Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News is a weekly newsmagazine for the HVACR contractor covering residential and commercial contracting, and the article below by Ron Rajecki, Refrigeration Editor, provides some insight on service management.
If you’re a service manager, there’s a good chance that one of the reasons you’re in that position is because you were good at something else – such as installing, servicing, or troubleshooting equipment. By demonstrating strong skills in the technical world, you were considered a good candidate to move into a management position. And that’s great.
“Unfortunately, there’s a flaw in this process,” said Jim Johnson, president, Technical Training Associates (www.techtrainassoc.com): dealing with people is a whole different world than dealing with equipment.”
“Many service managers are promoted to their positions without a great deal of training and preparation in the areas of communication skills, customer service, dealing with different personalities, managing people, or leading a team,” Johnson said in a presentation at a recent meeting of the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES).
Johnson presented what he called some “hard facts” service managers must face:
• Management is not a popularity contest.
• Management is not easy – that’s why some people either don’t do it well or don’t do it at all.
• The biggest personal challenge many supervisors face is overcoming fears – both their own, and the fears of the people who work for them. These can include fear of change, fear of failure, and fear of not having control over one’s own life.
• People don’t want to be managed, they want a leader. And a leader must lead by example. That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect all the time, just prepare for it to be noticed when you’re not.
• Being an effective supervisor takes dedication, hard work, being open to constant self-examination, and a willingness to hear what others have to offer you in the way of advice, suggestions, or even criticism. Throughout all that, a service manager or service supervisor must be confident about his or her own skills and abilities.
BE CLEAR WITH YOUR TEAM
According to Johnson, with most people, what you expect is exactly what you’re going to get. That’s why he suggested that service managers clearly address three items with their team.
“I think every service manager should create three memos and present them to the individuals he or she supervises,” Johnson said. “One is titled, ‘What I stand for,’ the second is titled, ‘What I won’t stand for,’ and third is, ‘What I expect from you.’”
Being clear in these three areas will help prevent surprises for you or your team, he noted, and from a service manager’s perspective, surprises are almost always good things to avoid.
ADVICE FROM THE TRENCHES
Jeremy Noll oversees nearly 50 residential technicians and 38 commercial technicians in his role as service manager at Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning in Rochester, NY.
He said the formula to successfully running a service department is to hire the right people in the first place, provide excellent training, and then empower them to make the best decisions possible.
“The only way to run two large service departments like we have here is to empower our people and then enable them, and by that I mean stay out of their way,” Noll said.
“Honesty is another good quality for a service manager,” Noll added.
“Let people know where they stand and what the expectations are,” he said. “It’s a two-way relationship and relationships don’t always work, but if you’ve always been honest with a technician then there shouldn’t be any surprises. Finally, be open to change. That’s part of the culture at Isaac and it makes the service manager’s job not only easier, but more fun.”
“There’s nothing better than an employee walking into my office with a new idea,” Noll said. “Whether it works or not is another thing, but without new ideas you never move forward.”
“Communication is the key when it comes to running a service department,” said Joey Brown, service manager at Tempo Mechanical in Dallas. “You should be in regular communication with your manager,” he suggested, “because it is important first to know what’s expected of you. Then communicate clearly what you expect from your technicians.”
Joey realizes that in any workplace there’s always the possibility issues will arise, and an open communication environment becomes even more important. Technicians must know you’re available to be their “sounding board” when they need one.
“You want to make your service department a happy, healthy place to work,” Brown said. “If you hear of or sense a difficult situation in the making, or maybe just spot a technician who looks disinterested in a meeting, reach out to that person and keep the lines of communication open. It might be that that person is unhappy with something job-related such as the on-call rotation, or it could be a personal problem totally unrelated to the workplace. Either way, be proactive or let them know that you’ll do what you can to help. In many cases, all people really need to know that their voice will be heard and that you care about them as a person.”
Kim O’Connor, service manager at Air Comfort in Chicago, said ensuring great customer satisfaction is among her most important roles.
O’Connor told The NEWS she calls a customer as soon as she is made aware that a problem exists, and ask the customer to provide details of what occurred so that she has a clear point of view from the customer’s standpoint.
“I let them know I will check into and get back to them and give a specific time frame for the return call,” O’Connor said. “I contact the technician(s) involved to review information and then determine what needs to happen to get us back on track. I do my best to call the customer at least a half hour before the designated time so he or she understands that their concerns are important to us. If a return visit is needed I also make sure I call the customer back once we have completed the call to ensure everything is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction.”
A COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE
Johnson concluded by offering a six-part “commitment to excellence” that service managers can live by and share with their teams. At its heart is the idea that the field personnel don’t work for the service manager, he or she works for them, and it is the service manager’s job to make sure the field team has everything they need to do their jobs well.
1. I will move heaven and earth in order to help the people on my team do what they need to do and get it done when it’s supposed to be done.
2. I will consistently work to allow each and every person on my team to learn, grow, and develop as professionals, so they will be enriched in both their professional and personal lives.
3. I will always have one person in training to replace me.
4. I will require commitments from everyone on my team and hold them accountable to those commitments.
5. I will be willing to take responsibility and make the tough decisions, no matter what the circumstances and no matter who is involved.
6. I will regularly ask everyone on my team, “How can I make your job easier?” and “How can I help you do a better job?”
There is no one answer to dealing with all the complexities of running an HVAC service department. But being clear what you want and expect from your people and understanding what they want and expect from you will go a long way toward making things run smoothly more often than not.
If you’re not a subscriber to ACHR News, the information above is a good reason for you to consider adding this weekly publication to your list of trade magazines.
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