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Thoughts on NBC’s Today Show Air Conditioning Sting Operation

This past week, NBC’s Today show aired a Rossen Reports segment that raised the question: Are some air conditioning repairmen taking advantage of their customers in this summer’s extreme heat?

Jeff Rossen, national investigative correspondent, challenged the honesty and integrity of air conditioning technicians. Producers of the show rented a house in a very nice town in New Jersey. They set up hidden cameras, hired an actor to pose as a real customer, and staged a simple, easy-to-fix broken wire in the home’s air conditioning system.

Three reputable air conditioning experts reviewed the a/c system prior to calling any contracting companies. The system was in very good working order with the exception of one wire, which was intentionally broken, requiring only an easy, inexpensive replacement. The premise of the sting was to see if any of the technicians called to the home would recognize the wire problem and make the proper recommendation to fix the wire.

Six different air conditioning companies were called at different times. Six technicians came out individually to help the customer. In all six cases, the technicians failed to make the recommendation to replace the wiring.

One technician found the broken wire but wanted to charge for an expensive capacitor (the capacitor was checked earlier that day and there was nothing wrong with it). Another technician said the time-delay part needed replacing but this part wasn’t even included in that particular unit. All six technicians had failed to make the simple recommendation that the wiring needed to be replaced for the unit to work properly.

The entire program was disappointing to watch, to say the least. The ethics, honesty, and integrity of all six companies involved are now being challenged very publicly. I believe that lack of proper training is a big part of the problem.

In my sales training for contractors, I always begin my seminars and coaching with the importance of mission, purpose, and goals. No matter what career, position, or role in a company (business owner, service technician, customer service, etc.), it’s always critical to ask oneself these three questions:

1. Why am I doing what I’m doing?

2. Do I do it with honesty and integrity?

3. Am I the best I can be in every aspect of my job?

There are some folks that understand and develop a new appreciation for one’s purpose and role in people’s lives — then, there are some that roll their eyes and don't see the point.

As damaging as NBC’s Today show air conditioning sting operation was to the reputation of the companies featured, it should serve as an eye-opener for every business owner.

What would happen if there were hidden cameras on each of your staff people every day? Would your workers pass the honesty and integrity test? What message, as business owners and managers, are we sending when we don’t provide our people with proper training?

Consider this:

In the HVAC industry specifically, where are we lacking with proper training programs? Are we focusing primarily on programs that incentivize technicians for the highest dollar volume generated? Are we neglecting to train our technicians on the importance of honesty and integrity? Does a laser focus on highest dollar volume generated get in the way of making an honest recommendation to the customer?

From a business owner standpoint, I understand that our service technicians must generate the right dollar volume each day for a company to be profitable and grow. But companies can and must reach their profitability goals while keeping a commitment to making honest recommendations to their customers. There is critical training missing from many contractor sales training programs. Training on topics like purpose, goals, and integrity must become a crucial part of any contractor sales training program for HVAC service technicians and staff.

Publication date: 7/16/2012

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