Have you ever watched the television police drama NCIS? I think service technicians should look at their jobs as being somewhat "HVACIS" in nature.

By that, I mean you should arrive at a home the way the NCIS team does at a crime scene: as an "investigator" who wants to solve customers' complaints and concerns.

A good investigation starts with listening and asking questions. Unfortunately, this is an area in which I believe many technicians are lacking. You must arrive at each home and view it as a blank slate. Listen to the homeowner. Gather every piece of information that you can. Don't form opinions or decide on a course of action until you have all the facts.

I can't begin to count the number of jobs in which the homeowner has given me all the clues I need to solve their problems before I have even taken a panel off their equipment. The trouble is, many technicians aren't paying attention when customers are talking. They think they are the experts, and are afraid that asking questions may make them look unknowledgeable in their customers' eyes. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Homeowners know their homes. They live there every day, and they know when something's wrong or different. We're only there for a few hours.

Here's a good example I came across recently. Another technician and I went to a customer's home, and as we talked about the comfort problems she was experiencing she mentioned that she never needed to change her air filter: it never got dirty. If we hadn't talked with her, we might have seen a clean filter and assumed she had just changed it. But the filter that never got dirty provided the clue we needed to diagnose a return air duct problem. We fixed the line, cleaned out all the dirt in it that never made it to that nice clean filter, and created a happy customer.

Remember: the first two steps in a successful service call are listening, and asking questions. I think 80% of callbacks would be cured if every technician would just stop, not assume anything, and listen to what the customer says. That's how the cops find the bad guys on NCIS, and it's how you'll find and fix problems in customers' systems.

Tina Coop is service & installation manager, Rockville, MD location, CroppMetcalfe, and a NATE "Top Tech." She can be reached at 301/762-0100 or tcoop@croppmetcalfe.com