I was recently in the middle of an exchange between a newer technician, a senior technician, and their service manager. Contrary to what you might think, the situation had nothing to do with HVAC. Instead, it was my local automobile dealership, and the problem was a rattle in my vehicle.
As I watched the situation unfold, I couldn’t help but notice the parallel lessons that apply to our industry. I observed five lessons as three dedicated professionals (whose names I have changed to protect their identities) worked on my vehicle. See what you learn from how they solved my problem.
A Little Background
For those who work on automobiles, you know finding what causes some noises is like trying to diagnose an electrical short. Sometimes they are easy to find. Other times they are intermittent, and you want to pull your hair out. Whatever you do, the problem won’t show up.
My vehicle rattle was one of those hair-pulling situations. I didn’t know that when I took the vehicle in for maintenance. My assumption was the dealership would fix the rattle along with providing the other maintenance the vehicle needed. I was wrong. It grew into something much more.
Since the vehicle was having routine maintenance, the dealership assigned Mike, a newer technician, to get the job done. He took great care of all the needed service and then addressed the rattle. That’s where it got interesting, and the lessons began.
Lesson 1: It’s Okay to Say I Don’t Know
Mike couldn’t find anything obvious, so he asked if I would drive him around. He wanted to hear the noise himself and get a better idea of where it was coming from. He determined the rattle was in the back passenger side, so he put the vehicle back on the rack for another inspection.
Mike still couldn’t find anything, so he knew it was time to ask for help. He invites another technician, Ken, over for a second opinion. Ken looked things over for a few minutes and then confidently makes his diagnosis. “Gotta be bad rear shocks. They are the only thing left.” He puffed his chest out a little as he made his diagnosis as if to show up Mike.
The shocks were close to recommended replacement anyway, so I scheduled a time for the dealership to perform the work. Two days later, Mike installed the new shocks. All should be well, right?
When I arrived at the dealership to pick up the vehicle, the service manager, Emily, met me. She asked me to drive the vehicle before I left because they noticed something still making noise and wanted to be sure it wasn’t the same thing. I took the vehicle for a quick spin around the block and confirmed that the same rattle was still there.
Emily assured me they would find what was going on and that Mike was still working to make things right. Even though he got poor advice, Mike did the right thing. He asked for help.
If you get stuck on a service call and can’t figure it out, don’t keep guessing or change various parts. Instead, know when it’s time to ask someone with more experience who can help.
Lesson 2: Own Your Mistakes Quickly
The misdiagnosis could have led to an aggravated customer. I was a service tech at one time, so I understood what Mike was going through. Sometimes you don’t see everything at once. I was curious to see how the dealership would handle the situation, and they exceeded my expectations.
Mike apologized and said, “I’ll make it right.” How can you get frustrated with someone who has that type of exceptional attitude? He didn’t make any excuses for the incident. Instead, he took full ownership of the mistake and assured me he would fix it.
If you make a mistake, follow Mike’s example and own it quickly. Your customers don’t care about excuses and technical details. They just want the problem fixed. Let your customers know you’re working on a solution to their situation instead of blaming others, and I promise you will get a much warmer reception when things go south.
What’s sad is Mike shouldn’t have had to take full ownership for the misdiagnosis. He had an accomplice. Ken was also part of that discussion, but he was nowhere to be seen. Ken put Mike in a tough spot. He missed the problem, and everyone knew it.
Lesson 3: Choose Wisely Who You Take Advice From
Mike and Emily both wanted to make things right, so they asked a senior technician, Chad, to get involved. All of them jumped in the back of my vehicle and drove along to listen for the rattle. Chad was taking notes and asking Mike questions as we drove along. I overheard Mike respond to Chad that he had checked everything he mentioned.
I noticed they sequentially crossed off potential problems and looked for any remaining issues. Chad assumed nothing. Instead, he started at the beginning. The approach that Chad and Ken followed was very different. Ken blazed in to be the hero and started guessing. Chad was logical and began with a step-by-step process.
Chad heard the rattle and wanted to put the vehicle on an alignment rack. He mentioned that so far, they checked the vehicle on a rack with no load. He wanted to see what happened when the vehicle had weight on the suspension.
Chad found the problem within five minutes after he placed the vehicle on the alignment rack. That’s experience that you can’t learn from a textbook. The only way you can reach that level is to learn by listening, watching, and doing.
You can also learn a lot by watching and listening to how other technicians talk. Observe how they interact with customers and the way they tell stories about the problems they have solved. Do they brag about accomplishments, put others down, and pat themselves on the back? Or do they stick to the facts and tell you what happened?
You can learn something from everyone. Sometimes those lessons are what to do; other times, they teach you what not to do.
Lesson 4: Take the High Road
Chad took the vehicle back off the rack and asked to go for a ride with me alone to see if his diagnosis fixed the problem. His approach was very humble. He wanted to check his work instead of being overly confident in his ability.
We drove over two sets of bumps — no rattle. I asked him what the issue was, and he explained that there were three loose clips, which he repaired. Curious about what he would say, I asked him why Mike missed the problem. His response is one that all technicians should note.
First, he focused on what Mike did right. Chad explained how Mike answered every question he asked of him and did what he was trained to do. Chad even went to bat for Ken. Not once did he throw either of his fellow technicians under the bus. Instead, he took the high road and focused on the right things they did.
The next time you follow up on the mistake of a fellow technician, remember Chad’s example. He took the high road to protect his teammates and maintain the dealership’s good name. Chad had the perfect opportunity to be the hero, gloat, and get a feeling of importance. Instead, he focused on fixing the problem and serving the customer well.
Lesson 5: You Aren’t Learning if You Don’t Make Mistakes
Chad wasn’t always a senior tech. He had to learn just like Mike and Ken. As I dropped him off from our ride, he mentioned Mike would learn a lesson from this issue because it wasn’t something you see daily. It was a tricky problem to diagnose and repair.
You will make mistakes. It’s a part of our business. The challenge is how you respond to those mistakes. Do you learn from them and assure they don’t happen again? Or do you repeatedly do the same thing, no matter the results?
Learn from your mistakes and continue to grow. It’s a daily process. There’s no such thing as a perfect technician. If you think you’re the best or don’t look at mistakes as learning opportunities, you will make excuses and blame others. You’ll do whatever it takes to keep from tarnishing your image and harm anyone else along the way, including your employer. Don’t be that technician. Instead, follow the example these three professionals showed me.
A Happy Ending
My experience was a lesson that I wish everyone in HVAC could have seen. I hope the article captured the spirit and details in a way that paints a clear picture.
I told Mike I appreciated his attitude and then fist-bumped Chad. Emily checked again to ensure the outcome met my expectations. Over the years, I have purchased multiple vehicles from this dealership. Our family continues to go there because of examples like this and how they take care of their customers.
Now it’s time for a tough question. If a similar situation occurred where you work, how would your company handle it? Would the results please your customer, or would they angrily go to your competition? Happy customers confirm you’re doing the right things.
If you regularly have disgruntled customers, read back through these five lessons and see what improvements you need to make in your company culture. Put the pieces in place to assure you are all part of the solution and not part of the problem.