Surviving the Summer Season

June 26, 2006
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The grass is green, and the weather is warm. It's summer, and the fields are busy as farmers across America are tending their crops. Soon they'll be harvesting their fields. As a farmer, you have to learn to be good at harvesting your crops or you have to learn to be good at begging in the winter.

There is a similarity between farmers and some HVAC companies. For many companies, their entire success is predicated on having a successful summer. If your business is dependent on the summer, there are methods to becoming a weather-enhanced business rather than a weather-dependent business. Until you've mastered those systems, however, you'd better become a master at harvesting your revenue in the summer.

Many contractors who are dependent on the summer months will find they don't have the manpower necessary to handle the demand.

That means technicians get overworked. Summertime is hard on technicians. Think about an HVAC technician for a moment. These are truly the unsung heroes of our industry and the summer is when they should be recognized the most. We ask them to go up in an attic where it might be 120° or more. We ask them to crawl through a humid and dark crawlspace that may have snakes and rats in it.

But the reality is, for a company to make the most of these harvest months, they must push technicians to their limits. For companies that don't have the proper manpower and are dependent on the weather, a burned out technician that leaves during the harvest time can be devastating.

How do contractors take advantage of the service opportunities of the summer and work long hours without burning out technicians?

It's a question of motivation, and most business owners think of motivation as throwing some money at their employees. Money, however, is rarely the most powerful motivator. In fact, in a study of what motivates employees, conducted by George Mason University, good pay was the fifth highest motivator. More important than money were job security, feeling "in" on things, appreciation, and the No. 1 motivator was interesting work.

Until contractors have a line of technicians waiting to come to work for them, they'll face the summer challenge of too much work for too few technicians. How do contractors motivate technicians in this busiest of seasons if money isn't the answer?

In light of the powerful motivators that George Mason University unearthed, here are four steps to help the team cope with the dog days of summer and the long hours that come with them.

1. Show the team they make a difference. Since job security is so important, let the team know how valuable they are in the summer. One way to do this is to find a customer testimonial from a client praising the company for helping them out of a hazardous situation. For instance, there are reports every summer about elderly people who succumb to the heat because they don't have air conditioning.

Get a testimonial from a client whose life would have been in danger if a technician hadn't arrived to help them. Share that story with the team and stress the impact they have on lives during the summer. Doctors have to drop everything when an emergency comes in to protect the health of their patients, and technicians are no different than the doctors in the summer when an emergency call comes in. Someone's life could depend on them.

2. Ask them to establish the priorities. If contractors want to help their team feel "in" on things, they can get technicians involved in establishing a priority schedule for how they would like service calls to be handled this summer.

Who do they want to make sure gets service? If an elderly person or a family with no air conditioning calls in on a 100° day, are they willing to go the extra mile to make sure the company gives them service today?

Again, it's the same concept as a doctor looking out for the patients. If a patient comes in with a bruised elbow and another comes in with chest pains, a doctor's priority will be to make sure the patient with chest pains gets assistance. That's the type of priority a contractor's team needs to set for themselves for the summer months.

3. Demonstrate you care. It's hot out there. Show technicians you care about their health by educating them about the dangers of heat stroke. The symptoms of heat exhaustion include headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, weakness, moist skin, irritability, confusion, upset stomach, and vomiting. The symptoms of heat stroke include dry, hot skin with no sweating, mental confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures, and fits.

Contractors can download a reference card from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that technicians can carry with them about protecting themselves from heat stress.

4. Gain family buy-in. Finally, let the staff know they are appreciated by recognizing them for their efforts above and beyond the call of duty. If done right, this can also gain the support of the family and gain support for the company at home.

Every time a technician goes above and beyond and takes a call in the evening or takes one that pulls them away from their family, they receive an entry in a lotto system with prizes awarded throughout the summer.

For example, contractors could give away prizes that will excite the whole family like weekend getaways, televisions, or theme park tickets. Then send a letter to the spouses at home explaining the contest and the prizes.

In some instances, I've seen families desiring a certain prize who will ask the technician, "What are you doing home so early?" when they arrive home at 7 p.m. The family will get behind the technician and buy into the service they provide over the summer. They'll be excited about the possibility of winning an exciting prize. Plus, the technicians will know how much you appreciate them.

HVAC technicians are called upon to do what few can and they deserve special consideration for all that we ask them to do over the summer months. Help technicians survive the summertime, and contractors will see their company thrive. Keeping employees happy is how you make money every day.

Terry Nicholson is president of AirTime 500. For more information on AirTime 500, call 800-505-8885. Nicholson can be reached by e-mail at tnicholson@venvestinc.com.

Publication date: 06/26/2006

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