Service managers have a very specialized─and wide-ranging─role at a modern HVAC company. The tasks they might find on their to-do lists on any given day can include selling and maintaining service agreements, budgeting, scheduling and dispatching technicians, even giving on-site attention to service calls.
But no matter what the scope of their duties entails, there are certain managerial attributes that can help them, and their employers, succeed.
According to Mike Douglas, president of Advent Air Conditioning in Lewisville, TX — the 2014 ContractingBusiness.com Residential Contractor of the Year — successful service managers in the industry today need a great set of people skills to complement the technological aspects of the job.
"Today's service manager needs to have more management skills than technical skills," Douglas said. "They need to have the ability to earn the respect and loyalty of the technicians that report to them. Because the HVAC industry is rapidly changing, they need to focus on long-term employee development and on procedures and programs."
Mike Rosenberg, president of Rosenberg Indoor Comfort in San Antonio, agreed that a good service manager does not necessarily need to be a technical genius.
"It is more important for him/her to be good at managing people," he said. "They must be a people person that can motivate people and discipline them at the same time when it is needed."
Tom Casey, president of Milford, CT-based Climate Partners, said all service managers should be technically strong, have great communication and customer service skills, and understand how the financial key performance indicators of the department work.
When managerial responsibilities are in place, enables companies to do focus on the work, with great results. In 2014, Climate Partners won a ContractingBusiness.com Quality Home Comfort Award, a repeat award for the company.
Two other necessary attributes, according to Rosenberg, are the ability to multitask and the ability to understand and interpret numbers. Rosenberg Indoor Comfort also won a 2014 CB QHCA Award.
While a service manager needs to possess a specific skill set, company strategy helps the service manager (and technicians) to do their best today and in the future.
"Our philosophy is if you get your job done and meet your goals, we are very flexible and reward you," Rosenberg said. "We look at technician sales and productivity numbers monthly and we give them feedback on how they're doing. We also set sales goals annually and we reward our people when they exceed their goals."
One example of a reward, according to Rosenberg, is if an employee is always available to run calls during busy times, that employee would get his or her first choice of vacation.
Efficiency and transparency are two company strategies Douglas employs at Advent.
"The programs are put together with the input of the techs led by the service manager, so they have buy-in because they helped develop the program," Douglas said.
Techs are dispatched from their home to their first calls, and the company uses GPS tracking to help dispatch effectively. Technicians are paid by the hour and do not get commission on parts sales because Douglas said commission encourages techs to sell parts that are not bad.
"Our strategy allows the service techs to operate independently call-by-call, including presenting three options for each service call, then daily review of client paperwork and KPI performance," according to Casey. "It's a balancing act to give great service, but maintain excellence standards, so every client receives 'wow' service."
Training and continuing education are other methods HVAC companies practice in their quests for success.
"Training is the foundation of service success, from technical step-by-step procedures for everything you offer, to customer service skills, including how-to interact from initial contact, offering options, and wrapping up," Casey said. "The best is a combination of classroom, plus documented OpX procedures, with ride-alongs with best performers and supervisors to ensure success and coach."
At Advent Air, the service manager has weekly training meetings with the techs that cover soft skills, processes, procedures and some technical skill training. A large part of the technical training is done offsite through manufacturers.
At Advent Air, the service manager has weekly training meetings with the techs that cover soft skills, processes, procedures and some technical skill training. A large part of the technical training is done offsite through manufacturers, according to Douglas.
Rosenberg Indoor Comfort's in-house training program is an everyday thing for technicians, according to Rosenberg.
"Our service technicians are always asking our service manager, technical advisor and fellow technicians questions when they are on the job," he said. "They learn from each other by communicating via email and mobile phones. We also set up our senior technicians on ride-alongs with the younger, less experienced guys to teach them on the job."
Service agreements are the life blood of our company," Rosenberg said. "We have many residential service agreements that help keep us steady throughout the year. Our clients are preached the importance of proactive maintenance."
The level of training and experience Rosenberg's employees possess also make them ideal teachers, as well, which helps future service managers gain the knowledge they will need in the future.
"We also have a Build-A-Tech program where we bring in trade-school graduates and let them ride with our senior technicians for four to six months," he said. "We use this program to mold these people into the technicians that we want. It is a large investment, but it pays large dividends in the future technicians that we are able to grow."
Service Agreements the Lifeblood
One of the most important jobs of a service manager is selling and managing service management contracts. Strong performance is this aspect of the job is a must for service managers.
"Service agreements are the life blood of our company," Rosenberg said. "We have many residential service agreements that help keep us steady throughout the year. Our clients are preached the importance of proactive maintenance."
On the residential side, the company offers two types of agreements. One agreement includes two quality preventive maintenance visits each year. It includes discounts on service calls and priority service. Rosenberg also offers a maintenance program that includes free service fees for the year.
Advent offers five levels of service maintenance agreements: bronze, silver, silver plus, gold and platinum.
"They start for the do-it-yourself types that want a safety check-up all the way to the customer that wants everything done and covered," according to Douglas. "They can pay annually or we will set up monthly drafts."
Climate Partners offers club membership instead of agreements or contracts, but it's importance to the success of the company is the same.
"Our approach is to make membership have enough advantages that the client would be crazy to not join our service club," Casey said. "Guaranteed appointments, extended hours, discounts, 50-percent diagnostic fees, double warranties, etc., make it very appealing."
No matter what strategies, education or other game plans a company comes up with to make a service manager more effective, it comes down to the employees themselves.
"The key to anything in the company, including service management, is the people on the team, from front-line techs to back office [customer service representatives], they all have to work seamlessly together to wow customers and deliver profitable results," Casey said. "One bad apple can spoil the bushel, and there can be zero tolerance for co-cultural noncompliance; it's about profitable wow in-home service experiences, not running calls."