Attracting and retaining the best customers and employees is a major focus for HVAC contractors, and several speakers at the recent ACCA Service Managers Forum in Dayton, Ohio, addressed the issue. The event drew hundreds of attendees and also featured a tour of Emerson’s Helix testing facility.
“ACCA’s Service Managers Forum is always a worthwhile event, but this year, ACCA stepped up their game with scheduling changes and new and refreshing sessions,” said Brian Stack, president of Stack Heating, Cooling & Electric in Avon, Ohio. He is also chair of ACCA’s events committee and vice chair of ACCA’s board of directors.
The event kicked off by honoring Craig Sabol of Presidential Heating & Air Conditioning in Gaithersburg, Maryland, as ACCA’s 2019 Service Manager of the Year.
“It is an honor to receive this recognition.” Sabol said. “We value the success of our technicians, and my success is their success. We operate as a unit, and I will always do what is in the best interest of our technicians and the company.”
The 30-year industry trades veteran was presented with a plaque and an American flag that was flown over the United States Capitol building on National HVAC Technician Day (June 22). The flag was flow by Congressman Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, former president of Mullin Plumbing, a full-service HVAC company.
“Every year, we receive outstanding nominations for the Service Manager of the Year award,” said Barton James, ACCA president and CEO. “It is important that we recognize professionals in the field that are proactive, dedicated, and bring value to the industry, and Craig demonstrates all of the above. He is truly deserving of this great award.”
Chris Nixon, Presidential’s general manager, said Sabol’s achievements include creating new processes and finding ways to make the company run more efficiently.
“He cares about the technicians, and it’s evident with the programs he has created,” Nixon said. “Craig’s calm demeanor translates well to the service technicians, which also helps maintain a positive service team culture. We are very fortunate to have him.”
ATTRACTING CONSUMERS, KEEPING EMPLOYEES
The day’s first session featured Eddie Yoon, author of “Super Consumers,” who spoke about the need to attract consumers who go beyond loyalty. Super consumers are fervent about the products they buy, whether it’s office supplies or air conditioners. This small but dedicated group can make up 50 percent of all revenue for some businesses.
“You don’t really have a choice not to engage them,” Yoon said.
These consumers know a business better than the provider. Businesses need to understand what got them to spend more, Yoon said. To find super consumers, it helps to look for them in other fields, although it might not always be obvious where. Yoon once did a study of generators that found super consumers in that field were also super consumers in fields such as insurance and other products that reduce risk.
“One consumer event ripples to many others,” Yoon said.
Super consumers include commercial customers as well. Yoon said passion plays a larger role in decisions about business purchases than many realize. This is why contractors need staff that engage with all their customers.
“You and your teams need to be excellent storytellers,” Yoon said.
Finding employees who engage with the company, let alone the consumers, proves challenging enough. Speaker Chris Crew, coaching and development director for The Blue Collar Success Group, knows firsthand what the challenge looks like. A few years ago, when he still ran his own HVAC firm, Crew found himself at year’s end holding twice as many W-2 forms as he had employees. It was then he realized he needed to address staff turnover. The results led to a company with five locations and 62 service trucks.
Even worse than turnover is unengaged employees: people who stay at a business but don’t really care about their work. Avoiding this situation requires communication. Crew had managers do ridealongs with employees. He also had office workers do the same and had field workers spend time in the office to understand each other’s roles.
Most importantly, owners need to understand their employees and themselves.
“The quality of results in your business comes from the quality of the questions you ask,” Crew said. “Therefore, if you want better results, ask better questions. If you don’t want to understand how your people want to be led, you’re going to fail as a manager.”
Coaching and development director The Blue Collar Success Group
CHANGING WORKERS, CHANGING BUSINESS
That’s especially true with younger workers who expect more communication. Crew said some veteran contractors and managers might balk at the idea of changing the way they manage to meet the expectations of new employees. He said they just need to accept it.
“Things are going to change because people are going to change,” he said.
They also expect a work-life balance, and this might require a business to change its operations. In the next session, two veteran managers — Matt Marsiglio of Flame Furnace in Warren, Michigan, and Ben Kelley of CroppMetcalfe in Fairfax, Virginia — explained why their firms ended 24/7 service. Both still answer “no heat” calls at any time during the winter, but not the rest of the year. They still cover most of the day because they offer flexible shifts to their employees.
Flame provides vacations without blackouts and makes sure a third of techs get Saturday off during the peak season. Many contractors might see this generous time off as a cost, but Flame views it as an investment.
“They’re happier, more engaged,” Marsiglio said.
Both firms invest in their employees materially as well, paying for education and buying many of their tools when they start out. Marsiglio said many contractors are afraid to spend the resources only to see the employee go elsewhere. He said they should worry more about investing too little.
“You’re putting them in your customers’ homes,” he said. “Invest in them. Everybody in here has lost their top tech at some point.”
Both firms also invest in making sure their employees’ families know how much they are valued. Kelley said CroppMetcalfe regularly hosts family events for their employees. Flame’s owners send handwritten notes to employees’ homes that acknowledge the work the spouse performs, and often include a gift card for a family activity.
In the end, employees want to know where they stand with a company, especially when it comes to their pay. Kelley said his company provides a defined level to aim at for every employee, plus constant feedback so staff knows how they are performing at all times. Steve Coscia of Coscia Communications Inc. said this especially true for those just starting in the business.
“New employees are dying to know how they’re doing,” Coscia said. “The better we get at internal communication, the better we get at serving our customers.”
IN THE HELIX
During the conference’s lunch period, attendees visited the Helix Center, an Emerson product testing facility located on the campus of the University of Dayton. The 40,000-square-foot facility features four simulations: a house, a supermarket, a commercial kitchen, and a warehouse. It also has an open-concept office environment for Emerson employees and outside experts to exchange ideas.
“It was fascinating to see how manufacturing companies test systems and environments, and then use them in their manufacturing processes,” Stack said. “It was very kind of the Emerson team to offer this opportunity to event attendees.”
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