Al Levi

Editor''s note:Consultant Al Levi helps HVAC and plumbing contractors run their businesses with “less stress and more success.” He has agreed to let us share with readers ofThe NEWSsome of the questions he gets and the answers he provides. The focus is strictly on problem solving and handling the day-to-day operations of a successful contracting business.

This column is meant to be a resource only. Please check with your own trusted business advisers, including your own attorney, to make certain that the advice here complies with all relevant laws, customs, and regulations in your area.


Dear Al,

We’re primarily air conditioning contractors so naturally we get super busy when it first gets hot, which is around early May, and we don’t catch our breath until late August.

You’d think by now my guys would know we can’t take vacations during our busy time but last summer I had two technicians out on vacation in the middle of July! The bad news is that this isn’t the first time this has happened.

Why does this keeps on happening?

How do I stop this from happening again?

Vanishing on Vacation

Dear Vanishing on Vacation,

You’re right to be upset about this happening over and over. But you need to be upset at yourself, not them. What have you done to make sure your policy is known and in writing? What have you done to have them sign off that they’re being held accountable for adhering to it?

If you think just talking to them will work, be prepared to have it happen again. And even if you did tell someone something some time ago, how would you hold them accountable to that?

Even a memo is ineffective. They may get it but they don’t “Get It” until they pick up a pen and sign an acknowledgement that they have read and agreed to comply.

And yes, you can count on someone in the future who will test you by taking time off during your busy season and they’ll be all too willing to play dumb about the policy. They know they can because they don’t believe you’ll enforce the few policies you do have.

They’ll only be convinced you mean business when you’re willing to enforce a key policy like when to take vacation time (make it date specific like Sept. 1 till April 30) with everyone every time. If your employees don’t change their ways, then you know you need to upgrade your staff with willing team players instead of prima donnas.

Implement these strategies and watch the vanishing act disappear.

Al Levi


Dear Al,

I had a terrible scare last week. While I was at a training session out of town, a local TV crew came to my office to investigate a consumer complaint.

The receptionist got nervous and angrily chased them out of the building. My financial controller caught them in the parking lot and began to ramble on about how we don’t have any controls or procedures in place yet for handling irate customers so we tend to ignore them and hope they get tired of calling us!

When I got back and saw the videotape of the segment on the local news, all the blood left my body and I was lucky to stumble to the couch or I would have passed out right there on the floor.

Can you believe what these two numbskulls did to me?

I know I can’t fix what’s already happened but what should I do in the future?

Camera Capers

Dear Camera Capers,

Let me start by saying, I feel your pain. But, it was and remains your responsibility to prepare your entire staff on how to handle an unexpected visit from the media or the government. If you never trained them how to respond, they’re free to wing a response and you can see where that’s gotten you.

You could naively think that you’ll handle all of these situations in the future but you’re being unrealistic. Suppose a camera crew stops your tech on his way to his service truck and he’s never been trained on how to respond? Think his winging it will be a good thing?

Suppose the local TV station calls on the phone and your customer service rep has never been trained how to respond?

Suppose you make it a policy that only you can handle all these situations in the future. Too bad you’re in another training class, on vacation, or out sick!

You need to find a specialist who can help train you and your employees on how to be prepared for just such occasions. How you handle this potentially damaging experience is crucial. For now, I suggest you contact a media specialist and see what if anything they can do to help you through your current crisis and what they can do to minimize a reoccurrence.

Without adequate preparation, the eye of the camera will be on you.

Al Levi

Publication date:12/11/2006