AUSTIN, Texas — For the fifth straight year, HVACR professionals met for Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s (ACCA) Service Managers Forum, focusing on streamlining the interaction between management, technician, and the customer. More than 250 individuals attended the two-day event, held in mid-October.

Defining Expectations

With a crew of technicians encompassing varying levels of education, experience, and abilities, it’s often difficult to define expectations and set a strategic pay scale.

Matt Marsiglio, operations manager, Flame Heating, Cooling, Plumbing, and Electrical, Warren, Mich., has developed a template that has proven successful for his service division. “Goals must coincide with level of ability, and we tie in hourly pay accordingly,” he said. “As a result, we acknowledge that average service ticket revenue will vary for each technician depending on their rank.”

Each technician’s expectations are devised using simple arithmetic.

“I take a technician’s hourly pay, divide it by the department’s total hourly pay, and multiply it by the total revenue budget,” he said. “So, for example, let’s say a technician is making $20 per hour, and the department’s total hourly pay is $400 per hour. If our total annual revenue budget is $4 million, you take $20, divide it by $400, and multiply the result by $4 million. Thus, that technician is responsible for a baseline of $200,000 in our annual budget.”

Marsiglio warns other managers to be cautious when setting a technician’s revenue goals.

“If the numbers are set too low, you will not receive the desired results. If they are set too high, no one will want to make an attempt at reaching the goals,” he said. “You will know if the goals are too high or too low based on performance, and you may have to adjust.”

While abilities, experience, and pay rates do vary, Marsiglio said certain company benchmarks do not.

“Our maintenance plan conversion goal remains at 65 percent for each tech. Regardless if that tech is running one call, or 10 calls, we expect a 65 percent return,” he said. “We also stand pat on a 12 percent lead generation rate and strive for 98 percent call accuracy. If you send the right people on the right calls, these marks are accomplished efficiently and accurately.”

Promoting Growth

Keynote speaker Bruce Wilkinson, customer service consultant, trainer, and author, said a successful business is always built from the ground up with honest, hardworking employees.

“Leadership is linked to passion and responsibility and we only promote dependable people. If you aren’t dependable, you’ll never be promoted,” he said. “In my experience, I’ve found that you can’t train uncaring people — even if they are technically sound.”

Wilkinson referenced a quote from Wayne Gretzky, the all-time leading point scorer in National Hockey League (NHL) history. When asked how he was always around the puck, Gretzky replied, “I was never around the puck; I was always where the puck was going to be.”

“These are the employees you want,” Wilkinson said. “The ones that are ahead of the game, the ones that are reading the trade magazines — these are the guys that will define the future of this industry.”

Eric Knaak, vice president of operations, Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning, Rochester, N.Y., placed a high value on goal setting and teamwork.

“How do you want to measure the financial success of your company? Will your growth be based on an increase in sales, volume, gross profit, or net profit? You need to have a plan in place, or else you’ll never achieve your goals,” said Knaak. “Once you establish your vision, it’s very important that you share these goals with your team. How can your workers strive for the same goals if they don’t know what those goals are? Everyone has to be all in.”

A bad reputation is certain to stunt growth, said Knaak.

“In your community, you know who the bad companies are. You can probably name one, or two, or 30, just off the top of your head,” he said. “Your image is very important. You’ve got to get involved in the community programs. Volunteer your labor and your time — it’s not always about giving thousands of dollars. It’s about showcasing your company in a positive light. Every little bit counts.”

Mike Rackers, HVAC manager, CroppMetcalfe Inc., Beltsville, Md., said his technicians are taught to make customer interaction more of a solution than a sale.

“During each interaction, we must ask, ‘Can you tell me more about that?’” he said. “Then, read everything back that they’ve listed, tell them you’ll be back to discuss the issues they’ve brought up after you look at them. Then, go do the inspection and promptly share what you’ve found.

“If you explain each issue individually, and propose solutions to each problem, they’ll feel like your focus is truly solving their problems and making their lives better, which will almost always lead to them following your recommendations.”


Attendees discussed what they learned at the conclusion of the conference, which was moderated by Vince DiFilipo, owner, DiFilippo Service Co. Inc., Paoli, Pa.

Kathe Stewart, COO and co-owner, Precision Air Conditioning & Heating, Memphis, Tenn., said she learned to not be so hard on herself.

“This forum really changed my life,” she said. “At our company, we’ve got one person in the office and 10 in the field, and it seems like I go 20 hours a day, every day. I’ve learned the importance of prioritizing and accomplishing one thing at a time,” she said. “Last night I crafted two policies for our policy and procedure book focusing on technology and discipline. I also beefed up our training program by breaking down our tune-up procedure into 37 concentrated steps, which will help us create more rounded employees.”

Attitude often trumps aptitude, said Bill Vervaeke, service manager, Walton & Co., York, Pa.

“As long as you have the right attitude, we can teach you the right aptitude,” said Vervaeke. “It’s important to give back to your employees. You take care of your people, and down the road, they’ll take care of you.”

Chase Rampey, service manager, Centex Mechanical Inc., Bastrop, Texas, was recently promoted to the role of service manager. He called the event inspirational.

“This was my first Service Managers forum and I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I had never considered asking for help from peers in the industry, but after attending the conference, I see that we are in this together as an industry. Finding people that are so willing to share information with each other helps dial down the terrifying aspect of my new position.”

Publication date: 12/10/2012