Jim Johnson

Author’s Note: I’ve conducted hundreds of workshops for technicians, many of them related to things like refrigeration, electricity, electronics, wiring diagrams, and troubleshooting and technical service. And, as everybody knows, those kinds of workshops are important for technicians. After all, technicians who aren’t well trained or up-to-date on the latest developments in their industry simply can’t function competently, which leads to huge problems in providing service to customers who need maintenance and repairs on their HVACR systems. But there’s another area of training that’s just as important for technicians … the so-called “soft skills” that we all need to understand in order to communicate with our customers and provide services for them in a way that makes them feel as though they want to do business with us again.

So, this series of article will focus on those soft skills and how technicians can learn, develop, and grow as a professional when they master the ability to communicate with customers. But, I want to make it clear that this isn’t going to be smile school stuff. Because I don’t believe that smile school stuff works for technicians. What works for technicians when it comes to developing their soft skills is the same kind of thing that works when they’re learning about refrigeration, electricity, electronics, or wiring diagrams … an honest-to-goodness, down-to-earth approach that doesn’t gloss over anything, or leave anything out, so there’s a firm foundation to begin from, an approach that begins where it’s supposed to begin, then builds on that foundation. So here it is … the very beginning of a technician’s informational series on communications skills, ethics, attitude, customer service, and, yes, Virginia, there is going to be a segment on sales skills.

I’m going to begin with the subject of technicians, professionalism, and how they feel about the way their customers sometimes see them. I’ve learned from experience that this is a subject that’s sometimes a little uncomfortable for technicians. And at times, it’s a subject that they’re even more than just a little uncomfortable with … which is why it’s appropriate that we begin by addressing it.

Take the word “professional” for example. You’ll note that our series title uses that term tied directly to the term “technical.” And that’s the way I believe we should refer to the people who provide service to customers by repairing or maintaining HVACR systems - technical professionals. However, technicians participating in our customer service workshops often tell me that they sometimes don’t believe that that’s the way their customers feel about them. Often, they say, they don’t believe their customers see them as professional. So, just as we do in our workshops for technicians, I want to begin by discussing the word professional … and I want you to keep in mind that, for the rest of this series segment, I’m going to be talking directly to technical professionals.

When someone uses the term professional, what do you think comes to mind for most people? Usually an image of what much of our society considers a professional to be. For many people, things like doctor, businessperson, accountant, or teacher come to mind. Most of the time, for much of our society, a person who, as we say, “works with their hands” isn't the first person that most people think of when somebody says professional.

When you look it up in your Funk and Wagnalls or whatever dictionary you choose, however, you find that the base definition of the word is very simple and straightforward. It says that a professional is anybody who is “engaged in an activity in exchange for money.”

Now, I think that pretty much says it all, doesn't it?

That definition says that if you're being paid to do what you do, then you are, in fact, a professional. It doesn't matter that your job isn't arguing a person's case in court, or treating them for an illness, or that you’re not in a restaurant doing a “power lunch” while you’re closing an important deal. When a person is providing a service in exchange for money, then that person is being a professional. That’s all there is to it.

It just so happens that some people choose to be technical professionals, and if that’s the choice you’ve made, I firmly believe that there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with your taking that approach to making a living. And neither should you. Nor should you allow people to treat you as anything less than a professional.

I find that most people don't stop to think about this simple idea, and when I present it, it's kind of an eye-opener for them. How about you? Have you ever thought about the idea of professionals from this point of view?

If you haven't, I would invite you to give it some serious thought.

Now, I want to say that I know that after you give this idea some consideration, it's possible you'll be thinking something like, “Well, Jim … you know, what you're saying makes a lot of sense, but let me give you a dose of reality here. You don't really know what we're up against out in the real world day after day, and what we have to deal with when it comes to customers and how they treat us sometimes.” Well, I want you to know that I do understand some of the difficulties we face as technical professionals. Remember, I'm the one who said that, for much of our society, the word professional doesn't usually equate right off the bat with technical. So, let me address this from a real-world approach for you while at the same time give some perspective on what you can consider when you're dealing with it.

I want to tell you about a technical professional that I met quite a few years ago. I had just finished delivering the keynote address at a convention - the topic was professionalism and technicians - and before I even got close to getting back to my seat, this gentleman was there in front of me, and he said, "There’s something I have to tell you."

Now, I know from experience that, usually, when somebody is first in line to talk to me after I've given a talk or presented at a function, one of two things is about to happen. Either that person is going to tell me that they agree with me 100 percent, or they're going to tell me how wrong I was. Fortunately for me, in this case, the gentleman that I want to tell you about was in agreement with the ideas I had presented on the subject of technical professionals and how we should be treated. But, what he really wanted to tell me was beyond just agreeing with me. He said he had to tell me about an incident that he experienced when dealing with a customer.

He told me that this customer was someone who he had performed services for many times in the past, and that he was once again in her home late one afternoon doing so while she was having a conversation with her young son in the dining room.

Well, it wasn't actually just a conversation. It was really an argument.

The situation was that the customer's son had homework to do but he didn't want to do it. And, of course, like any good parent would, the customer was letting her son know that not doing his homework wasn't acceptable - that he was going to have to stay in and get it done rather than going out to do whatever it was he would rather do. Our technical professional, since he was nearby, could hear the conversation, and it was clear that it was escalating in intensity. Mom was getting exasperated. Her son just wasn't getting the idea that homework was important and that he had to do it. And the conversation escalated to the point where she was becoming even more and more exasperated, until she finally hit on an idea about how she could make her son understand the importance of doing homework and getting a good education so he could succeed out in the world.

She pointed toward the technical professional who was in her home performing a service for her, and asked her son, “Do you want to wind up like him?”

Now, our technical professional in this story - who's income by the way, because he is extremely proficient at what he does, is very good - was hit quite hard by what his customer had just said.

And nobody can blame him for being affected what she said. After all, he just discovered in a rather dramatic fashion that a customer … somebody he'd dealt with many times in the past … considered him to be, well, beneath her in some way because of the kind of work he did. And she was quite bothered by the idea that her son might “wind up” to be in that same position if he didn't do well in school.

The story that this gentleman related to me isn't unique. I've had many technicians tell me in workshops that they've experienced the same kind of thing when dealing with the customers to whom they provide services. That some people have a tendency to look down on them and treat them with less than the respect they feel they deserve. So, am I aware that, realistically, this kind of thing goes on out in the real world? Of course I am.

Do I have an opinion on the issue? Of course I do.

I’d like to present a very simple and fundamental concept about people. And that concept is self-esteem. It's a concept that applies to everyone. And, in some cases, people don't have a very high level of self-esteem. Which means that they are always in a mode where they are trying to find something to make themselves feel better about themselves. And it's common for these attempts to involve other people.

Jumping on an opportunity to “put down” somebody else is often a sign that a person is desperately reaching for something … anything they can find … to make themselves feel better about who they believe they are (or believe they aren't). And, in a society where there may be some people who still cling to the outdated idea of blue collar workers being of one status and white collar workers being of another, it's logical to think that at some point in a technical professional's workday, they may find themselves being treated less than professionally.

Which leads me to two questions I want to ask of you.

First, if a customer was subjecting you to this kind of treatment, would it bother you?

Well, the answer to that question is likely “yes.” After all, we're all human, which means that we can be affected by the things that others say to us, or the attitudes that they convey toward us.

Second, after your initial feeling about being treated in a put-down way by a customer, how does this idea of self-esteem fit into the situation?

It's simple. If we can understand that the reason for the negative behavior toward us is really an attempt on that person's part to make themselves feel better, we can, rather than allow it to bother us, feel some compassion toward that person. Now, I want you to understand that I know this isn't easy to do. I said it was simple. I didn't say it was easy.

With an understanding of the self-esteem concept though, and sometimes counting to 10 if necessary, it can be accomplished. You can, instead of letting a customer like the mother who was trying to motivate her son anger you, understand that they're the one with the problem. And, you can understand that looking at it from this perspective can allow you to show up at the next job site or customer's home with positive expectations rather than a negative feeling.

I believe that this is an important issue for technical professionals, because, like I said, it always comes up at our workshops. I also want to say that I know it's important because of when it comes up at workshops. Usually, when we take a break at some point during the day, that's when technicians will talk to me about it. What that means to me is that, while it's an important issue, I also understand that it's also an issue that isn't exactly comfortable for technicians to discuss. And I hope that I've presented my thoughts and ideas on the subject in a way that you can be comfortable with.

And, now, I want to get back to the gentleman I was telling you about from the convention. Have you been wondering about how he reacted to being held up by his customer as an example of a less-than-successful professional in an effort to get her son to do his homework?

Well, I'm happy to report that he didn't decide to do anything like walk out, or double the price of the work he was performing. He did what we would expect a technical professional to do. As an experienced and able professional, he finished the job to the best of his ability, collected for his services, and left without bringing up what he had heard the customer say to her son - which is exactly the approach we need to take to professionalism. If we want to be a professional, we must always act like a professional, even toward those who sometimes don’t treat us like professionals.

And it’s with that thought that we’ll close this segment of our series. It’s likely that you’ve guessed by now that the “P” in PEAK stands for “Professional.” In part two of our series, we’ll continue our discussion on the topic of professionalism, and how a technician can use the “Technical Professional’s Personal Policy” to provide the best possible customer service. And, as we go through this entire article series, we’ll cover all the aspects of PEAK Performance for the Technical Professional.

Note: The information for this article series is excerpted from Jim Johnson’s “PEAK Performance for the Technical Professional,” an audio learning program designed to help technicians develop their sales and communication skills. The three CD set can be ordered from: Technical Training Associates, HC 70 Box 3172, Sahuarita, AZ 85629 for $39.95 (shipping and handling included). Mail check or money order, or send Visa or MasterCard information to the above address. Credit card orders may also be faxed to 520-648-3334. For more information, visit www.technicaltrainingassoc.com.

Copyright © 2007, Technical Training Associates

Publication date:04/09/2007