See if this sounds familiar: You’ve continued to grow in your career and are inching closer to achieving your goal of becoming a service manager. Eventually, an opportunity becomes available, you’re selected for the position. Wow, finally realized the dream, and life is good. If you’ve been in the role for a few months or a few years, you’ve probably figured out there’s a lot more expected of this position than you realized. Now what?


I started in the mid ‘80s as a service technician for the Trane commercial service franchise in Kansas City, Kansas, performing factory start-up and warranty work as well as traditional service work in the mid-to-heavy commercial and industrial market. After several years, I wanted something different from my career and pursued the sales avenue before moving into increasingly responsible positions of management. Over the past 20-plus years, I worked my way up, holding sales rep, field supervisor, operations manager, sales manager, and general manager positions. Most recently, I’ve worked as regional vice president of service operations position for one of the largest non-union mechanical contractors in the country, and now I provide HVAC coaching and consulting services for Business Development Resources Inc. Along the way, I’ve learned the service business from the ground up; discovered things that work and don’t work; been around successful and unsuccessful people; and watched companies grow, collapse, or just indefinitely struggle to maintain.

Depending on the size and breadth of your company’s offerings, the service manager can be responsible for a seemingly endless number of things. Some obvious areas:

• Profitability of the department;

• Customer service;

• Leadership (yes it’s different from management);

• Operations, including dispatching, repair quotes, customer issues, billing, collections, etc.;

• Hiring, training, developing technicians, sales reps, dispatchers, and support staff;

• Processes and procedures — creating and implementing;

• Sales — new customer acquisition, retention, account management, project sales, and service agreements;

• Employee performance, satisfaction, morale, attitude;

• Business growth planning; and

• Setting and achieving goals.

The list goes on and on. The problem is, there aren’t many places those in this role can go to find out what’s real, what works, and what doesn’t; what’s important or not; how to motivate or inspire employees; what happens when things go wrong; and, oh, by the way, how do I get anything done with all these interruptions?


So, how does a person learn the job without living through years of trial and error?

While working with hundreds of companies and service managers over the years all across the country, I’ve found we all struggle with the same handful of things that manifest as problems in many different ways inside our businesses. These manifestations take on different looks, but they all come from the same core areas. Those who understand these core areas are significantly more successful, both personally and professionally. What are these core areas of frustration and struggle? Great question!

Let’s look at a few things successful service managers do well and unsuccessful service managers struggle with. This is by no means a complete list and intended only to point out a few big rocks in our way.

No. 1: Communication — Possibly the most important skill for any manager is how they communicate verbally and nonverbally. Strong managers communicate from a position of optimism and confidence. They talk about how a particular situation ties into the larger goal or vision and focus on moving forward rather than getting caught up in the “this won’t work” mindset. Their nonverbal communication is always upbeat, energetic, and confident. They carry themselves with a sense of purpose and instill confidence and stability in everyone around them. Think about how you carry yourself, what you say, your attitude, and your body language. Are you setting the proper tone for your team? Are you consistent? Do you expect the best from yourself and those around you? If not, this is a key area for improvement.

Key area No. 2: Teamwork — Ever had a great idea but nobody around you seemed to care enough to really change their behaviors and follow your lead? Why is that? Employees are people first and employees second. As people, we like to share our opinions on topics affecting us and be part of the solution. Think about it, if my boss came to me and said, “Brett, I need you to cross-train some of your best HVAC techs on plumbing because we don’t offer this service, and I think we can make some money there.” Compare that to, “Brett, I think we have an opportunity to develop a plumbing business, but I’m not sure how we might do that. Can you get your team together, come up with some ideas, and help me create a plan?” Without question, I’m much more willing to put serious effort into the second scenario.

Key area No. 3: Self Development — Perhaps the single most important aspect for anyone, regardless of role or industry, is continual self-improvement. Strong managers and leaders are always improving themselves and their environments through networking with successful people; participating in industry groups; and, most importantly, reading books, articles, or anything that causes them to think and learn. Strong leaders have an attitude of being better today than yesterday, and better tomorrow than today — not just for themselves, but for those around them. Think about the last self-improvement book you read on something important to you. If it’s been awhile, go buy one this week and start. Maybe start with a book on key areas No. 1 or 2 above?


Did you notice how these key areas aren’t tactics, or “what to do;” they’re concepts, or “how to do.” A consultant once told a group I was involved with, “You can read a book on basketball and learn to shoot, dribble, and pass (tactics), and when you step on the court against those who know how to play, you’ll lose, because you don’t yet know how to apply the tactics you’ve studied.” The “what to do,” or tactics, are, of course, very important, but, without knowing how to get others around you engaged and interested in truly giving their best effort, the tactics won’t help that much, and you’ll always struggle. Learning the “how to” concepts aren’t easy, but the good news is, they aren’t that hard, either. It takes awareness, desire, and someone to get you started. Have the right people show you what works, and take it from there.

Hopefully, these ideas have given you something to think about and question how effective you are in your service management role. Anyone can learn from their own mistakes, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. Think about where you are, where you want to go, what you know, and what you don’t know. Take responsibility for your career and your team. Learn from others and have the courage to try something different. A year from now, you’re either going to wake up in the same place as today or you’ll be someplace different. It’s up to you.

Publication date: 7/27/2015

Want more HVAC industry news and information? Join The NEWS on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn today!