I had just about given up on seeing clean cut, polite technicians and installers in our industry. Many people say they don't exist. They say young people are lazy and don’t want to work, that they’ve forgotten how to communicate verbally. Finally, people say it's impossible today to find technicians with both technical aptitude and excellent customer service skills.

Further discouragement came from a review of consumer research from the American Home Comfort Study conducted by Decision Analyst in 2010, specifically from consumers who had actual encounters with an HVAC contractor. Part of the report is very encouraging. Seventy percent of homeowners reported that the contractor and/or technician who came to their homes had a courteous manner.

Ka-Ching! One for our side.

Sixty-four percent said the technician was neat in appearance. Fifty-nine percent said the technician had a professional demeanor that made them feel confident that a quality installation would be done. Excellent!

Then the concerns begin to creep in. Only 47% of consumers said the technician had a professional presence that calmed my fears about letting a stranger into my home. Translated, more than 50% of the time, Mrs. Homeowner must have allowed a technician into her home that scared the bejabbers out of her. Not exactly a resounding endorsement of our industry. And only 26% of the time did the technician stand back from the door during the greeting until the consumer felt comfortable.

So with reluctance, I concluded that the industry must be right. The high caliber, clean-cut, polite, eager-to-learn technician and installer was dead — a thing of the past.

And then, Virginia, I went to St. Louis.
At a meeting of installers at Jerry Kelly Heating and Air Conditioning, St. Charles, MO, the installers were all neat and clean. There may have been some tattoos, but they were covered by clean uniform shirts emblazoned with the company logo and the name of the installer.

The installation manager reported the success rate on installations performed the previous month was 97.8%, meaning the call-backs were only 2.2%. Steve Miles, general manager of Jerry Kelly, says that it was amazing to see how taking a negative term — call back — and making it a positive — success rate — changed the thinking of the installers. Prior to the terminology and KPI reporting name change, the best success rate had been 89%.

Steve may be right about the impact of positive terminology, but a study called Managing Service Quality by Tor W. Andreassen and Lervik Olsen of the BI Norwegian School of Management suggests that the actual customer service performed by these installers probably has more to do with it. The study concludes that customer service plays an important part in the customers’ evaluation of the experience. "When customers feel they receive good service, they tend to view their service supplier as more attractive than the competition, it affects customer satisfaction, and the degree to which they develop financial, rational and emotional ties to the service supplier," explains Andreassen.

Technicians/installers who are clean-cut, polite, and actually talk to the customer make the product quality and installation superior in the eyes of the consumer. The good feeling created flows over to the company.

Leadership also makes the difference. Miles won't accept less than clean-cut, polite, technicians and installers who have good attitudes. Too many contractors accept less than high caliber employees because they say there aren't any good ones anymore.

But I believe there are. You may have to go through more applicants, do more testing and background searches; you may have to provide more technical training so you can hire for attitude; you may have to fire bad attitude non-believers; you may have to create job descriptions, job standards, and criteria for promotion and stick to it; and most importantly, you may have to walk the talk yourself.

But Virginia, I Believe . . .
. . . there are clean-cut young people, who are polite, who know how to communicate verbally. The best way to create excellent customer service ambassadors is to hire good attitudes and provide technical training. There are HVAC owners and managers who know the company must make double digit profits in order to attract and keep the high caliber, quality people our industry must have.

And so for Christmas, my hope is you received a gift wrapped box full of "I Believe." If not, make it your New Year's resolution

Vicki LaPlant has been working with HVAC contractors for the past 30 years as a trainer and consultant. She is expert in helping people work better together for greater success. She is a Contracting Business.com editorial advisory board member and can be reached by email at vicki@vleishvac.com, or by phone at 903/786-6262.