Everyone thinking about going into the HVAC industry wants to know the answer to one question: what’s the key to success?
Is it knowing the refrigeration cycle? … Learning how to read blueprints and wiring diagrams? … Being a good salesman? … Punctuality? …
… What is it that the old guys pulling down six figures know that you don’t? …
You hear some surprising answers when you spend a lot of time talking to guys who have had long and lucrative careers in HVAC.
When they talk about what made them good, what made them the go-to guy in the shop, it turns out it’s not the technical skills that they have found most valuable over the years. It isn’t some secret compressor-whispering magic ability to isolate problems that no one else can…
It’s the soft skills: communication and customer service.
A BACKGROUND IN CUSTOMER SERVICE IS A SECRET WEAPON IN HVAC
Kyle Buscher, an operations and service manager at a midwest HVAC company that handles both residential and commercial services, actually looks for retail experience in the background of his new hires.
“We’ve had a few guys who were strictly doing construction and those are the guys that seem to have the hardest time with customer service,” Buscher says.
In construction jobs, mechanics might have learned solid technical skills, but they never had to talk to anyone who wasn’t another construction worker. Those who worked their way through school at a retail job, on the other hand, had a handle on customer expectations and knew how to communicate with people who didn’t have a handle on industry terms.
A retired HVAC foreman that we talked to with 30 years under his belt in a wide variety of highly technical commercial HVAC and refrigeration jobs, has a surprising answer when asked about what made his career in the industry successful. He told us, “One of the leading comments I got … was my communication skills, and the ability to communicate effectively to clients.”
Not everyone has the ability to explain the troubleshooting process to customers in a way they could understand or keep them patient with the confident assurance that the problem would soon be resolved even as temperatures in the building were climbing.
No customer wants to hear that it’s going to take a complete airflow survey to diagnose the issue, but being able to break that news and talk about it in a way that is straightforward and genuine can definitely calm the situation down.
It’s very interesting to think that at the end of the day it is the ability to communicate clearly and honestly that makes sure your employer keeps getting repeat business, not the technical skills you use to resolve problems… This is something every shop owner and contracting company needs to think about.
IT’S EASIER TO TEACH TECHNICAL SKILLS THAN COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Being able to talk to customers is a rare quality and not everyone has the knack.
How do you teach somebody communication skills?
It’s a question that most HVAC programs don’t even try to answer. Most focus strictly on technical skills training. But most of their graduates are going to be on the front line of customer service on day one after landing a job. Dealing one-on-one with a customer who has been roasting with their AC out for two days requires tact and skill even if you know how to fix the system.
Most companies have a sink-or-swim approach instead of offering any real training in customer service. It’s up to individual technicians to figure out the best ways to handle customer relations.
The most experienced guys out there will tell you that the best thing you can do is just be honest.
As a company representative you want to make a sale to get your commission and keep your boss happy, but you are also working for the client. This means you have an ethical duty and a responsibility to that client to provide an honest assessment and a fair appraisal.
Although the news may be unpleasant, being honest about what you can and can’t deliver, and at what cost, wins business and loyalty over the long haul.
CUSTOMER SERVICE IS CUSTOMER RETENTION
Timeliness is also a factor. Buscher’s company lost a construction customer because a two-man shop came in and undercut their pricing by 25%. But the customer came running back soon enough because of the customer service differences.
“We’re back doing their work because when they called for a service call, nobody could come,” Buscher said. “They’d drove from an hour away and their service guy was their install guy so he couldn’t do it until his day was done. When we can be there in 30 minutes it gives us a whole other level of service.”
These types of incidents are the building blocks of success or failure in the industry, regardless of technical expertise. Customers need to trust the companies they are dealing with, or they will find alternatives.
BEING A GOOD OBSERVER IS THE KEY TO EXPERT TECHNICAL AND CUSTOMER SERVICE SKILLS
Eventually, most HVAC technicians find their own way to deliver good customer service, or they just don’t last in the business. No service manager, like Buscher, wants to be spending all of their time smoothing things over with customers that a technician has made unhappy with either a few careless words, or maybe even worse, a lack of adequate communication.
But not everything can be papered over with smooth talk. You still have to have the technical chops to understand and deliver what the customer needs.
The rarest combination of skills may be the technical knowledge of troubleshooting together with the ability to translate that process into plain English for the customer. There are no courses that teach that combination of skills but they can be learned over time. One key to both is the willingness to just listen. To give the customer what they want, you have to know what that is. Listening intently while they describe the problem is the first step.
Similarly, carefully observing what the equipment is doing is the first element of troubleshooting. Jumping in and making a lot of changes before you see what is happening only muddies the waters and makes it harder to figure out. And jumping into a conversation with customers before you’ve listened to their concerns just makes it clear to them that you don’t really care about those concerns. Careful observation is key to both processes.
Careful observation of technical problems and customer concerns helps explain why mechanics like Buscher are able to succeed in both aspects of the job… and shows new HVAC techs how they can achieve a similar level of success in their own careers.
A business form exists to create a record of nearly any internal or external communication.
Some of the most common business forms that can be developed from business form templates include work orders, proposals, invoices, service and repair orders, business agreements and contracts, construction and equipment lease forms, business forms to record labor, materials and expenses.
Maintaining accurate business forms and business form records are essential if a company wishes to run well and operate efficiently. Keeping accurate business forms are essential so that in the event that a dispute develops it is possible to have an accurate record of business interactions. In order for these business forms to represent the official corporate positions in the event a dispute develops, it is crucial that these records be kept in a manner that is somewhat restricted so that they are not tampered with in the event a dispute arises.
Business forms may be developed by an outside graphic design agency for use in the specific company, or a business form may be developed by the company that will use the form through the use of business software.
Experts are always telling homeowners to obtain several bids before selecting the right contractor for their remodel or repair job, and, it is a smart move, for the consumer when making home repairs/upgrades.
With this in mind, it's incredible how many contractors fail to get the bidding process right. Many use the wrong forms, miscalculate the number of hours, labor required, the cost of materials and do not plan correctly for subcontractors.
These four steps below will help avoid these issues and help you prepare a successful residential bid proposal.
Tip 1: Get to know the project in mind, the house!
Obtaining as much information about the house is essential to getting your bid right.
A set of drawings and walk through examination, notes taking, photographs and/or line drawings are essential and while you are at it, it is a good idea to ask a client if he may already have any house plans, drawings or mock-ups. Questions to ask yourself concerning the job is why the customer is renovating or repairing, what is the customer's outcome expectation, are all things that will help you get up to speed. The more open and transparent that you can be with your customer, will certainly give your prospective client an honest assessment of your character, values, etc.
Having a walk-through will help understand the potential customer's exact expectations and job specifications. You should take this time to ask questions, to get to know the client, his/here's expectation, it will also give you an idea what type of customer you are dealing with, for example, if he/she is picky for details, difficult, etc.
Tip 2: Calculating the tangible costs of the job
Now days, homeowners are turning to the Internet for quotes, remodeling calculators, material costs and even help videos that may help them do the job themselves. Fortunately, contractors have far more assets available to them such as construction estimating software, construction estimating excel spreadsheets which will help reduce the speculation that goes into creating a bid.
When calculating or estimating raw costs, be sure to consider:
Tip 3: Be sure you make a profit
You should include overhead fees; if you need new tools or customer requests construction brands, or is particular in his/her expectations, you must substantially mark up your final price.
By how much?
According to Construction Programs and Results INC, "The typical remodeling contractor will have overhead expenses ranging from 25% to 54% of their revenue-that means every $15,000 job could have overhead expenses of $3,750 to $8,100." With these figures in mind, mark up your bid to actually return a profit.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, most remodelers only have a 3% margin.
Don't fall into undervaluing your services in an attempt to win a bid, in the end, it is not worth it.
Tip 4: Present your bid.
You should stay away from mailing, emailing your bid proposal, try to pitch your bids in person, remember, this is part of the "selling" your services. This gives new customers the opportunity to ask questions and gives contractor's to fully explain the bid process, job details and helps avoid any miscommunication between you and the customer and avoid legal issues and hassles along the way.
You should be ready to explain in detail the job, process and go through the itemized list with them, explaining the costs of how much things will be and any reasons why your figures may differ from that of other contractor's.
It is always a good idea, to plant trust in your company and yourself, to deliver a warranty certificate or workmanship warranty together with the bid proposal, this will set you a step ahead of other bid proposals that client may have already received or receive in the future and will give your prospective client peace of mind knowing that you stand behind your work.
Are there alternative tips that I missed? Suggestions from your experience? Leave your thoughts and comments below!
A Maintenance Agreement program is a near-perfect system and one of the greatest money-makers for any size contractor. You get loyal customers who pay you for that loyalty. Customers get a “higher level” of service at a lower price. The cash-flow is predictable, giving you steady stream of business during the slow times, it is certainly a long-term benefit for your company and it’s amazing how many contractors do not emphasize and sell maintenance agreements, the field is wide open!
Stick to these 4 rules:
1. The more service agreements you offer your current and future customers, the more you'll sell.
2. The easier it is to create service agreements, the more time you'll save, the more you'll offer.
3. The easier to modify your service agreements the more benefits you have to target specific markets & customers.
4. The more benefits your service agreements provide, the more money they're worth.
Our commercial service agreements save you time, money and frustration. Most of the work has already been done for you. You can have an in-depth, professional, commercial service agreement in very short time, no need to start from scratch.
The website boasts a clean design and intuitive and consistent site-wide navigation system with improved menu functionality that directs you to the information most relevant to you. It is also fully responsive with mobile devices, making it easy to navigate on a wide range of web browsers and portable devices.
Amongst the new features, the site contains integrated social media buttons for Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin to foster improved communication with the clients. We will be constantly updating our content with helpful information, articles, blogs, newsletters and company announcements.
Going forward, we will continue to communicate regularly through our blogs and provide new articles and notifications. We also plan to continue adding more business form content and product information to provide you with all of the information you need to evaluate our products and services.
We’re really proud of the new website and feel it will create the experience you’re looking for when you pay us a visit.