Jim Johnson

Technicians are known for being technicians. They troubleshoot….they fix things….they solve problems for people. And, in some cases, technicians who do all these things for people sometimes find it uncomfortable (or even downright difficult) to communicate with the people they do these things for….their customer.

As an HVAC technician, consider the idea that developing your communication skills can be accomplished in the same way you developed the skills you needed to read schematic diagrams or evaluate refrigeration systems. In the same way that the things you needed to learn about electricity and vapor compression systems are rooted in understanding the science behind them (things like the laws of thermodynamics and heat transfer and Ohm’s Law, or example) there is a science in learining how to communicate effectively with others. One segment of this science is known as NLP, which stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming. It was first brought to light be two university professors who wanted to know why some students did well in learning from certain teachers, while others didn’t.

These two professors figured that the problem had to be with the way in which people communicated. Some students ‘connected’ with certain teachers, while others didn’t. They referred to the results of their work as NLP because it means simply that everybody’s brain…Neuro, has a certain language…..Linguistic, that allows them to understand and use information……Programming.

On a very fundamental level, the science of NLP explains that people are dominant in one of three ways in their speech patterns. Some are dominantly visual in the way they make sense of things and speak, while others are dominantly auditory, and some people are dominantly kinesthetic. What this means is that visual people use visual words when they speak…..”I see what you mean”, for example.  A dominantly visual person expressing the same thought wouldn’t use that phrase. Instead, they would say, “I hear you.” And, a domintly kinesthetic person, one who ‘feels’ about things rather than hears or sees, would say, “I think I’ve got a feel for what you’re saying,”

The idea I want you to get about all three of these types of people is that they’re all saying the same thing: “I understand.” And when you realize that people, depending on their dominant verbal communiction characteristic, will say the same thing in different ways, you begin to understand that in order to communicate effectively and ‘connect’ with your customer, you can listen closely to them, then use the same kinds of words they use to respond. This makes it easier for your customer to understand you, and trust you. And, all relationships, including the one between a technician and customer, are built on trust.

If you’re a kinesthetic person (and, if you’re a technician, you likely are), and you’re communicating with a visually oriented person, rather than saying, “Here’s what you need to know in order to get a grip on what we need to do here so your air conditioning unit will get fixed”, you would be communicating more effectively if you simply said, “Let me show you what we need to do”. And the end result of that adjustment on your part is that your customer will feel more comfortable with you and what service you are providing for them.

The overall science of NLP has a wide range of characteristics and processes, but you can learn more about the fundamentals you need to know in order to help you communicte with your customers. A wide variety of books and audio programs are available on the subject. Do a search and find the study material that would work best for you, and develop your NLP skills.

Jim

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

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

Here at Technical Training Associates, we get inquiries on a regular basis from people who are interested in “getting into the business” as they say, and they’re looking for training on how to perform the electrical troubleshooting and refrigeration system servicing tasks required of a technician who services air conditioning equipment. Their profile, pretty much exclusively male, varies somewhat when it comes to background, and experience, and age.

“I’ve been an electrician (or carpenter, or plumber, or another trade of choice) for years, and I’ve been thinking about getting into the A/C business”,  is one profile, while there are others who are younger,currently in fast food, retail, truck driving, or something else totally unrelated to a trade or craft.

Regardless of their age and background, they are usually calliing because they’ve been doing an on-line search for something like “air conditioning training” or “air conditioning school”, or maybe even “air conditioning training videos” because they’ve already made the decision not to go to a trade school or community college for their training, but instead want to learn on their own at home.

And, also regardless of their profile, they often have other questions beyond the technnical side of the the HVAC, or HVACR if you prefer, business. Questions  (and often some false assumptions about) licensing and/or certifications required for employment, or for becoming independently employed in HVAC repair and service are common. And in some cases, we even get questions about whether or not the HVACR business is a good business to get into, employment-wise as far as avoiding seasonal layoffs, or business-wise as far as, well, being able to find enough business to stay in business.

Yes, it’s quite a conundrum for those not familiar with the HVAC craft and the business of it, and there’s so much to know…..but in this, and the segments of this blog to follow, I’ll do what I can to educate those who are uninitiated regarding the specifics of “getting into the A/C service business”, dispel some of the myths that are common to our craft, and, if nothing else, help someone decide that the HVAC business isn’t for them.

I’ll begin by addressing the question of licensing…..for a company-employed technician, not an independent operator.

The answer to the question, “What kind of license do I need?” or the statement/question of assumption, “I need to get licensed, so what do I do?” is, it depends on what state you’re in.

Some states, such as Kentucky, require that any technician who performs service on air conditioning equipment must obtain a license. And, there may also be a requirement, such as there is in Kentucky, that every technician working in this field needs to complete a given number of hours of continuing education annually in order to renew that license. Other states may have no requirement whatsoever for somebody who is employed as an A/C  service technician.

Note that what I’m talking about here is “Licensing” not “Certification”. They are two completely different subjects. Obtaining a certification, whether it’s a trade or industry certification, or government-required one, involves testing to demonstrate competency. That’s pretty much a given. When it comes to technician licensing, though, there may be some testing involved, and then again, maybe not. In some cases, the only requirement to get technician-licensed as an employee to begin with, is to pay the required fee.

To figure out where you fit in regarding the subject of technician license requirement, do some research. There are several HVAC-related sites that you can visit and ask questions about what’s required (or not) to get started as an A/C technician in your particular state, and if there’s one thing you can take to the bank about those in the HVACR community, there is always someone willing to respond to your inquiry on a thread or discussion board about “getting into the HVAC business”…..that is, if you’re serious about it….more on that later.

If you visit the Links page on this site, you’ll find someplace to get started on your quest for information.

Part 2 next week….

Jim

Some technicians, and some service company owners, are of the opinion that consumers don’t care about certifications; that all they are interested in is getting their equipment fixed and getting it fixed at the lowest price possible. Well, no doubt there are some consumers that fit that profile, but, as in any situation, painting everyone and everything with the same broad brush is, to put it simply, just not the right way to go.

To look at this fairly and with a common sense approach, consider the idea that consumers actually fit into one of two fundamental categories. They are either shoppers, or they are customers.

What’s the difference between the two?

A shopper’s primary focus is price. A customer’s primary focus is value.  And that, as they say, is all there is ’cause there ain’t no more.

So, the shopper fits the profile of a consumer who doesn’t care about technician certification (though, when pressed, will likely admit to being caring about technician competency) and their primary concern is getting service or repairs accomplished at the lowest possible price.  Why does a person take this approach? It might be that they just don’t have the funds in the form of cash, money in their checking account, or via a credit card to pay for professional service. Or, it may be that they believe that the above is true when it actually isn’t. Whatever the case, there’s no reason to spend any more time thinking about this type of consumer. Instead, focus on consumers who fit into the customer category, someone who understands that what they want is a good value for their money spent.

A customer does care about technician certification. Certainly, they won’t have a complete idea of what it takes for a technician to earn a certification, but they understand the basic concept of certification and they will, by nature consider it a benchmark of credibility. For example, if they notice that the technician who has come to their home to service their air conditioning system has a NATE (North American Technician Excllence) patch on their shirt, they may ask what it stands for. And, they’ll likely accept the explanation without questioning whether or not it is credible.

They won’t think to ask “So what is this NATE? Are they an organization that the state or federal government oversees in order to make sure that the certifications they grant are the real thing?” 

Or, they may not even bother to ask what the letters stand for, or for any explanation of any kind, simply assuming that it must indicate that the technician is competent and will be able to get their system up and running again because, after all that’s what they agreed to pay for when they called a reputable service company.

The point is, yes, customers do care about technician certification, not just the lowest price possible for a repair.

Jim

Beyond the relatively minor confusion that we sometimes see in regard to HVAC and appliance technicians and the structure of certification programs, there is the consumer; the person who calls and requests service on their furnace,comfort cooling system, refrigerator, washing machine, etc… and assumes that the technician who shows up will be capable, competent, and, if necessary, certified.

Sounds reasonable enough.

However, in some cases, the “certification” that consumers assume is there….well, just isn’t. Consider these two scenarios:

A consumer sees a van for an appliance service company, and, in addition to the company name and contact information shown on the vehicle, the term “Certified Technicians” is listed. What is the customer’s impression of this listing, and what assumptions are, for the most part, automatic? Often, it is that when one of the technicians from this service company shows up to fix whatever specific make and model of appliance that needs repaired, he or she is certified (trained, informed, and tested) on that particular appliance or category of appliance. Well, in this scenario, that’s not what the “certified” listing means.

In this case, the appliance service company paid about $25 per technician to take an open-book, 50 multiple-choice question exam (Type 1 for technicians who service refrigeration systems containing less than 5 lbs. of refrigerant with a hermetically sealed refrigeration system is the formal definition of this EPA certification exam on refrigerant handling) and thereby listed on their van that the technicians they employ are “certified”. This certification is, as the EPA definition states, related to safe and legal practices regarding refrigerant handling and requirements for evacuating and charging refrigeration systems, and proper methods of leak testing a refrigeration system. It doesn’t speak to a technician’s comptency related to any other aspect of servicing appliances…not servicing the electrical and air flow systems in a refrigerator; not for servicing gas or electric ranges, or washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashsers, etc….it’s related to refrigerant handling only.

For our second scenario, this one on the HVAC side of service, the situation is similar. The difference is that the exam is closed-book and can be only 50 questions if the technician is becoming certified in what is known as Type 2 equipment (high-pressure refrigeration systems with more than 5 lbs. of refrigerant) rather than Type 1 equipment. Or, it could be that the technician accomplished a 100 multiple-choice question exam that covers not only Type 1, but also Type 2 and Type 3 equipment (low pressure refrigeration systems), which means the technician is considered to be certified as a Universal Technician.

In either case, the “certified” term can be earned by taking an exam related only to the EPA rules and regulations relative to safe and legal refrigerant handling practices.

Now, if in either case, the listing on the side of the service vehicle stated “Factory Trained Technicians”, that would mean something more than what I’ve described above, and consumers need to be aware of the difference between the two descriptions that are supposed to be an indicator of technician competency….though, again, not exactly what the consumer may assume.

There’s more to talk about on the issue of technician certification, and I’ll continue my rant on this subject in my next post.

Jim

On a fairly regular basis, I find that there is some confusion about technician certification in the HVAC industry, and I’m not just talking about consumers.  For example, some technicians who work in the air conditioning and refrigeration business are of the impression that they are required to hold a certification on R-410A in order to work on those refrigeration systems. Not true.

The confusion on this issue likely comes about from a misunderstanding about the two types of certification categories that exist relative to the HVAC industry. These categories are:

1. Those required by federal or state law.

2. Those that are industry-sponsored certifications and are voluntary; not required by any federal or state law.

The most common in the required certification category, of course, is the EPA Section 608 refrigerant handlng certification that is required of every technician who performs service on refrigeration systems. It is simply a violation of the Clean Air Act of 1990 to connect a set of gauges to a refrigeration system, add refrigerant to a system, etc…without being certified

In the second category are certifications that technicians can take a test to earn, and their purpose is to demonstrate  competency. The R410A certification I mentioned above is one example of this type of certification. NATE (North American Technician Excellence) certifications also fit into this category.

Both types of certifications serve a purpose. One brings a technician into accordance with law, and the other provides an opportunity for a technician to improve his or her understanding of their craft (after all, one just doesn’t sit down and take a closed-book exam without some preparation and learning), and then convey their higher level of competency to their customers.

My stance on voluntary, industry-sponsored certification is that, while it may not be required by law, every technican should pursue it in order to improve their skills, provide the best possible customer service, and raise the standards of the industry in which they’ve chosen to pursue their craft.

The points I’ve made in this post are only the beginning of what I have to say about this subject. In my next post, I’ll delve further into the the topic of HVACR technicians and certifications.

Jim

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