Service Tips


Will You Be among the 65,000?

If it exists in the HVACR industry, you’ll find it here!

If it exists in the HVACR industry, you’ll find it here!

Will you be among the 65,000 attendees that are expected to attend the upcoming AHR Expo in Chicago?  The world’s largest HVACR marketplace got its start 86 years ago as a heating and ventilation show, but it has grown over the years into the event of the year for the industry.  Attending industry professionals will come from every state in the union and 165 countries worldwide.  They will be joined by more than 2000 exhibitors, who will come together to share new products, technologies and ideas.  What kinds of new technologies?  Take a look at the end of this article for just a sampling.

 

This year’s event will once again be held at McCormick Place in Chicago, from January 22-24.  Most people in the industry are familiar with this Expo, commonly called “The ASHRAE Show,” but if you have never been it is hard to imagine the sheer size of this event.  When we mentioned 2000 exhibitors above, we didn’t mean 2000 people.  We meant 2000 different organizations, each coming to exhibit their company’s product offerings!  That is why this international show, held only once every four years, exhibits at the nation’s largest convention center which has over 2,600,000 ft.² of exhibition space.  Fortunately for the attendee, only about 500,000 ft.² of exhibition space will be needed for the HVACR show!  If you are looking for new product lines to boost your company’s sales, or if you’re looking to change product suppliers, or just want to do some first-hand competitive and new product research, there simply is no other opportunity like this show.  This is the granddaddy of them all.

 

Many people do not realize there is much more to this show than just the exposition.  The AHR Expo is also a major educational symposium as well.  There are over 50 free seminars offered on a wide range of topics, most lasting only 1 to 2 hours.  In addition, The ASHRAE Learning Institute will offer continuing education courses where you can choose from half day to full day professional development seminars that offer professional development hour and continuing education unit credits.

 

Finally, if you have never been to Chicago this provides a great excuse to visit a truly world-class city.  Take a stroll along the Magnificent Mile, one of the great avenues of the world, a 13 block stretch of North Michigan Ave. that runs from the Chicago River north to Oak St.  Along the way you will see the famous Chicago Water Tower, one of the few structures to survive the great Chicago fire of 1871.  From world-class museums (i.e. The Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Field Museum Of Natural History) to iconic sports stadiums (Wrigley Field) to taking in unprecedented views from atop the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, (Willis Tower) the “City of Big Shoulders” will quickly become your kind of town.

 

Giordano’s Deep Dish Pizza

Did we mention that you can find nearly every type of food there is in Chicago, ranging from affordable to world-class cuisine?  If you are not familiar with Chicago however, we will pass on a contractor’s tip which you will only find here.  If you are looking for genuine deep dish Chicago pizza, there is only one place to go –Giordanos Pizzeria!  Fortunately, you are not limited to just one location, as there are 18 scattered around the city and even more in the suburbs.  The secret is for you, but just remember, you heard it here first!

 

Sample of Innovations To Be Seen at the AHR Expo

 

  • A digitally controlled mixing valve that provides precise temperature control for domestic hot water applications
  • A self contained HVAC system for hazardous locations, designed to prevent an explosion
  • New bionic impeller technology with a special blade designed to ensure optimized airflow angles and reduced flow separation
  • An oscilloscope for testing motor shaft voltages, allowing contractors to determine if motors are at risk of premature bearing failure

 

For more information, see September 14, 2017 ACHR news article.


The HVAC Gateway Drug

Typical Sources of Air Leaks in the Home

Typical Sources of Air Leaks in the Home

A gateway drug is one that is habit-forming, and while not addictive in and of itself, it may lead to the use of other addictive drugs.  For example, many have maintained that marijuana is a gateway drug leading to other illicit and more harmful substances.  For HVAC contractors, could adding insulation be a gateway drug toward full involvement in home performance contracting?

 

Adding insulation is one of the most beneficial things you can do to make a home more energy efficient.  Take a look at a Manual J calculation from one of your recent retrofit jobs.  (You do run load calculations on your homes, don’t you?)  Run some simple calculations to see what the addition of insulation would do for the homes total heat loss/gain?  This additional service in your company could provide an ideal way to increase your labor productivity, (billed versus paid hours) or to increase capacity by adding new people to perform this function.  Before making this plunge however, you need to do your homework.

 

The first thing to realize is that you are not just getting into the insulation business, you are getting into the business of making the home perform better.  That means finding and sealing leaks in addition to insulating.  Sealing air leaks means stopping air that comes through your homes envelope – outer walls, windows, doors and other openings.  This will lessen the pollen, dust and insects entering the home, while reducing outside noise and providing better humidity control.  According to Energy Star, most homes in the US do not have enough insulation and have significant air leaks.  They maintain that a typical home has leaks that average the equivalent of having a window open every day of the year!  When your customers understand this, they are incentivized to do something about it.

 

You also have to prepare the employees within your company for this new capability.  Sales staff need to be trained on how to offer insulation and air sealing, while getting their buy-in to do so.  Simply mandating that they attend training and start offering these new services will not get the job done.  Once they understand the benefits to both their customers and themselves however, they will be more inclined to seek out these opportunities on every sales call.

 

Similarly, your technicians need to be trained on the proper techniques and tools to be used when sealing and insulating a home.  Organizations such as Everblue offer a BPI Weatherization Certification Course where students can learn in a certified environment.  Learning about the types of insulation to be used in a given application will depend on each homes individual needs and climate/location.  Finally, your scheduling staff must be trained on what is required in order to properly stage insulation/air sealing with equipment installation.

 

By successfully adding this capability to your business, you will have opened the door toward becoming a true home performance contractor, as opposed to a company that merely installs heating and air conditioning equipment.

 

Typical Sources of Air Leaks in the Home ~ courtesy of Energystar.gov

Image courtesy of Energystar.gov

 


Start off the Year with a Vow to Improve Customer Service Skills

Start off the Year with a Vow to Improve Customer Service SkillsWhenever there is a discussion about customer service, your first thought likely gravitates to an interaction between your service technician and the customer.  While that is not the only interaction, it is the obvious one.

 

Don’t forget about the exterior of your building.  If a customer who is in the market for your products and services were to drive past your business, would they be more, much more, less or much less inclined to call you because of that interaction?  The same can be said for a customer who comes across one of your company’s service trucks, as well as one who calls your office or visits your website.  All of these have the power to bring potential customers closer…or push them away.

 

Let’s go back to that obvious one – your company’s service technicians.  Perhaps like no other, they have the ability to bind your company to the consumer in a way that will bring them back for many years if done correctly.  However, good customer service is a discipline that is regularly practiced and backed up with ongoing training and accountability.

 

Treating the customer equitably and with understanding and empathy is a given.  If your technicians are not going to do that, they should not be working for you.  This is the cornerstone of building trust in a long-term relationship.  Beyond that, they need to look and sound trustworthy.  It goes without saying, but your techs need to have a neat and clean appearance, and providing company issued clothing sends the message that you deem this important.  What about piercings and tattoos?  Feelings about that vary by owner, but remember – the customer is whom it matters to, not the service technician.  Good communication skills should also go without saying, but part of that means training your techs on how you want them to present problems and opportunities to the customer – and how to handle irate customers.  We all like to use technical terms and industry jargon when talking with each other, but the customer likely won’t understand any of it – and may be too embarrassed to let you know it.  By the same token, don’t talk down to your customer either, they may know more about the subject then they let on.  Make sure to pick up on cues for lack of or understanding, and take the time to answer their questions completely.  Rushing through an explanation or looking at your phone will let them know that the schedule is more important than they are.  Finally, treat the customers property with the same respect as you would your own.

 

By re-dedicating your company to these core behaviors, you can create a competitive advantage that customers will pay for!

 

Picture courtesy of SteveDiGioiacom


Flat Rate Pricing Is So Easy A Caveman Can Do It (Part II) – by Mike Hajduk

cmeicdiIn last week’s blog we talked about a scenario where a contractor was losing money in their service department, and did not want to raise rates because customers were already complaining.  We ended that blog by saying while it might make sense to shed a department that was losing money, that may not be best for your firm in the long run.

 

The answer is not to shed service, but rather charge enough to make money in service, and the way to do that is by flat rate pricing the service rate.  This way it takes the focus of your company away from the “per minute” rate and puts it on the quality of your company.

 

Contractors have told me their customers want:

 

  • Prompt service
  • Thorough service
  • Things fixed right
  • The fix stays fixed
  • Fair Price

 

You cannot do the first four by undercharging your customer. And just what is deemed to be a fair price to the consumer? When you offer the customer a $65 or $70 per hour rate that is BELOW cost in many situations, they hoot and howl about the rate since THEY DO NOT MAKE THAT AMOUNT OF MONEY IN THEIR JOB!  And if they do, they sure don’t want their pool guy to make that amount!

 

The only way to charge your customer is by quoting them a single amount for the entire job that includes all labor, parts and expenses and do that before the repair is performed. In the construction or remodel part of your business it’s called a quotation. In the service department it’s called Flat Rate Pricing.

 

Flat Rate Pricing is advantageous because the customer doesn’t nit pick your hourly rate, what you’re charging for the part, your tech taking a call on his cell phone or having a smoke. Again, it’s the ability to focus your company on the quality delivered, not on the per hour rate that you are charging.

 

So now you can go up to an hourly rate that is ABOVE your breakeven. You can now make a profit on what you sell. But there are other financial benefits to flat rate pricing.

 

Each flat rate repair has a time allotment that is based upon what a journeyman tech would take to do a repair under normal working conditions, with a little time added for working conditions. If the tech finds 2 or 3 items that need work, there are economies of scale because the tech should be able to do all items in less time.

 

Let’s look at a service scenario. A tech goes to a home in response to a noisy pump.  The tech finds that the bearings on the motor are bad but also finds the burners on the heater need cleaning and the time clock mechanism has rusted to the point of  keeping the pump running continuously.   In a time and material scenario the tech goes to the house, changes the pump and then goes on to the next service call. At $75 per hour the contractor billed out $304 for the motor and $75 labor for an invoice total of $379.

 

In a flat rate scenario, the tech charges the customer a diagnostic fee, takes the time to thoroughly analyze the entire pool and spa system, and then makes recommendations for all repairs. Now the repair is thorough, professional and gives the customer options to buy repairs suggested because of the pool pro’s professional diagnostic. With finding the dirty burners and time clock mechanism, the repair is larger and done along with the original reason why he was there, the motor. Now the call went to $786, taken from the flat rate manual based upon $100 per hour (not a rate shared with the customer) which includes $391 for the motor, $100 for the burner cleaning and $246 for the time clock mechanism, PLUS the $49 for the diagnostic. This repair yields a significantly higher margin. Now the service company makes a profit!

 

Good news, right?  Well the better news is that the customer PREFERS the flat rate scenario because you gave them the option to accept or decline the repairs before the job was started and they fully knew how much the check amount was that they were going to write before they committed. This is far preferable to the open ended way that time and material contractors charge.

 


Plug-And-Play And the Tech Shortage

Plug-And-Play And the Tech Shortage

Picture courtesy of ACHR news

For years we have been hearing about the skilled labor shortage in the HVAC industry and construction industry at large.  Have you ever stopped to think about what that might mean for your business?  The May 23 issue of ACH & R news talked about the ramifications of this in an article entitled, Is HVAC Becoming a Plug-And-Play Profession?  The article started off by telling the story of one of the writers neighbors whose water heater had recently died.  They simply went to Home Depot, bought a new one and replaced it themselves.  Another neighbor purchased a ductless mini split off Craigslist and had a friend help him install it for a new room which he had finished off above his garage.  Both apparently cited how easy it was to install their equipment and how little skill was needed.

 

One contractor in the article said this was the perfect storm of skilled labor shortages, huge demand for our products and manufacturers who have always been looking to make their products easier to install and service.  This is not just a recent phenomenon.  Refrigeration piping used to consist of all braised joints requiring skilled technicians to install it.  Technology and a workforce shortage caused manufacturers to introduce quick connect fittings so other mechanical trades could install this equipment.  This trend is not exclusive to the residential side of the business either.

 

According to Kirk Thorne, Executive Vice President of sales, marketing and aftermarket at Daikin Applied, “Unfortunately there is no sign that the tide is turning on the skilled labor market in any quadrant of the industry.  To that end, Daikin’s product portfolio is designed around their customers needs for ease of installation.  We are responding with product solutions that reduce the tasks and requirements for installation and commissioning as well as limiting the requirement for on-site commissioning .  For example, Daikin’s modular central plants are pre-engineered and preassembled, arriving at the site on a trailer, ready for simple installation ” he said.  The article mentions similar comments by executives at Nortel Global, Victaulic and Ruskin.

 

What does this mean for your business?  It means that simply being an installer and servicer of mechanical equipment may not be a sufficient skill set for the future.  It means you need to take a strategic look at your business and plan for its future, not just letting its future happen.  Perhaps you need to expand your skill set to become a full mechanical systems provider for your customers.  One such well-known company in the industry for example handles everything from furnaces to boilers to air-conditioners, heat pumps, air cleaning and filtration devices, humidifier/dehumidifiers, gas fireplaces and inserts, water heaters and standby generators.  They also offer service plans, duct cleaning, electrical service, plumbing services and handyman services.  Other companies have become the energy experts for their customers by offering home energy audits covering everything from efficiency evaluations to air and duct sealing, attic ventilation, renewable energy products and indoor air quality solutions.  How do you begin this transformation of your business?  First, identify the areas that you have a passion for and that represent profitable areas for expansion.  Second, look at your trade area and make a list of all the competitive businesses, the services they offer and   the strengths and weaknesses of each.  From those two things, you can begin to fashion a business plan for your company.

 

According to Monty Betts, product manager for Viega, “While most do not believe that HVAC systems will become plug-and-play devices anytime soon, contractors will have to respond accordingly.  I still do not fully appreciate or understand the depth and breath of changes being considered by manufacturers, but as shown here they are becoming very innovative at designing systems and components to address the lack of skilled labor in the HVAC industry.”


Is the HVAC Industry Still Doing This?

A Contractor Actually Installed This Furnace Exhaust!

A Contractor Actually Installed This Furnace Exhaust!

It was not uncommon in the last century to see a news sting on TV of an HVAC contractor caught in the act of ripping off a customer.  It was a real irritant to everyone who made an honest living in the HVAC industry because it gave us all a black eye.  Manufacturers, distributors and contractor associations such as ACCA made a concerted effort to get rid of this behavior in their midst.  I can’t remember the last time I saw one of these news stories showcased on the local news.  It appeared that perhaps at last, we had as an industry, put this behavior behind us.  Apparently that is not the case.

 

The most recent issue of the ACH & R news featured a guest article by Butch Welsch, a St. Louis area contractor, where he says he is seeing an increasing and discouraging trend of contractors using unethical tactics.  He cites two of them that are pretty hard to even imagine.

 

The first was of a lady who called and said that a contractors service technician had condemned her furnace because it had holes in the heat exchanger.  He had red tagged the furnace and told the lady if she ran it it could kill her.  When Butch’s technician went out he found a 17-year-old furnace with a heat exchanger that lacked even a speck of rust.  Although the technician attempted to ensure the lady the furnace was in really good condition, she had been scared to the point where she wanted the furnace replaced.  Following the replacement, the old furnace was returned to Butch’s shop where they had the heat exchanger removed and thoroughly checked out.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with it.  This is

a-typical of the kind of stories you used to see on the local news channel and it is despicable, but if you think that’s bad, read on.

 

The second story begins when one of Butch’s salespeople showed up at an appointment to give a couple a price on a new furnace.  When they arrived there was a truck from another company in the driveway, so not wanting to be rude the salesperson waited in his car.  After 30 minutes, the salesperson decided he had waited long enough and knocked on the door.  As he attempted to apologize for interrupting, the lady of the house apologized profusely saying “I can’t get rid of him.”  The couple went with Butch’s sales engineer to the basement to inspect the furnace, but the other salesperson refused to leave – sitting on the couple’s living room sofa the whole time.  When Butch’s sales engineer had finished looking at everything, the lady finally got tough with the other salesmen and asked him to leave.  This kind of behavior is not only totally unprofessional, it is downright embarrassing to the industry!

 

If you know of a contractor in Texas who is exhibiting behaviors such as those described above, report them to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, regardless of whether they are licensed or unlicensed.  The link to their website is below. We should all pledge to drive this kind of behavior out of our industry once and for all!  https://www.tdlr.texas.gov/Complaints/

Courtesy of Contracting Business Magazine


If You Were Fired – Would You Be Missed?

If You Were Fired - Would You Be Missed?

Courtesy of blogging4jobs.com

A couple of years ago there was a great article in the ACHR News that asked the question, what makes an employee indispensable? One employee that I used to know said the secret was to be like a blade of grass – keep your head down so it doesn’t get chopped off. That strategy however would suggest that you blend in, fly under the radar, not stand out, fit in, in essence – be an average employee!

 

The article then referred to a post by Joe Crisara of ContractorSelling.com who posed the question that is the title of this blog. Joe suggests that rather than being invisible, you should strive to be indispensable. He further pointed out that being indispensable is a three-legged stool which includes the traits of being the go to expert, having customers who are your fans and bringing home the bacon. Joe went on to explain in his post that being good with customers is not enough if you have callbacks, and that being technically sound is not enough if you are not good with customers.

 

Being a good employee means that you have to put yourself in the mindset of your employer or supervisor. Do you know what their goals are and how they are being measured? If you don’t know, you should ask. Furthermore, look at those employees in the organization who are succeeding and who are getting the promotions. Observe their behaviors and see what it is that makes them successful. Often times, you will likely see that they are the people who tackle the tough jobs, not the easy ones. You will also likely find them to be among the first to lend a hand to a coworker who is having difficulty with something, and a common denominator of these individuals is that they have a positive attitude about both their job and the company. Finally, the successful individuals in any organization are not ones who look at their job as an 8-5 proposition. They are the ones who work to better themselves by becoming a knowledge expert, studying after hours in an effort to hone their expertise. When you’re amongst the 80/20 crowd, be the latter, not the former!


Thou Art Is the Question

I want to work for you!

I want to work for you!
Image courtesy of paradicetattoolv.com

There was an article in a trade publication some time back about appearance and how much it matters in today’s HVAC industry. Specifically, the article was talking about piercings and tattoos, and whether or not that mattered. The article had interviewed some contractors who said it was okay if reasonable, and others who said they would not hire someone with piercings or body art. The article also cited an amazing statistic, that is that 40% of adults in their thirties have a tattoo and that 20% of all adults in the US have a tattoo.

Given the statistics, the odds are pretty high that at some point a contractor is going to face the decision of whether or not to hire someone with a tattoo or a piercing. Whenever the subject arises, so also does the argument of freedom of expression. It is the knowledge and skills that a technician possesses that is important, not how they look, so goes the argument. This argument advises contractors to look past physical appearance if they want to hire the best technicians. This typically does not apply to piercings however, given the concern for health and safety issues of those working around electrical currents.

On the other hand, some contractors say they find tattoos distracting and that given a choice of 2 individuals with equal skills, they would hire the one without body art. Still other contractors are concerned about the image a technician with body art will project to their customers. If a customer is turned off by the personal appearance of a company’s technician, they stand the possibility of losing that customer without ever knowing why. Service technicians need to understand this concern on the part of business owners without taking it personally.

In the final analysis, all the arguments in the world for or against don’t really matter, because it is the customer that decides. Service technicians need to understand the importance of the image they project to the customer as a function of any tattoos or piercings they may have, especially in an industry I once heard described as one where “consumers are concerned for their wallets when they let our industry in their door.” Therefore, if you are a service technician and considering whether to ink/pierce or not, let discretion be the better part of valor!


You Don’t Have To Be a Hero

You Don’t Have To Be a Hero

Courtesy of efinancial careers.com

Service Technicians pride themselves on their ability to correctly diagnose and repair mechanical systems encountered on the job. Discretion however as they say is the better part of valor, and sometimes service techs need to use discretion when they encounter a tricky diagnosis. As a consumer, have you ever had a situation whereby you can clearly see that a service person whom you have hired is having difficulty with your car/pool/refrigerator/hvac system etc.? You probably have and if so, what thoughts were likely going through your mind? Typically, not good ones. As a technician, you don’t want to start changing suspect parts until you get the system running because you don’t learn anything and it leaves a bad taste in the consumer’s mouth. So what should you do?

Call for help! Some manufacturers who market direct to contractors have technical experts locally on staff that can provide assistance. Still others have some type of in-house technical support staff available by phone. You may also find that manufacturers have FAQ sites on the website to help technicians. Still others have begun linking their products to technical literature for faster troubleshooting. You can scan product labels with your smart phone or QR code reader and link directly to the specific model’s information on the company’s online literature library. Available documents might include installation instructions, charging charts, replacement parts list, wiring diagrams and more. Having a list of these websites and phone numbers at your disposal can help you quickly reach assistance if you are having difficulty with a diagnosis or repair.

Other sources can include your supervisor or coworkers, as well as distribution houses who sell the brand of equipment you are working on. The point is, you don’t have to – indeed you can’t possibly – know it all. Even the most experienced techs have questions and it is always better to ask for help than to waste time working on a problem and not resolving it. The key to calling for help is to be organized and prepared with information such as the model and serial number, running suction and discharge pressures, amount of superheat at the evaporator outlet and compressor inlet, subcooling readings at the outlet of the condenser, ambient temperature, voltage and amperage readings etc. A well organized service ticket, either electronic or hard copy, will require this information be recorded as part of the diagnostic. By incorporating these tips you will be the hero in the end – and you will enhance the professionalism of both yourself and your company!

Courtesy of ACH & R News – Troubleshooting Difficult Systems


Elements of a Marketing Plan

When you talk with small and sometimes medium-sized contractors about the need for a marketing plan, you can almost see eyes roll. Many such contractors got into business for themselves so they could be their own boss. The ones who successfully survive the startup years then often find themselves a victim of their own success. They find that their business is succeeding, often beyond their own expectations, yet they don’t want their role in the company to change. If profitability is to be maximized and further growth achieved however, their role must change. It must evolve from being a startup entrepreneur and knowledgeable technician to a business owner. In short, they must learn to work on the business as opposed to in the business.

 

Elements of a Marketing Plan

Courtesy of Chriscolotti .us

Recently we published a blog about the need for having a marketing plan. Such a plan need not be long and complicated, as we will illustrate in this blog. Essentially, there are 3 elements of a marketing plan, and they are:

  • Promotions Planning Calendar
  • Marketing & Advertising Calendar
  • Marketing & Advertising Budget

 

What are promotions? In short, promotions are offers that give your customers and potential customers a reason to contact and purchase from your firm. The stronger the offer, the more likely you will be contacted. Depending on the makeup of your operation, you want your promotions to address the following areas in your business. Residential Replacement Installations – IAQ Accessories – Demand Service Calls – Service/Maintenance Agreements.

 

There are a number of sources you can tap in order to develop your promotions. For example, equipment suppliers or manufacturers typically offer consumer financing or equipment rebates at various times of the year. The downside to these is that many contractors have access to the same or similar programs from competitive suppliers. Sometimes government entities and local utilities will run promotions for efficiency upgrades as well, but again these are available to everyone. Perhaps the best source for offers come from in-house promotions. While these may or may not have the opportunity to attract supplier or government money to help fund them, you have complete control over the type and timing of the promotion. The creativity for in-house promotions is limited only to what you can devise, and the advantage here is that no one else in the market will be offering what you are. The following table is a small example of the different types of in-house promotions you can develop – let this serve to fuel your own imagination!

 

The next blog in this series will discuss when and how many types of promotions you should run, along with how you make people aware of these offers.

 

Product Related Service Related Other
Free Thermostat Free 2nd Year Service Agreement Free Gas Grill
Free Merv Filter/ Upgrade Extended Warranties Free Christmas Tree
Free CO/Smoke Detectors Product Checkup Discount Cause Marketing Offer
Free evaporator coil with AC purchase Duct Leakage Analysis and Sealing Event Tickets (i.e. ballgames, museums etc.)
Free Humidifier Air Distribution Analysis Getaway Vacation
Free Energy Analysis Free Blower Door Test Staycation Package
Free Duct Cleaning Svce Agmt W/combo Pch Free AC Cover
Free Attic Insulation Total Performance Diagnostic Through Call Smart W/Service Call Consumer Electronic Giveaway (i.e. TV, Tablets etc.)
Free Dehumidifier Reduced Rate Service Calls For Certain Time Periods Free American Flag & Mounting System
Free Grill/Register Upgrade Free Evaluation for Generator W/Service Call Free Thanksgiving Turkey

 

Courtesy of The HVAC Business Dr.