Much of managing people is navigating intangibles. Aspects of business like sales and marketing can be somewhat quantified into a spreadsheet — customer locations, promotions that generate purchases, and more. But leading people presents unique challenges since the quality of employee’s work is dependent on so many intertwining factors, some of which even the employees themselves might be unaware of. I became especially aware of this as I attended the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association’s Connect 2020 conference and listened in on Alex Donofrio, account executive for XOi Technologies, discuss how contractors can make sure their technicians embrace technology.

I’m in my 20s, so I only vaguely remember the world before cell phones and plasma screen TVs. That said, I’m something of a Luddite myself, so I can easily understand how the arrival of smartphones and new software can seem more restricting than helpful for HVAC technicians, especially if a technician has practices in place that have been working for years, if not decades.

So what’s the key to getting technicians to embrace technology? Donofrio reminded contractors that when a technician is deciding (perhaps unconsciously) if they will use a new technology being incorporated by management, they ask an important question: “What’s in it for me?”

That’s how you get a technician to buy into new software and apps being offered for use. You touch on one of their felt needs and show the technician that they have a vested interest in using the new program. In short, prove to them that the technology makes their job easier, not harder. Donofrio summed this up with the four questions they ask themselves about a technology change:

  1. How does it help me serve my customer?
  2. Will it save time in my day?
  3. Is it worth changing the way we do things now?
  4. Does it help with my job?

Next, Donofrio did an excellent job of outlining the intangible aspects that technicians are looking for on the job site. First, they are looking for the ability to “capture and communicate”; that is, to document what has happened on the job and be able to pass that along to customers, peers, and the office. If incorporated correctly, this is touching a felt need for the technician — allowing them a technology that can cover their backs and eliminate paper process.

Next, technicians are looking for a single, authoritative source to find resources such as documents, training videos, and job histories for that customer. In the long-term, this boosts technician knowledge and confidence, since they are actually learning in the process of looking up information. A simple phone call might be able to walk the technician through the correct process, but if it is a simple step-by-step instruction, it’s possible that no true conceptual learning will take place. So if the same issue arises again in six months on a different unit, it’s very possible the technician will just call the same number to resolve the same issue a second time, rather than having truly learned the solution the first time.

Technicians need access to expert support, and once they see that a software provides it, and that they can get support that makes them look professional in front of customers, their chances of embracing it improve. As they improve their skills through efficient training, skills and pride will improve, as well as job security as they get even better at their jobs.

As Donofrio concluded, he made a point that resonated with me: Even after a technology has been incorporated into a company and the technicians are using it, the process has not stopped. Rather, contractors need to engage in a final three steps: Validate à Recognize à Adjust. Contractors should repeatedly share the tangible effects that a widespread use of the technology is having on the company, such as increased sales, improved first time fix rates, or time that is being saved. Then, leaders should go out of their way to recognize the technicians who are doing an exceptional job at using the solution. This creates a loop that encourages even more acceptance of the technology.

Lastly, Donofrio told contractors that they should frequently seek feedback about how to make the company’s use of technology even more effective, and adjust to that feedback. Incorporating technology that solves this means that technicians can consult a single source for documentation and training, rather than needing to wait on hold with a manufacturer support team or look up videos on YouTube, which may or may not be from a trusted voice.