Service Tips

If You Were Fired – Would You Be Missed?

If You Were Fired - Would You Be Missed?

Courtesy of

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 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

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

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.



What Is a Top Rate Contractor?

Don't Make Your Customers Look like This

Don’t Make Your Customers Look like This

I had a recent experience with a service contractor who shall go unnamed, but unfortunately the business practice they displayed is still all too typical in the contracting trades industry.

We needed some work done at the house, the same type of work that a number of homes in our neighborhood are looking for.  One of her neighbors had spoken with a contractor who gave her a preferred rate for his services, based upon leveraging that work across a number of homes in our subdivision.  I called the contractor and he sounded knowledgeable and well-organized over the phone.  He came to our house at the appointed time, evaluated the work to be done, showed us samples of his work, provided references and gave us a price.  It was a verbal price, he did not follow with any type of written quote.  Nevertheless, we told him we wanted to follow up with his references so we could see for ourselves the quality of his work.  When we did, we weren’t overly pleased.  It wasn’t that the quality of his work was bad, it’s just that it wasn’t great.

A relative of my wife’s had the same work performed in her home 10 years ago and was quite pleased with the contractor they used.  The quality of the work still shown after 10 years, so we contacted this company.  Based on not being overly satisfied with the quality of work by the first contractor we first had out, we made an appointment with the second company.  The day they were to come out, they called and said they were running late and would make it late in the day.  They didn’t.  Come out or call.  Rather, they called the next day and wanted to know if they could come by that morning.  Even though we were a bit irritated we said yes.  When the contractor came out, she seemed very knowledgeable and answered all our questions.  She evaluated the work to be done and provided references where we could see her work.  She promised to drop off samples later that week.  She didn’t.  The following weekend after she was out, we followed up on her references and were very pleased with the quality of their work.  Based on that we called to remind her about the samples, which she said she would deliver in the next couple of days.  She did, and based on everything we knew we contracted with her for the work, even though her price was about 10% higher than the first company.  It seemed well worth it, and due to our discussions with adjoining neighbors she sold another job next door.  She described her schedule and gave us a 5 day window for starting and completing the work.

On day 4 of the window I called the contractor because I had not seen or heard from them.  She called me right back and said the previous project they had been working on had taken a little longer than she thought so that they would start the following Monday.  As I was expecting this response, I was not particularly bothered by it but I know some homeowners would be.  Monday came and went with no sign of the contractor, but with some concern for the weather the remainder of the week.  Inclement weather would only delay the project some more.

As of this moment it is 5:30 PM on the “following Monday”, and I realistically don’t expect her phone call until Tuesday.  I know we will eventually complete this project and be happy with it, but I will not be giving her company the rave reviews her work will most likely have earned.  While I have no reason to doubt their technical competence and quality of work, their business practices are terrible.  Contractors, take note.  In this day and age it is no longer sufficient to take pride in your quality of work.  Your overall business practices must be of the same caliber as your work if you are to truly call yourself a top rate company!

Treating a Customer like a Second-Class Citizen

Treating a Customer like a Second-Class Citizen

Courtesy of global

Recently I read an article in a trade publication that talked about the best way to deal with a customer who only wants to hear about lower prices. Have you ever had one of those? Of course you have. My issue is not with that type of customer, after all, all of us have the made some type of purchase where price was our driving influence. That doesn’t make us bad customers or second-class citizens. My issue is with this article and how the writer suggests we handle this type of customer.

The writer first suggests three things that make sense. He suggests that you not train the customer to push for lower prices by making price the primary subject of your conversation. He also advises that reducing your price with a customer trains them to push for that in their next transaction with you. Finally, he says that you should not ask the customer to make sure they give you the last look. Doing any of these things is like shooting yourself in the foot. Doing all of them will certainly cripple your chances for profitable selling. No argument here.

As long as you are not doing the things described above, the writer suggests that a true price driven customer is one that does not respond to any value added proposition, has no problems to solve (if this were the case, why would they be talking to you in the first place) or goals in which you could assist with, and one where you are talking to the ultimate decision-maker. If that is the case, the writers suggest you have a frank conversation with the customer and explain that you can no longer afford to call on them in person and that you should ask them to e-mail you their specifications. Better yet the writer suggests turn them over to an inside sales person who will deal with them exclusively on the phone.

I am not advocating that you not spend your time where you can achieve the best return for your company, but I would draw the line at letting a customer know you think they are second class material because they’re only interested in price. Just because they’re only interested in price with regard to this particular transaction, you don’t know that they will be on the next transaction. If they sense you do not value their business for any given reason, they may well look elsewhere the next time they need a product or service which you can offer. The key is to make every customer feel like a King, even if they are only a prince!

Don’t Be Your Own Worst Enemy

Why did you go into business for yourself? You did it because you thought you could do a better job than others, you did it for the opportunity to make more money and you did it so you could be the boss. After all, no one else can match the passion, dedication and hard work that you bring to your business. There’s one thing you might not have thought of however, and that is that like all of us, you are not equally talented at all things. And now that you are a business owner – you have to do all things! You have to run the load calculations, you have to make the sales, you have to run the service calls, you have to do the books and you have to collect the bills. Some days, perhaps many days, there just isn’t enough time to do everything, so those last two things get set aside for “later”. Those last two things being the books and collecting the bills. The second of those two – collecting bills – is a lot more important to your business than you might think. Consider the chart from last week’s blog, shown below.

The Irresistible Lure of the Large Customer

Chart courtesy of the Commercial Collection Agency Association

What is that really telling you? For one, it shows you that the job of collecting the bills cannot be sloughed off until “later”. According to the Commercial Collection Agency Association who developed this chart, you have less than a 90% chance of collecting a bill that is only 30 days old. By 90 days, your odds are less than 70%. Now, let’s turn that into dollars. What is the value of a 90 day old receivable that you originally billed out at $3000? According to this chart, it’s only worth about $2100 because by all odds you’re only going to collect about 70% of your 90 day old bills. Even worse, what happens if you have to write off that $3000 sale. Consider the following chart which defines the amount of sales you need to recover a bad debt write-off of $3000, given your company’s net operating profit.


$600,000 $300,000 $150,000 $100,000 $75,000 $60,000 Sales
0.5% 1% 2% 3% 4% 5% Net profit


Don't Be Your Own Worst Enemy

Picture courtesy of ACHR news

Therefore, if your net profit percentage is 2% you need $150,000 in additional sales to recover the $3000 you wrote off. Keep in mind on that $3000 sale that you just wrote off, you have already paid your suppliers for the materials, you have paid for the labor that created the sale and you have paid for the overhead that supported that sale. The only thing you haven’t done was to collect the debt which paid for those expenses – plus of course the profit which that sale was supposed to generate. If the two charts shown above don’t shock you into paying attention to your sales terms and accounts receivable, then it’s probably because you already know this and have good processes in place.

Of course, collecting when the job is complete – and letting the homeowner know of this requirement up front – is a great first step in reducing receivables to begin with. This policy coupled with having an array of consumer financing tools available can go a long way to avoiding some of the nasty numbers shown in these two charts.

The Irresistible Lure of the Large Customer

The Irresistible Lure of the Large Customer

Chart courtesy of the Commercial Collection Agency Association

As a business owner, it is very important to understand the power of money at work in your company. Over the life of the business, understanding the cost of not taking a vendor’s discount or of not following up on receivables until they become uncollectible can literally make the difference between success and failure. Some companies understand that all too well, (usually the large ones) and they are very good at putting your money to work in their business.


It all started when the RB (Really Big) Company called on Friday at 4:45 PM. While you have been a small but regular customer of theirs, you have also been trying to get their business for years. While the caller wasn’t particularly friendly, you chalked that up to the fact that he was under the gun and it was late in the week. You saw this as perhaps your chance to get a foot in the door and win some business for your firm. The request was a bit complicated, and you weren’t sure the final dollar amount of the invoice was representative of everything that was involved on your part to fulfill it. On the other hand however, you were sure the effort put forth to obtain the item you tracked down for RB Company would likely be rewarded with future business. As a customer, RB’s accounts receivable group was very efficient at collecting money owed them. Their terms were 1% 10/Net 15, and after 30 days you would begin hearing from their credit group. By 45 days they were firm in their discussions and by 60 days they were downright importunate. Based on that, you are certain their payables department would handle invoices the same way. You sent off your invoice following fulfillment of the order… And it was never heard from again.


Your contact at 30 days was not returned, but a busy schedule prevented you from realizing they still hadn’t paid at 60 days. You were more persistent this time when contacting them, especially since you had gone out of their way to meet their need when they were in a bind. The best you are able to get from them however was a gruff statement about they would “look into it.” By 90 days you are getting seriously aggravated and that showed in your voice when you spoke with their accounts payable department. Finally, you received payment 110 days after your initial invoice was sent – and they had taken the early payment discount!


Has that ever been your business? If so, you would not be alone. It’s unfortunate that there are companies who abuse their vendors by not paying them in a timely manner, but don’t be the one that lets them ensnare your funds into their deliberate web of cash flow manipulation.

Why Less Is Not More When It Comes to a Service Ticket

Why Less Is Not More When It Comes to a Service Ticket

Are you one of those consumers that keep a folder for all of the service tickets you have for work performed on your car… or your HVAC equipment?  Have you ever looked back through these tickets to get some information about an earlier point of maintenance only to see this one word in the body of the ticket?  Repaired.  That’s it, nothing more.  Maybe there is more, but the handwriting is virtually illegible.  Immediately, you feel a sense of frustration and anger toward the company and the technician who was so sloppy in their work.

So what makes for a well-written service ticket?  According to Peter Powell, a well-written ticket completely describes the nature of the repair.  In an article written for the ACH & R news, Peter writes that if the equipment fails within the warning period and document is unclear, it can lead to a dispute over a warranty claim.  In his article Peter says it is also a good idea to go over the service ticket with customers to make sure they understand what was written.  This is a great time to discuss with the consumer any recommendations for future concerns or repairs – items which should also be listed on the ticket.  He notes that some service tickets will have a list of items that were checked, such as the systems suction and discharge pressures, suction and liquid temperatures, compressor amperage, condition of the evaporator and condenser, etc.  Listing these values on the service ticket provides good verification that the equipment is operating properly – or provides an important point of reference in the future.  During a future service call, a technician can compare values recorded then to those listed in a previous call, in order to give a consumer understanding about the need for service or repair.

So the next time you are filling out a service ticket for a consumer and you are tempted to rush through it in order to get to the next call, think about how you would like to be handled if you were the consumer of that call, and take the time to legibly record the specifics of what took place.  It will go a long way toward building value with your customer.

Competing with the Big Guys

Competing with the Big Guys

There are some that say it’s too difficult to compete with the “big guys.”  After  all, they have the wherewithal to fund a big marketing budget or take advantage of volume discounts in their purchasing.  So what’s a small company to do?  How do you not only compete but thrive in the market if you happen to be located in the same locale as a large firm?  The News Matt Bishop tackled that subject recently with some contractors whose size ranged from 7-25 employees.  Here is what they said.

Amy Turnbull of Blue Flame Heating and Air-Conditioning, Mount Terrace, Washington says “We are a company of integrity and stand behind everything we do.  Sometimes I think it’s harder for the larger companies to do that.  We do a great job with having repeat customers and really having them connect with Blue Flame” she said.  With word-of-mouth and referrals being such a big component of helping small business thrive, does it each job inherently bring more pressure?  According to Turnbull, it does.  “There’s definitely more pressure,” she said.  “There’s a huge pressure that we have to do the job right.  If it’s something we messed up on or missed, we’ll make it right.”

Brian Schraut of R.F. Schraut Heating and Cooling in St. Louis agrees.  “We’re going to go out of our way to make sure our customers are happy and satisfied, “he said.  He believes there is absolutely more pressure with each job because of how reliant the company is on referrals.  “In the residential marketplace, we do everything extremely well, if not better compared to a larger company,” Schraut said.  “The large companies are usually trained to get in and get out.  We might take an extra two hours to get something done, but it’s going to look and perform a lot better.  With the Internet and social media, you have to be very proactive in addressing any negative reviews,” he continued.  “It’s not only that though, a company’s website and social media channels need to give off the right impression – a professional one.”

It’s funny how it always seems to go back to the one key thing – taking care of the customer better than the next guy.

Article published by Matt Bishop in The News, November 11, 2013