Saturday, August 28, 2010

Service IS What We Sell

HVAC/R service technicians must master many different skills to be successful. There are the hard skills that involve manipulation and mechanical ability like electrical wiring, brazing, and refrigerant handling; there are the problem solving skills like refrigeration and electrical troubleshooting; and there are soft skills such as customer service. Service technicians must be competent in every one of these skillsets. Note that these skillsets are quite different from each other. The hard skills require mechanical ability and a good kinesthetic sense. Problem solving requires abstract thinking and the ability to take several pieces of information and form a reasonable judgment. Even if a service technician has great mechanical ability and is an accomplished problem solver, they must be able to deal with customers. Service work is primarily about customer service. Often, individuals who are mechanically gifted are not “people persons.” They would much rather rebuild a compressor than talk to the compressor’s owner. The problem is that the compressor is not who writes the checks, the owner is. So if you want to be paid, you need to learn to talk to the customers.

Increasingly, service technicians are required to make out a bill and collect payment. I consider this yet another skill set – financial. In the good old days, I would simply tell the customer that they would receive a bill. When they wanted to know how much it would be I honestly did not have a clue. I might as well have told them to write a check and leave the amount blank so I could fill it in for their convenience later on. Customers now expect to know what they owe before the technician leaves. In many cases, the company expects the technician to collect payment. To create bills and collect payment technicians must be familiar with the company’s pricing policies. Many companies use price books which list prices for specific services. The price includes all aspects of the cost - parts, labor, overhead, and profit . Technicians bill customers according to the services they deliver. The technician needs to learn how the book is organized and be comfortable looking up prices in the book. Many technicians are uncomfortable using the books, making bills, and collecting payment. Often, companies just hand the new technician the book without much training. Although every company’s price book and billing procedure are unique, most companies now require their service technicians to produce bills and collect payment.

I think every HVAC/R program should have some example pricing procedures available to their students. The point is not to tell them what to charge, but to help them prepare to make bills using pricing policies that are prevalent in your area. A vendor for a price book that is used by several contractors in our area supplied us with a sample book. The prices do not reflect any particular company and all services are not in the book. Further, SAMPLE is written prominently across every page. But this book lets us inject a dose of reality into troubleshooting. Students should not only be able to track down the cause of the problem, they should also be able to find the service required to repair the system in the price book.

One thing that many students have a hard time with is the large price discrepancy between the cost of the part being replaced and the cost of providing the service. I emphasize that the customer pays far more for the technician’s expertise and service than they do for the part. The cost of the part is almost negligible. I point out that this is true for nearly any service business. Otherwise, the company cannot make money and their technicians cannot earn a good living. They are not cheating the customer by charging a high price. They are cheating the customer if they fail to deliver complete and competent service. We are called service technicians for a reason.

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