Attention to Every DetailMakes Service Calls Memorable

May 6, 2010
Performing a great residential cooling system tune-up starts with giving yourself 'a check up from the neck up.'

Performing a great residential cooling system tune-up starts with giving yourself a check up from the neck up. Look in the mirror and check your appearance and your attitude. With each and every tune-up, you are about to take the stage with the goal of providing not just a great technical service, but also a memorable experience to a customer.

Here’s a Step-by-Step Guide

Your Arrival

  • Park in a conspicuous location, yet one that’s out of the way of the customer’s way (you are driving a billboard — use it). Check your appearance and check your attitude.
  • Gather all tools necessary for a maintenance or diagnostic.
  • Lock your truck.
  • Approach the house via sidewalks; don’t walk on the grass. As you approach, look for ways to be helpful, such as picking up the customer’s newspaper.
  • Ring the doorbell or knock, and step back from door. When the customer answers, smile, announce your name and purpose of your visit.
  • Wipe your feet, using every mat available, and put on your shoe protectors.
  • Present your business card to the customer.
  • Ask questions about system performance (e.g., is the system making any noises? Are there hot and cold spots in the homes? How are your utility bills?), and listen, listen, listen.
  • Write down the customer’s concerns, and read them back to the customer.
  • Note the thermostat setting on the ticket, and make sure it’s level and tight.
  • Check the switching (fan on, auto, etc.), set it to cool and in demand (below house temperature).

Check the Indoor Section

  • Go to the indoor unit. Confirm that the unit is running, visually inspect the ductwork and the unit’s condition. Then use the disconnect to turn off power, and use lock-out protection.
  • Remove the cover and panels, check the filter and note its condition on the ticket.
  • Remove the blower housing and look up into heat exchanger area and check for cracks. Examine the evaporator if possible. Oil both ports (one to three drops of oil), or, note on ticket if they’re sealed.
  • Check the blower motor and wheel for cleanliness. If the wheel is dirty, then the evaporator is dirty.
  • Check motor shaft end or side play. Note all conditions on the ticket, and reinstall the blower assembly.
  • Check all the electrical connections. Tighten lugs and push-on connections.
  • Check wires for discoloration, cracked or hardened insulation. Check the disconnect.
  • Check prongs for discoloration or pitting.
  • Check the tightness of fuse holder. If fuse does not snap in or out, is hard, discolored, or if fuse slides within the holder without resistance, note it on the ticket.
  • Check the general condition of the evaporator coil. Look for rust, signs of oil, etc. Note the type of metering device. If it’s a thermal expansion valve (TXV), check the bulb for good tight contact to the suction line in proper location and position, and proper insulation. Verify the check valve for free movement; use a magnet and listen for a “click”.
  • Clean out condensate pan and add anti-fungal tablets. Tap the entire condensate line to loosen scale and scum, and check it for any leaks or breaks, and for proper pitch, slope, and support.
  • Check and clean emergency drain pan, check the emergency drain line, and check the float switch (if not present, note it on the ticket). Flush all condensate lines with enough water to run clear, and check the drain line outlet. Is it clear water, flowing freely? Is the termination free of obstruction?

Reapply the power (the system should come on).

  • Record the actual line and low voltage.
  • Record the actual blower motor amp draw with the blower door in place, compare it to the data plate, and note this information on the ticket.
  • Replace all panels and doors, and check for air noises and air leaks. If you discover any, note it on ticket.
  • Wipe down entire indoor unit, update the service stickers, and leave the area in better condition than you found it. After 15 minutes of run time, record the indoor unit’s performance. Record the entering and leaving wet bulb and dry bulb temperatures, and calculate the Delta T (temperature change).

Check the Outdoor Section

  • With the system still running, visually check the outdoor unit’s general condition.
  • Check for proper clearances, and make sure the unit is free from airflow obstructions. Make sure the unit is level, with proper drainage. Check the disconnect. Is it within sight? Secured to wall? Is the external wiring secured? Are the valve caps tight?
  • Check physical condition of outdoor coil. Is it dirty? Leaking oil? Does it have fin damage? Note your findings on the ticket.
  • Record the outdoor conditions, including ambient temperature, entering and leaving dry bulb temperatures, vapor and liquid line temperatures, and the actual voltage and amp draw.
  • Use the disconnect to turn off power, use lock-out protection, and check all electrical connections as you did at the indoor unit.
  • Remove the cover or panels to the unit and check the condition of the contactor contacts.
  • Clean leaves and debris from inside the unit, oil the condenser fan motor if not sealed (note on ticket), check the rain shield for proper fit, and check the fan blade for tight position on shaft.
  • Check the refrigerant tubing and make sure it’s not laying against something that would rub a hole in it.
  • Check the check valves for free movement (use a magnet), and visually inspect for signs of oil, which could indicate a leak. Use your meter to check the capacitors, and look for swelling. Reapply the power and start the unit. Record compressor starting and running amps. Check the crankcase heater, and reinstall all panels or covers.
  • Wipe down outside unit. Clean up the area and leave it neater than you found it.
  • Review your ticket and invoice, and compile recommendations. Review the customer’s original comments about the system’s operation. Have you covered everything? Will your recommendations solve their concerns? If a solution you’re going to propose involves adding an accessory such as a humidifier, know what will fit. Don’t guess — measure.
  • Replace your tools in your truck, dispose of any trash, clean your hands and check your appearance, then go back inside and reset the thermostat to its original settings.

Make Your Presentation

  • You’re done with the technical part of the tune-up, but your interaction with the customer is at least as important as your technical knowledge (See the sidebar, “The Hard Facts About Soft Skills,” which accompanies this article.)
  • Review the general condition of system with the customer, repeat his or her original concerns, and address each with what you did or need to do.
  • Explain the benefits and cost completely. Have your invoice signed, collect any monies due, and explain to the customer if there will be a follow-up call (for example, if someone will be calling to check on the system’s performance, or your performance).
  • Present two business cards, and ask the customer to give them to friends or family who might need an outstanding cooling service. Ask if there is anything else that you can do or explain, then take your leave.
  • Smile, say good by, thank the customer for using your service, shake hands, and walk with pride to your truck, knowing that you did an outstanding job.

Mike Harding is the general manager and Jess Gordon is the service manager at Tempo Mechanical Services, Irving, TX. The company was Contracting Business magazine’s 2003 Residential Contractor of the Year. Harding and Gordon can be reached at 972/579-2000, e-mail [email protected] and [email protected].

A version of this article in checklist form can be found at


The Hard Facts About Soft Skills

The residential HVAC business is about people. While many service technicians excel at the technical end of the business, they can forget that we’re all in the people business. The customer’s experience of your service call needs to be above and beyond just the turning of the wrench.

Technicians need to understand that they’re basically guests in customers’ homes, and act accordingly. You must respect the individuals’ property as well as their time, be gracious and empathetic, always tell the truth, and never cut corners.

Realize that customers understand their equipment better than you do. They understand the noises the system makes in the middle of the night that we would probably discount. So when customers tell you something, even when it’s contrary to what your findings are, believe them. Let them do most of the talking and listen, listen, listen.

On a service call, ask your customers pointed questions, and then write down what their responses are. Review this with them at the end of the call, so you can know while you’re still there that you have covered every single concern that they have. You can also use those questions to determine the different options available to solve customers’ concerns or needs, so that at the end of your service call, you can make a presentation in a very friendly, neutral way and the customer can make an educated decision. The best customer is an informed customer.

At the end of the call I always encourage the technicians to ask for a complaint. You can use whatever verbiage you want to use, but you need to ask, “Have I taken care of all your concerns, do you have any questions, and if you’re not happy please let me know right now.” Take care of any negative feelings right up front. When you know the customer is happy, give them some extra business cards ask them to give them to their friends and family. Say, “Let me see if we can help them, too.” Asking for the complaint is actually a way of asking for referrals.

Being professional is, of course, having the right tools and staying up on technology and all the rest. However, like any other service, you’re there to make a memory. If you go to a restaurant and can’t remember anything about your visit, how likely are you to go there again? You must stand out and exceed customers’ expectations. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s very true. It doesn’t matter if you’re a service technician, a lawyer, or a doctor, or if the individual you’re providing service to is called a customer, a client, or a patient, we’re all in the same business, and that’s people.

That’s why soft skills are important, and are only going to become more so with the R-410A mandate. Customers are going to have to make some pretty expensive repair-vs.-replace decisions, and if those decisions are about price, you’re out of business. It’s up to you to provide the memorable service experience that will stand out in customers’ minds and set you and your company apart.

— Jess Gordon, service manager, Tempo Mechanical Services