One of the most difficult aspects of running a successful HVAC company has always been finding the right technicians to do the work the way you want it done. You’re looking for people who will gain your customers’ loyalty as the face of your company, garner your trust by being ethical in all their dealings, and be willing to learn and adapt to this ever-changing industry. No small wish list to be sure.
Add to this already daunting challenge the needs of the new retail-oriented HVAC companies who, on top of all the above-mentioned criteria, also require the qualities of a motivated salesperson. They are looking for technicians who can see past the obvious pitted contactor or swollen capacitor that initiated the visit, look into potential areas in the home that could use attention, and share those things with the customer. In other words, Upsell.
The Three Sources of Technicians
In the past, HVAC companies have harvested new technician hires from three major sources:
- Vocational schools, a.k.a. “technician mills.” Some young, talented individuals who have basic knowledge and understanding of the industry can be found here. However, these candidates are usually pretty green and even the best of them require some years of on-the-job training to get to where they need to be on the technical side of things.
- Head-hunting the competition by way of local newspaper ads or supply house flyers. This is an interesting practice considering what most companies would answer if they were asked what makes them stand apart from their competition. I’m not sure how they expect to be different if all they do is hire the rejects or malcontents from other companies.
- Hiring technicians by way of the local employment services. This is a more desperate option. Specific trade knowledge may be asking too much here, but you can usually get a warm body, happy to jump onto your payroll at a moment’s notice.
These have been the most well-trodden paths of employment that we’ve lived with in this industry for a very long time, but they’re no longer working.
Today we see the emergence of a new breed of HVAC company — one that markets more on the level of a retail store with such things as customer convenience taking a high priority. They offer a catalog of services and accessories and aggressively market maintenance agreements to give customers peace of mind. This kind of company is taking many markets by storm and it’s hard to make a case against this new model when you consider their levels of success.
So what does this new type of company do to find a new kind of technician? This may prove to be the hardest change of all, as many are struggling to find the answer.
A Unique Breed
It’s long been accepted that service technicians were a breed of their own: kinesthetic learners who are good with their hands, thriving on the challenge of diagnosing problems, but usually showing an outright disdain for persuasive communication on anything besides. Naturally cautious, most technicians are suspicious of what they see as a sales tactic and can become downright petrified at the idea of picking some up themselves.
In trying to decipher the origins of this mistrust, I’ve asked if it was perhaps the value of the upsell product that the technician was worried about, but usually found that is not the case. It turns out that technicians do believe in the importance of what we offer; they just don’t want to be the ones to offer it. They don’t want to be salespeople.
In more cases than I’d like to relate, we’ve hired these “experienced technicians” only to be disappointed in a very short time. Prior to hiring, we’ve always tried to be completely open about how we strive to be different, detailing the sales requirements from our technicians. As could be expected, almost every applicant is not only willing, but also eager during the interview stage. Unfortunately, this willingness to try different things usually fades fairly quickly. As employment begins and they are placed in a potentially uncomfortable situation of having to sell a customer, they are often reminded of their easier days in the past when all they had to do was fix a part and move on. This leads to open grumbling, and before you know it we’re looking for a new technician.
Time for a Change of Thinking
So do we fight natural tendencies and try to make a salesperson from a technician, or do we try something less routine and reverse that: to hire and train salespeople to be technicians? While it may fly in the face of conventional wisdom, it can be done.
Finding someone who has a sales-minded attitude who is willing to try new things, and who can be trained in the technical properties of this industry is infinitely easier than the other way around. Much of our industry has gone from relying on gut knowledge (for example, checking refrigerant change by feeling the suction line with your hand) to more precise approaches using checklists, instruments, and science. Self-diagnosing equipment and more advanced tools have replaced much of what used to require years of experience.
Furthermore, many new retail HVAC companies have a specific process for almost every aspect of what a technician will face in the field: if this is happening, this is what you check; if this instrument reads this way, this is what you do. This leads to fewer surprises and much less thinking on the part of the technician. This type of structural management allows for a much easier, green-to-grown technician training solution for the retail-minded HVAC company. This will literally open up that narrow hiring pool to nearly anyone. With a properly developed training program in place, the only real hiring criteria becomes attitude.
Jim Brown is president of The Brown Company, Mountain Home, AR. He has 44 years of HVAC industry experience. He can be reached at 870/425-5775 or by email at [email protected]