by Ron Smith

For the past several years I have maintained that the HVAC industry suffers from a self-esteem problem. Generally speaking, our service technicians, installers and other outside co-workers don’t display the self-confidence you’d expect from professionals (yes, I said professionals because that’s what they are). In fact, representatives of most other industries performing in-home services have us beat pretty badly in this area. Let's fix this! Customers enjoy doing business with people who are confident and display pride.

Developing a structured program that addresses this matter can pay off in big dividends for your company. It could result in improved customer relations, customer satisfaction, customer referral sales leads, community presence and perception, co-worker recruiting, co-worker satisfaction, co-worker appearance and behavior, co-worker retention, and co-worker sales activity.

Here are five actions you can do to meet the challenge:

• Co-workers need to know they’re not "just heating and air conditioning people.” Boiling it down to the basics, they serve society in two ways. They keep people comfortable, and they save people money.Both of these are very important and sure sound like the work of professionals to me.

First, keeping people comfortable. You have a wide variety of products and services in your company's portfolio that satisfy this statement. Examples are: new heating and air conditioning equipment that provides a level of comfort not previously available, high efficiency air filters and cleaners, humidity controls, UV air treatment, programmable thermostats, duct cleaning systems, zoning, service agreements, and tune-ups. With these offerings, your company and its co-workers can make people significantly more comfortable. Your co-workers need to understand their importance and the contribution they make to your customers' improved comfort.

Second, saving people money. Once again, examine your portfolio of products and services to see how well you address this statement. Maybe you need to evaluate your present offering, then update and broaden it to accommodate today's latest possibilities.

Financial advisors make a living managing their customers' investments, and they use the term "your financial portfolio." That's why in my consulting and training with HVAC contractors I tell them that they also have a portfolio of investment opportunities for their customers.

But, there are at least three differences. Normally, the customers' return on investment with your products and services is higher; the return is totally tax free, which often is quite significant; and, the return is the same regardless of the economy. A certain dot.com stock price might drop from $50 a share to $1 per share, but the return on a new high efficiency heating and air conditioning system continues delivering at a constant pace.

•All professionals carry and use business cards. Since your outside co-workers are professionals issue each of them a box of cards.

I still remember the time my boss walked up to me and handed me my very first ever set of business cards. Boy, was I proud and excited! Spend some time training your field service people how to use their cards. They should always hand one to each adult when introducing himself or herself at the customer's front door. If only one adult greets them, hand them two cards.

Also, agree and encourage them to freely hand out a couple of cards to anyone they wish. Having them use business cards is not only a method of addressing co-worker self esteem, it’s also a solid guerrilla sales marketing tactic. For example, one of my service technicians once handed his cards to a Penney's clerk after buying a shirt. She phoned the office that same week for a service call, and we had a new customer.

Another time, one of my client’s service technicians handed his card to the manager of a convenience store. The manager later phoned the office and the client secured a service agreement on all of the HVAC and refrigeration equipment at the store.

•The manner in which a person dresses and the way they look can influence their self-esteem. Good clean personal grooming and appearance is important to pride (not to mention that it’s certainly what customers prefer). In developing a company standard of personal grooming and appearance I found that allowing co-workers, as a group, to develop the standards works best. They then submit and discuss those standards with management to get approval.

Surprisingly, the standards they come up with often equal or even surpass those that management wishes for. Incidentally, this same technique works just as well in developing standards for vehicle appearance and cleanliness.

In addition, a neat clean truck also has a positive influence on co-workers’ pride, resulting in improved self-esteem.

•I'm a fanatic about companies having a structured on-going training program. Company training in both technical and customer relations should be directed towards improving co-workers' skills. As their skill level improves, they gain confidence in their job, perform better at what they do, learn how to take on new tasks and challenges, earn more money, and deliver a higher level of customer satisfaction.

Whenever they deliver a higher level of customer satisfaction, they receive more recognition from customers, which enhances pride and self-esteem.

•It is said that recognition may be the highest form of a compliment. With that in mind, if management makes it a habit to sincerely let a co-worker know what a good a job he or she is doing, that simple will have a huge positive impact.

-Congratulate to a technician who took care of a very difficult situation.

- Congratulate an installer who replaced an entire system in record time or completed a superb job in difficult conditions.

- Thanking a co-worker for handing out a business card and letting them know that the company secured a new customer as a result, commenting on the super neat appearance of a service van both inside and outside are all examples of providing recognition. You are showing appreciation for a job well done, creating more pride and improved self-esteem.

The last point I wish to make is a management principle that, when practiced, reinforces the kind of behavior you desire from co-workers. An owner or general manager of a company tremendously influences co-workes’ behavior — your feelings, comments, behavior (including appearance and doing what you expect others to do), and attitude will result in building the self-esteem and professionalism of your co-workers. n

Ron Smith is a former HVAC contractor, franchisor, consultant, consolidator, and editorial advisory board member of Contracting Business magazine. He is also an inductee into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. He lives in Brentwood, TN and can be reached via e-mail at ronlsmith@comcast.net or by phone at 615/661-5666.