Ron Smith says training is management’s greatest responsibility, and he’s right. Through the years, training has evolved from purely technical training. Here are the four sides of training for a 21st century contracting business.

Side No. 1: Procedural Skills — Any company seeking to provide a uniform customer experience must institute documented operational procedures. These procedures detail the company experience from how the phone is answered to where the trucks are parked on service calls. Create checklists and review them with your team from time to time.

When you have a new hire, do not send him or her out alone until he or she is well-versed in company procedures. You do not, for example, want to explain to a customer why a newly hired technician charged extra to blow out a condensate line when this is included on the company’s maintenance checklist, which the customer later found on the business’s website.

Your procedures are the way you do things — all of the time, every time — however, that will only happen if you detail each step and train accordingly.

Side No. 2: Technical Skills — If contractors provide any training at all, it’s technical training. Most contractors provide some measure of technical training. Some is performed in-house by a service manager or senior technician, some is provided by manufacturers and distributors, and some comes from local trade associations.

Side No. 3: Soft Skills — In 2013, Vanguard Communications evaluated thousands of online reviews of physicians in four major cities across America. The company found that complaints about bedside manner and poor customer service outnumbered those regarding physician skill by a 4-to-1 ratio. This is consistent with previous studies. The studies show that technical ability in any position dealing with the public is necessary but far from sufficient.

This makes intuitive sense to contractors. Almost every contractor has run across the world’s greatest technician — that guy who’s so rough and gruff that he kills customer relationships faster than he rebuilds 20-year-old condensing units. By contrast, there’s the all-American kid who can’t fix his lunch but is so likeable and engaging that customers try to set him up with their daughters and want to make sure he’s not in any trouble on a callback. After all, he’s so adorable.

You aren’t going to change Mr. Gruff’s personality, but a little soft-skill training can dramatically improve his effectiveness and customer satisfaction and your online review scores. Good grooming, listening, smiling, and looking customers in the eye are fundamentals all techs should utilize. Most technicians have never had the most basic training in customer relationships.

Do not forget about your customer service representatives (CSRs). CSRs are your first points of customer contact. They set the tone for everything that follows. Soft-skills training is just as important, if not more important, for those who answer the phone.

Side No. 4: Life Skills — The final side of training is life skills. Because life skills training can be personal, it should not be mandatory. Though, you should stress it is an opportunity each individual should buy into. The starting point for life skills training often involves personal finance. Some contractors have used Dave Ramsey material or something similar.

Good contractors pay their technicians well, yet they’re always at risk of losing technicians for an extra dollar an hour. These techs may be living paycheck to paycheck, and when you’re dancing on the edge of broke, more money always looks better. The problem is, no one has ever taught these technicians (or installers, CSRs, etc.) how to manage money. It’s not taught in schools. It’s no wonder he’s got too much month at the end of his money. Teach personal financial management and the next pasture doesn’t look nearly as green vis-à-vis your pasture.

Life skills goes well beyond personal finance, too. It’s about character, being a better person, better husband, and better father. Too many technicians grew up in broken homes without good role models. Because these subjects are personal, use third-party course material. Keep the classes voluntary. Not everyone will want to participate, but those who do will likely become your best employees.

If you start life skills training, don’t be surprised if people from your community ask if they can attend. That’s been the experience of most contractors who offer this type of training. As one contractor remarked, “People are hungry for this.” And, as a result, they become passionate about your company. You cannot put a value on that.


Even contractors who are diligent about training their teams often overlook their own personal training needs. Make sure you look for personal training opportunities to become a better business person, manager, and leader. Shore up your areas of weakness, whether it’s marketing or finance.

While there are many local, general business classes, you will not get a better training opportunity than the Service World Expo scheduled for Sept. 7-8 in Las Vegas, where you will find world-class keynote speakers who will motivate you and bring you up to speed on the latest trends in contracting, like state-of-the-art digital marketing. Twenty different breakout speakers will bring a mix of fresh faces and approaches in service contracting and business at large.

These are not the same old, tired speakers you’ve heard before. Take advantage of the opportunity to mix with the industry’s best contractors. Bring your service manager and leave recharged with industry best practices that can take your company to the next level.   

Publication date: 6/19/2017

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