I’m sure that the Boy Scouts of America didn’t have heating and air conditioning contractors in mind when it came up with its slogan: “Be Prepared.” However, we have run into a few situations recently that reminded me that we always need to be prepared in our businesses for whatever might happen to us. There are internet webinars and convention speakers who present highly detailed programs on being prepared for any number of catastrophic events. Unfortunately, many HVAC contractors have experienced floods, fires, and other catastrophes, and my heart goes out to them. When those situations occur, I’m not sure anyone can ever truly be prepared for such a catastrophic event.


Now, let’s not overlook those serious threats that tend to settle in between normal day-to-day operations and true disasters. For example, near the end of May, a customer service specialist in our service department suffered a head-on collision when a car crossed the road and entered into her lane. While it could have been worse, she suffered broken bones in both legs and will be unable to put weight on them for eight weeks. In other words, she is absent from our office for at least two months, and it just so happens to be the busiest time of our year — the beginning of air conditioning season. Then, five days later, one of our parts runners was severely burned in a fire. He will be sidelined for several weeks, as well.

Our entire service and parts department consists of five people. So, when one person is not there, we’re 20 percent short. The important thing, which we hadn’t done and should have done, was to discuss what we would do in such an instance. Please, take a little time, give some thought, and jot down some plans in case something like this should happen to you. For companies smaller than us, with only one or two people in a department, the results of an accident like this would be even more dramatic.


Here are some immediate actions that might help save the day when disaster strikes.

Remember that any front-line position is the most important position in a company, so don’t feel like management can put just anyone on the phone to talk with customers. That could be a real disaster. Company management should assign an individual who’s very familiar with its systems and understands how to deal with customers rather than bring in someone completely new and expect them to take over that position. In our situation, one of our customer service specialists spends a great deal of time doing data entry when she is not directly talking with customers. Therefore, we immediately changed her work schedule and offered her a much larger quantity of the incoming calls, shifting her away from data entry. The data-entry duties were given to a part-time college student who worked in our installation department, so we increased her hours so she could also do data entry for the service department. In addition, our service manager, who also serves as a vice president and would typically participate in a number of overall company meetings, planning discussions, etc., has taken on the role of a customer service specialist to ensure customers are properly served. We have temporarily revised the service manager/vice president’s duties significantly to temporarily make sure the service department continues running properly.


Here are some other suggestions to consider, especially for smaller companies. The company’s accounting firm may have someone it can lend on a part-time basis to handle financial duties. They may already be familiar with the company’s in-house systems anyway, and they can work them only the hours necessary. Don’t hesitate to make employees aware of the situation, and perhaps someone will volunteer to help out on a short-term basis to help the company out of the situation. In the case of our parts runner, one of our employees had a college-aged son who was looking for summer employment, and we put him on as a parts runner. He is a sharp young man, and it didn’t take much in the way of training to bring him up to speed. There are people around who are willing to help out when the business finds itself in a bad situation. Don’t hesitate to do some things a little unusual to make sure the company continues to serve customers as if nothing had occurred.

To summarize: Don’t do like we did and wait for something to happen. Give a little thought to how the business would handle not having any one of its key employees. Quick, do it now, before the next disaster strikes. 

Publication date: 7/18/2016

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