possible for someone who didn’t have a great deal of competency in the troubleshooting and repair of HVAC equipment to just cram for the exam, and pass it?

The answer to the above question is, yes, it’s possible.

Learn from yesterday… Live for today… Look forward to tomorrow.

Jim

In Part 1 of the posts on this subject, I mentioned briefly that some states require technician licensing and others do not. That, as I said was technician licensing, meaning a technician who is employed by an HVAC contractor, not to be confused with being a licensed contractor.

The specific requirements, rules and regulations, in the same way that they vary from one state to another in regard to technician licensing, can be different in one state than they are in another. Basically, though, there is a simple way to look at the process….simply that somebody who has a business that:

A. Receives a request for a repair service  on a given piece of HVAC equipment from a customer.

B. Goes to the customer’s home or business and replaces parts and repairs the equipment.

C. Collects money for doing so.

…..then that somebody may be a licensed contractor, or maybe they’re not.

Basically there are some limitations for somebody who chooses to operate as an un-licensed contractor. In some states, that difference is that you can perform service and repairs for a customer up to a certain dollar amount, like $400, $500, or maybe even $600, in some states. If the price of the repair is higher than the dollar amount limit in your state, then you can’t legally perform the work. You have to be a licensed contractor.

This dollar amount limitation (as well as other rules and regulations in some states) fundamentally excludes an un-licensed contractor from performing a new equipment installation or an equipment replacement. Getting a gas furnace only replaced, for example, will likely exceed the dollar limit in just about any state, which means that replacing or installing a complete split system or package unit air conditioning unit would certainly be far beyond the allowed dollar amount for an un-licensed contractor.

In some states, if you’re an un-licensed contractor, your advertising has to say so, yet, in some states, there may be no such requirement, which brings me to an appropriate time to disuss a bit about what “licensed” really maans. I’ve been in conversations in which somebody has referred to themselves as a “licensed contractor” because they purchased a business license that was required (for tax collection purposes) by the city they were in and/or they registered for a required state tax license. Does that mean in any way, shape or form that the licensing they referred to was a guarantee that they were competent and could troubleshoot and repair an air conditioner?

Likely not, though in some locations, a person may have to show a limited amount of understanding about the workings of the business they are getting a license to run, while in some cases, the only requirement is the fee for the licensing. This is not to say that each and every person who operates an HVACR repair business as an in-licensed contractor is totally inept and will not be able to perform even the most basic repair a refrigeration system or troubleshoot an electrical problem in an HVAC system.

On the other side of the service and repair contractor coin is the licensed contractor, sometimes referred to as a registered contractor, or advertises their business as being “licensed, bonded and insured.” Becoming a bonified licensed contractor obviously takes more time an expense than being an un-licensed business operator, and I’ll discuss that issue in the next segment of my blog.

Jim

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