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October 28, 2010
You’ve been in this business quite a while, right? You may have started off in the field as a helper or apprentice, moved up along the way, and now you’re the manager or owner of a pretty good size construction firm or service company. You’ve paid your dues, and seen it all.
It’s Tuesday afternoon, you’re at your desk with a cup of joe from your favorite local mud house. Thankfully, the phones continue to ring despite the stumbling economy:
“Hey Marty, I guess that 7-foot yellow chicken we put out in the mall is really paying off, huh?”
“I suppose, but do you think that sign he’s carrying was the really the best ad slogan we could come up with? I mean, ‘Call us now, we won’t lay an egg on you’ just seems a little, uh, stupid.”
“Yeah well, that’s how we got that plumbing job at Mrs. Meyers’ house,” you snap back. “Speaking of Mrs. Meyers, have you heard anything from German yet?”
“Hmmm, he’ll probably call any minute now”, you try to convince yourself.
An hour goes by, and you forget all about the Meyers’ job as you go about putting out the daily fires in the office. Stuff like: who’s going to meet the inspector in 20 minutes; that Tacoma job quote has to be out today; the air conditioning is off again at the restaurant; Mike needs material on his job; and, that damn dog pooped in my office again. Ah yes, the joys of management.
“Mr. Powers, your 2 o’clock interview is here, oh, and Mrs. Meyers is holding on line three,” a voice calls from the intercom.
“Alright, good, tell the applicant that I’ll be with him in a moment,” you reply as you pick up the phone.
“Hello Mrs. Meyers, what can I do for you?”
As you wait for a response, you picture the very large and expensive home of the client and hope that this is a “happy call.”
“Well, I’ll tell you why I am calling. As your man, Mr. German, proceeded with the repair in my home, I informed him that I would be leaving for a short while to pick up my Bitsie from the groomer’s. When I returned later in the afternoon, I found his tools sprawled out on the floor, but he was nowhere to be found. I then called your office to inform them that perhaps he had finished and neglected to collect the remainder of his paraphernalia, and asked the girl to please send someone out to get them.
“However, upon further inspection, I regret to inform you that he is indeed still on the premises. In fact, he is at the moment, passed out in my bed in his underwear, and is quite inebriated. I demand you remove him immediately, and expect to hear from my lawyer!”
No, that wasn’t the happy call you were hoping for.
I held that manager position for about 10 years myself, and as I am sure that you know, this stuff really happens. Why then, can’t we figure out how to screen for these deficiencies during the hiring process?
I used to require a detailed application, a criminal background check, a credit check, a personality profile, and multiple interviews with different managers, and yet with my 10 or so crews, I still received weekly, if not daily, customer calls with some ridiculous complaints.
But as I would continue to try and solve the obviously insolvable, I realized that it was not just my employees that seemed to be determined to have me institutionalized. No, my customers were at least as much trouble, if not more.
I remember a time that I went to look at a job where I met with a homeowner and spent a good hour discussing the project and doing the bonding thing so that he would feel at ease with our company working in his home. Everything seemed to go well; we joked a little, and he told me about the vacation he just returned from. We were on the same page, and would begin work the next day.
Apparently I had missed something because not long after, my office was visited by the police who had received a call from that same guy saying that I had stolen something from his home. A few hundred-dollar bills left on the dresser, you ask? Nope.
He told the police that about an hour after I left his home, he went back to work. However, I must have been staking out the house and returned once I saw him leave. I then broke into his house, ransacked the joint, and stole his … answering machine? Yes, this customer accused me of stealing his twenty dollar Radio Shack telephone answering machine. Needless to say, we didn’t go back to do the work; and NO, I already had an answering machine.
Human nature is a difficult and unwieldy trait that we have no choice but to deal with, unless you happen to know of a lighthouse looking for a keeper. In the meantime, I think that the best way to attack it is to simply beat it to death with pleasantries and a good attitude, along with some desperately needed laughter. And if you want to read a few more of my stories, you can find them in my new book “101 Ways to Suck as an HVAC Tech.” It won’t tell you how to prevent it (sucking, that is), only what you can expect if you insist on employing actual people.
Rich Schuster has worked in many phases of the HVAC and plumbing industries since 1991, from apprentice to general manager in the contractor segment, and later as a rep for a large HVAC wholesaler. He has written two books with a focus on installation training basics.
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