The survival of an HVAC or plumbing business rests entirely on daily customer interaction. The Internet or a smartphone are not options when you have to install or service a furnace or air conditioning system.
But during the Coronavirus crisis, human contact must be minimized and/or mitigated, to prevent the spread of the virus. Additionally, human contact and all associated precautions must be practiced in a style that does not instill fear in customers.
Tom Casey, Jr., chief quality officer, and his teams at Griffin Service, St. Johns, Fla. and Climate Partners, Milford, Conn., devoted lots of thought to this challenge, during the week of March 8, when it was clear the Coronavirus situation had quickly worsened, and came up with some effective messaging and protective practices.
"We started talking about it seriously on Wednesday, March 11, when it seemed like things were getting crazy," Casey says. "Then, when our leadership team met on Thursday, afternoon, the situation had already escalated from Wednesday morning. We needed a formal protocol to protect our customers and our company. We don’t want to be in a situation where our businesses are shut down. We don’t want to be recovering from cancelling jobs, we want to be ahead of that process. So, we did a massive amount of work on Thursday. On Friday we recorded Facebook videos for both companies by myself and my brother, Todd, who’s the General Manager at Climate Partners." In the videos, Tom and Todd assure their customers that the companies have taken precautions to protect customers and employees.
CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO
Their plan began with a statement of principle: to do nothing that would feed into fear or hysteria, and to not sensationalize the virus situation, especially during a time when conflicting information was flying around the TV, Internet and social media.
'We needed a formal protocol to protect our customers and our company. We don’t want to be in a situation where our businesses are shut down. We don’t want to be recovering from cancelling jobs, we want to be ahead of that process.' — Tom Casey, Jr.
"We would do nothing that could be construed as taking advantage of the situation in an unethical way," Casey said. "That was our core value of integrity, to make sure that whatever we do, that we don't miscommunicate."
Next, Casey said, there would be total respect for each employee's personal situation.
"We told employees, that if they had a fear of the virus, they could take paid time off, and then they would need to go on unemployment if the paid time off runs out. We are going to respect their personal decisions. If someone has a newborn baby at home, or someone is taking care of an elderly person at home and feels that this is a risk for them, we will work with them on that."
But Casey adds that if an employee makes a decision to take significant time off, they need to think through that decision.
"Just like the company itself; we could make a shortsighted decision and put ourselves in economic peril, if we were to shut down the next three weeks. An employee could use up their savings, run out of money and run up credit card bills.
To be able to speak intelligently about the virus, Casey reached out to his Indoor Air Quality product vendors, for information on how to answer specific questions regarding COVID-19.
Tom Casey and his leadership team selected specific common-sense practices to guard against potential spreading of the virus.
"We don’t want to make any claims about a specific virus, but rather speak generically about ‘viruses’, which is in all manufacturer’s literature. So, we did that to confirm if manufacturers see any differences with the Coronavirus. Generally, they came back to say that no, it’s a similar strain, and they have seen effectiveness against “similar” viruses with their products and they interpolate they will be potentially similarly effective against COVID-19."
Human Contact Guidelines
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Casey and his leadership team selected specific common-sense practices to guard against potential spreading of the virus.
'"We have to enter people's homes, so we have to not only protect our clients from anything we may be carrying, we also have to protect our team and our families from anything a client may be carrying in their home. So, we decided to keep it simple. We already wear floor savers on our feet to protect carrying anything on our shoes into a home, but we instituted hand washing policies, and gave all the men the supplies needed to scrub their hands religiously, more so than they probably would otherwise."
- All employees were given over-the-counter immunity boosters, such as Airborne, vitamin C, Emergen-C®
- Casey ordered industrial strength disinfectant sprays and wipes. "We're a tablet-based company, so techs are handing off a tablet and stylus to customers. Technicians wipe the tablet and stylus down before and after handing it to the client for a signature."
- Disinfectant spray is used to disinfect tools and trucks.
- Employees now take their temperatures on a daily basis. If anyone has a fever, they're taken off the schedule.
- "We haven’t offered masks. We were getting conflicting information on masks and gloves," Casey says. "We decided not to do anything that would cause a debate. We thought about having techs take their temperature at the customer’s door, but then we felt that would generate more fear than anything else."
"It's not very much, even though it sounds like a lot. It's just having a thought process of disinfecting everything. Doing HVAC and plumbing, we’re entering homes, touching thermostats and possibly other things in the home. We’re not offering anything different than we ever did in terms of air quality products. They’re the same exact products, same exact pricing. But we are asking vendors how well they’re stocked, so that if demand increases, we have the inventory on hand. In Connecticut, we’re buying more IAQ products through the Internet because they don’t have very much on the shelves at the distribution level. At Griffin, we have plenty of stock available locally. We may boost that supply and evaluate it day-by-day with distributors."
Additional Community Service Goes Above and Beyond
Casey ended our discussion with some information that hit like a ton of bricks: they're offering to pick up food or other needed items for customers who are housebound during this time.
"We're offering this to customers in our top three zip codes. If they can’t leave their home because of all that’s going on, we will shop for them and deliver it to them. If they can order their milk, bread and eggs from Walmart for example, we will be their delivery vehicle if they don’t have that luxury. We want to serve those who might be more at risk but who have nobody to help them out. We’ve also reached out to a local community center. They’re a customer of ours as well. We’ve told them that if they have people who need support we will jump in and do whatever it takes."
Both Climate Partners and Griffin Services have 22 employees, so these measures took considerable coordination in a short period of time.
"We want our customers and community to be aware, and not be afraid of calling us," Casey says. "Others will try to create fear. We are above all that nonsense. We tell them to call if you need service and we will be there for you. We will take precautions to protect you and ourselves, no fear tactics, no games."