Monthly Archives: October 2011

Flat rate pricing for HVACR repairs is good for eveybody. And, I do mean everybody: The customer, the service technician, the service company, and the HVACR industry as a whole. Why am I so sure that this is true? I’ll explain…..

Beginning with the customer…. flat rate pricing is a good thing because it means that the customer will never wind up paying for inexperience or incompetence. If a service company is operating on a time and materials system, and the technician is experienced and competent, that’s one thing. But, if the technician is not experienced in a particular repair and takes and takes 90 minutes to accomplish it rather than 30 minutes it would take for an experienced technician to complete that repair, then the customer is not being treated fairly, simply by luck of the draw. However, when a flat rate price for the repair has been established in accordance with the amount of time it would take for a journeyman level technician to complete it, then it doesn’t cost the customer more money if an inexperienced technician who has not yet developed the skills necessary to complete a given repair in the same manner as a journeyman is the one accomplishing the task.

And, the fact of the matter is, when a customer calls on a professional to provide a service, they expect (and are entitled to) nothing less than journeyman level competence.

When people hire a doctor, lawyer, accountant, or dentist, they don’t expect to be dealing with some one who won’t know everything they need to know about medical care, the law, finance and taxes, or teeth, in order to do the absolute best job they can do for their client. And when people hire a technician to troubleshoot and repair their air conditioner or furnace, it’ s no different. They’re hiring a professional, and they expect to get the same level of performance from any professional they hire.

Moving on to the the technician….Flat rate pricing is better for them than a time and materials system because it takes the pressure off then in regard to the job pricing issue, allowing them to concentrate on their job, which is to get the customer’s equipment back on-line. The very nature of a flat rate pricing system lets the technician simply diagnose the problem, then advise the customer as to the total cost of the repair as shown in a flat rate price guide. One of the undeniable facts about many technicians is that they have a tough time understanding the value of the service they provide, and quoting a flat rate price for a repair is more comfortable for them than calculatng what the final price for a repair will be via the time and materials route.

The more experienced a technician becomes, the more uncomfortable they are in pricing their expertise fairly. It’s just too easy for them to forget the amount of effort, practice, and time they invested in becoming an expert in their field, and when they have figured out how to do something in an extremely short period of time, they only see the minutes it takes to do the work. And the end result of this is underpricing a repair.

Which brings me to the contractor, and the obvious benefit to them….revenue. With the revenue generated from a fair and  professional rate for the repairs their company performs for its customers, they are afforded the opportunity to operate their business successfully; covering their expenses and earning a reasonable and deserved profit.

And, the reason this is good for the entire industry is fundamental…..with contractors able to cover their expenses and earn a fair profit, they can offer technicians a higher rate of compensation and benefits, which serves to attact more young and quality people to pursue the HVACR craft.

Until next week….

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

Jim

About twenty years ago, two professors named Richard Bandler and David Grinder, one whose specialty was linguistics, and the other whose field was math, wanted to know why some college freshmen seemed to do well academically while others struggled. And, oh yeah, they pondered this question from the perspective that the students in their study were all of comparable ability, and they weren’t being affected by extra-curricular activities, partying, or any other outside influence. What that (as uncomfortable as it may be for those of us in the teaching profession) left them to consider, was that the only variable in the situation was the instructor. And once they quickly ruled out the conclusions that many people would jump to; factors such as laziness, out-and-out incompetence, or apathy, they looked deeper into to what could be affecting the ability of some students to learn and understand. Then, with an understanding of the fundamental concepts of communicating, Bandler and Grinder applied that knowledge to their study, and formed the basis for a science that became known as Neuro Linguistic Programming…NLP.

Neuro= Brain
Linguistic= Language
Programming=Information Processing System

The underlying principle of NLP is that we all, as individuals, have different processes of communicating, and understanding others when they communicate with us. Our brain employs a specific language for processing information. And, on one hand, when there is a match between two people in communication, the teaching and learning process works well. On the other hand, if there is a mismatch between two people (an instructor and a student) in communication, then the learning process can be negatively affected.

It was no surprise that Bandler and Grinder listed the three fundamental dominant information processing methods we employ when communicating as:
Visual
Auditory
Kinesthetic

Further studies have showed that the most dominant information processing characteristic is visual, with approximately 65% of the population employing that process ahead of the two others to communicate. It has also been determined that auditory learners make up only about 15% of the population, while 20% of us are in the kinesthetic category.
What this boils down to for students is that 65% of them learn best through visual processes, which are fundamentally direct and one-step, such as watching others demonstrating, and having their sight stimulated by colors and illustration. When it comes to auditory learning, though, it becomes a two-step process because it involves a person listening intently, and then developing their own images internally in order to understand fully. And, for a kinesthetic learner, it means they don’t really “get it” until they can touch and feel what they’re making an effort to understand.

Of course, from an overall teaching and learning perspective, we all employ the three basic forms of communication. Bandler and Grinder’s point was that while that is understood, their work showed that each of us leans heaviest on one system as our most dominant information processing characteristic while employing the other two as a supplemental support system. And that’s where the match/mismatch factor comes into play. When an instructor is on a roll and in the zone, the majority of their presentation will be from the perspective of their most dominant information processing characteristic, and they will gain the most rapport with students who share that the same dominant characteristic. For those students who have a different dominant characteristic, gathering information and getting it all aligned in order to understand a concept or a process can be more difficult.  Unless….an instructor considers two factors in the communication process:

1. What their dominant information processing characteristic is.
2. How they can adjust to provide an opportunity for increased matching in the communication process.

The simplest way to begin understanding the science of NLP and the three basic information processing systems is to realize how verbal cues can serve as an indicator of where an individual is coming from relative to communication. If you were to ask the simple generic question, “Do you understand?” and the response you get is, “I see what you mean,” then that person is most likely dominantly visual.
If the answer to the question is, “I hear you,” it could indicate that the person you’re asking is dominantly auditory. And, a kinesthetic person’s response would likely be something along the line of, “I think I’ve got a feel for what you’re talking about.”

Keep in mind that a verbal cue is, as pointed out above, only the very beginning of understanding the science of NLP, communication between instructors and students, and establishing rapport. There is much more to know, and it goes much deeper than simple information processing; into understanding how individuals make sense of the world around them in different ways, and beyond that, into counseling. Bandler and Grinder’s work is well documented, but frankly, many of those texts are, to put it politely, not the most interesting reading on the subject. Beyond those resources, there are several books and audio programs that provide information on a simple and direct approach to NLP, and how it is used to communicate effectively.

Until Next Week…

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

Jim

This will be the last segment of a 10-part series on the subject of learning HVACR. But that doesn’t mean that I, for one moment, think that there can be an end to learning about the HVACR craft, though. Like any industry, there are always new developments in HVACR, and the people who maintain and troubleshoot air conditioning and refrigeration systems will, almost every day, encounter a heat pump, gas furnace, or some other type of equipment that gives them pause because they haven’t seen anything exactly like it before. So, the learning never stops.

Are there some technicians working in HVACR who either don’t or won’t understand this concept? Yes, there are some, and as an entry-level technician, you may enounter one from time to time. Here’s some advice for you: If, when you are hired on your first job and assigned to ride with a lead tech for a while, and on your first day out, that person turns to you and says, “Don’t worry about a thing, Kid. I know everything you need to know about this business,” then I suggest that you jump out of the vehicle at the first opportunity, because you’re riding around with a crazy person who is not only unaware of reality, but is also dangerous.

Kidding aside, though….once you’ve decided on a career in HVACR, your next decision is about how you’re going to learn what you need to know and be able to do what you need to do in order to get paid for doing it. And, in this series I’ve provided some detail on the different avenues you can take to get the training and knowledge you need.

There’s the proprietary, for-profit trade school, the community college, and the university. Which route you’ll choose will depend on many factors.

If your goal is to work in the installation and service segments of HVACR, a reputable trade school offering a certificate program that is full-time (meaning that you’ll be attending at least 4 days a week for at least 6 hours a day) can effectively prepare you, via the proper blend of classroom and hands-on lab time, to be an entry level technician in about 6 months. And the price of a such a program will likely be somewhere North of $10,000 these days, which is why the school you’re considering should be able to say that “financial aid is available to those who qualify” in their advertising.

Community colleges also offer certificate programs, and while the price will be lower, the amount of time it takes to complete a program will often be longer, due to the different type of scheduling. And, since a community college is, by definition, an academic institution, you may be required to take some courses that are not exactly HVACR-related in order to earn your certificate. (Not that taking a Writing 101 or other basic academic class is a bad thing. Being able to communicate effectively and have a grasp of mathematics/algebra is important for an HVACR technician.)

When it comes to degree programs, you’ll find applied technology degrees offered by private schools, and associate degrees offered by community colleges. In my opinion, an effective degree program builds on certificate training and provides a well-rounded curriculum in regard to equipment design and load estimating, as well as more advanced concepts on climate control in commercial applications.

Beyond the associate level or applied technology degree, a four-year degree from a univeristy may be what you decide to pursue. This, of course, is more from an engineering and design perspective. You don’t often find people with a Bachelor’s Degree running service calls, troubleshooting equipment problems, and performing hands-on tasks. If this is the route you decide to take, you may also consider the idea of starting out at a community college for your first two years, then transferring to a university. It’s my experience that this can be a very effective way to pursue a four-year degree for many people.

In the often strange, yet wonderful world of academia, things that shouldn’t get in the way of a person’s education, often do, especially when they are in their first two years of college. I recall a time quite a few years back when I was facilitating a program that prepared individuals for work in the community college system, being asked what the real difference was between a community college and a university. My response was, “The major difference between a community college and  university is the number of snobs per square foot. They’re much thicker in a university.”

I hope this series has provided you with the information and insight you need as you consider getting into the HVACR industry, and whatever route you decide to take in getting your education, I wish you success in your endeavor.

Until next week….

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

Jim

 

In previous posts on this subject I touched on the idea of what contractors expect from trade school graduates. In this segment, I’ll take that idea a bit further by discussing some specific comments contractors submitted to a survey. This survey was conducted by Steve Coscia who is the author of a book on soft skills for technicians, and also provides training materials on the subject for schools and colleges. The focus of the survey was on the kind of job that HVACR training programs have been doing in the opinion of contractors.

In the survey, I counted 185 total responses, and found the following:

60 of those responding said that schools needed to spend more time on training in soft skills. Some of these  references mentioned communication skills specifically, and others referred specifically to  sales skills.  From my view, the bottom line on all of these responses could be listed under the label of “People Skills”, or “Customer Service Skills”, or “Professionalism”.

34 of those responding said that graduates needed more hands-on training during their training programs so they would be more ready to function in the “real world” of HVACR servicing.

7 of those responding said that the schools needed to make sure that graduates would be realistic in their understanding of what they would earn on their first job. The general consensus among these respondents was that schools sometimes over-inflate what a graduate would earn in order to convince them to enroll in the training program.

The balance of the responses were more general in nature, so I’m going to concentrate only on the ones I’ve listed above.

Just in case you missed it….note that more contractors were concerned about customer service and people skills training than anything else. What this says is that while technical skills are important for HVACR technicians, it’s just as important that a technician visiting a customer’s home or place of business is professional, and has the ability to communicate well with the customer and leave them with the feeling that they made the right choice in choosing their service contractor.

Regarding the unrealistic expectations of graduates, I hold schools responsible if they turn out a graduate who doesn’t understand that even through have have completed a six-month, one-year training program, or two-year degree program, that they are still an entry-level technician. And, as an entry level technician, one simply cannot expect to be earning journeyman level wages right out of the gate.

On the more hands-on issue….in my opinion, there’s only just so much a school can do. There’s simply no way to cover the aspects of all the specific troubleshooting and service situations a technician may encounter in the field, so some of this may be an unrealistic expectation on the part of the contractor. On the other hand, if a school doesn’t provide the right learning opportunities, then it is a valid complaint.

There were a few other comments in the survey that I want to mention: (I’ve listed them here without any editing for grammar, punctuation, etc…)

“Finishing a trade school is only the beginning of there education”…… On this one, I whole-heartedly agree. Anybody who thinks they don’t have something to learn just about every day in the HVACR service business needs to wake up and smell the coffee, because that’s how it is.

“Make SURE that the student learns a process to diagnose HVAC systems or he is only going to be qualified to change filters”…. I also agree with this opinion. The graduate who doesn’t understand how to determine the correct operating sequence for a piece of equipment, then be able to find out where the problem in the sequence is, won’t be able to function fully as a troubleshooter.

“Eliminate the personal opinions of teachers who could not make it in the real world”….. I hear this comment from time to time from those who work in the HVACR field, and usually, the profile of the individual who would say this is one who had no, or very little, opportunity for formal training, and they are intimidated by anyone else who either has field experience along with the skill to teach HVACR, or a graduate who has completed a certificate or degree program. Of course, there could be exceptions to this profile…..

Until next week…

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

Jim

 

The majority of learning about HVACR is technical. There’s no doubt about that. And, most of what I’ve been discussing in this series has focused on that….how to do you decide how you’re going to be able to learn the technical stuff you need to know. Things like actually being able to track down the source of a problem with the operation of a piece of equipment, and, in the end, get paid for getting it running again. I don’t know if we can really measure and attach a percentage to the technical side of being an HVACR technician and compare it to the soft skills side, but I would guess it would be pretty high. Let’s say that it’s 90% of what you do. That leaves only 10% for what’s referred to as the soft skills a person needs in order to do their job.

OK, it’s a 90-10 situation. But that doesn’t mean that since it’s only 10 percent of what we do that it’s not of major importance. As a matter of fact, the way I look at it is that even though it’s “only” 10 percent, not doing it well will mean that, in the end, you won’t be able to effectively accomplish the other 90 percent of doing your job. So while you’re learning HVACR from an electrical, refrigeration, air flow, and mechanical perspective, invest in developing your soft skills too.

If you’re in residential HVACR, this boils down to what I call direct-and-to-the-point, front-line customer service. If you’re in commercial arena of HVACR, it still means front-line customer service, and the only difference is that the people you interact with may not be spending money directly from their own pocket (although they may be if it’s a small restaurant, bar, or independently-owned convenience store), but it’s still you interacting with the people who have asked you to perform a service for them. And even it it’s not their own money, it’s still their job to be responsible for spending the company’s money.

In the process of learning about soft skills, here are five simple facts I think you should keep in mind:

1. Showing up well-dressed in a uniform, as neat and clean as you can be, even though you’ve just spent the last two hours in a dirty, dusty, heat-choked crawl space, is where your customer service begins. Along with arriving in a lettered service vehicle so you’re customer won’t wonder if you might be an axe murderer.

2. If you think nose rings are cool, or that ‘this is a free country, damn it, and I should be able to have my hair down to my shoulders without being hassled by somebody about it’,  that’s your right. I won’t deny that. But, if there’s a chance that it might make your customer uncomfortable for whatever reason you don’t agree with, don’t be surprised if being stubborn about your right to look however you want to look has an effect on your ability to make all the money you deserve to make by being good at what you do in the HVACR profession, and, in the end, affect how happy you will be with yourself  at the end of every work day, work week, month, or at the end of the quarter when it’s time to cash your bonus check.

3. Introducing yourself to a customer, being polite, smiling, and telling them your name, and being ready to shake their hand if it’s appropriate, doesn’t make you a slimy, sneaky, sales type. It’s part of your job as a technical professional.

4. Wearing shoe covers that are often referred to as “booties” doesn’t mean you’re a weenie. It means that you’re showing the customer that you have respect for their home or office by not tramping through it with your dirty, greasy, oil-stained work boots. (And, in order to get respect from somebody, show respect for them.)

5. Taking the time to explain to your customer what you did and why you did it is just as important to them as it is to get their equipment working again. If you aren’t comfortable talking with customers, learn how to get comfortable with it.

Until next week….

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

Jim

 

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