The NBC “Today” show recently showed a “sting” operation on air conditioning contractors which they did apparently because of the major heat spell that has affected nearly all of the country. This particular operation occurred in New Jersey and the portion shown on the program can be seen at

Since the program was aired, HVAC chat rooms have been filled with conversations about, not only the program details, but the implications as well. To sum it up briefly for those that haven’t viewed it, an industry expert disconnected a wire on the a/c unit and then supposedly six contractors were called to find and solve the problem. None of the six called reconnected the wire, charged a nominal amount, and went on their way. All six attempted to install parts or perform other operations to run up the charges.

A major discussion in the chat rooms has to do with the fact that there is an assumption that the technicians are being paid based on what they charge and whether this is a good thing or not. But I don’t feel that question is the real issue here. To me the most disappointing thing about the contractors’ employees shown is that in none of the six situations were the employees dressed in uniforms nor did any handle themselves as professionals. If the contractors shown were selected on a random basis, then that is a very poor showing for contractors in that area. It appeared to me — as a contractor viewing — that somehow the contractors shown were selected based on someone’s previous knowledge that they were not professional contractors.

While what was shown was disturbing, equally as disturbing is the fact that the host didn’t point out what I feel was the most obvious point a viewer should have taken from the program.

That is the fact that the homeowner needs to make some effort to determine that the contractor they are calling is, in fact, a professional. In today’s automated world there are many tools available to a consumer to determine if a person he is calling is in fact a professional. Websites, such as the Better Business Bureau, give complaint history about the company. The best way for a homeowner to have trust in the contractor he is calling is to develop a relationship with an HVAC contractor by having routine maintenance performed so that there is a level of comfort when a problem occurs. As contractors we should be emphasizing to our customers how they should maintain a relationship with us so that they will have someone trustworthy to contact when they have a problem.

Teachable Moment

There are other messages that we as contractors should take from this program and they don’t include bashing NBC for showing it. While I feel that the producers did little, if anything, to qualify the contractors that were called, the message for us as contractors is that we all need to make sure our employees are professional appearing and handle their job in a professional manner. I strongly recommend using this video in your training meetings as a how not to handle a service call. We need to make sure that our technicians always present themselves in a professional manner to our customers. Remember that you only have one opportunity to make a first impression and that first impression is a lasting one.

While this program may offend some contractors by showing our industry in a bad light, for those contractors who are professional and do the right things, I feel this program just emphasizes the opportunities that are out there for us. This program clearly showed that there are bad apples in the HVAC basket. It is up to each one of us to show that there are a lot more good apples in that basket. It is also up to each of us to emphasize to our customers and the public that they need to use some caution when choosing an apple (contractor) from that basket. An individual probably wouldn’t blindly pull an apple from the basket, and they shouldn’t blindly choose an HVAC contractor. Make sure that you are the polished apple when they go to select their HVAC contractor.

Publication date: 8/13/2012