Steve Coscia of Coscia Communications Inc. recently spent five months traveling around the country, meeting with HVAC contractors. One of his final stops was a visit to the offices of The ACHR NEWS.
ACHR NEWS: What have you seen as you traveled the country and met with HVAC contractors?
Coscia: If you document what you do, then you can do what you’ve documented. In the midst of a catastrophe like COVID, the contractors who did a good job of documenting what they did were able to revise what they do. They had to have a different way to do a service call. It’s a lot easier to revise than to get a lot of people together and say, “What do we do now?”
I started traveling in early March — I left from Pennsylvania and I served clients all the way down to Florida. In Florida, I attended the HVACR training symposium. I spoke there on structural design for soft skills. On the way to Florida, I worked with Carolina Cold in Surfside Beach, South Carolina. That’s a great operation. They’ve got a lot of trucks on the road and a big call center. When there’s a big call center, I ask a simple question: “On a daily basis, how many of you feel like a therapist?” Once a day, you’re backing someone away from the edge.
Getting people involved in a discussion like that about their worth is an important thing to do. In any organization, it’s very easy for the people who are on the phones to feel like they’re low-level. But they have so much value, and it’s more than customer service. A lot of it is therapeutic. They adjust their pace of speech; they listen more. They get the customer to feel that they’re being understood. That’s what causes irate callers to calm down.
They use the echoing technique. They repeat key items the customers says because they’re taking notes. You echo back something important to the customer and the customer thinks, “Oh, she’s paying attention. She understands me.” You slow things down and then you recap. Not enough bigger call centers invest enough in their people when it comes to training.
ACHR NEWS: What was the mood of HVAC contractors?
Coscia: It was different in certain regions. I spent a good amount of time on the West Coast. In California, they’re very cautious. Masks, bumping elbows. You get to Arizona, a little less cautious. Utah, a little less. Wyoming, it was like there was no COVID.
I was at the HVACR Training Symposium in Florida in March, back when it seemed COVID was becoming more minimized and people were feeling more optimistic. There were 200 people at the conference. You could see the relief and joy of being among other people again. It was just so great to be there.
ACHR NEWS: What was it like doing remote consulting in the spring of 2020?
Coscia: It worked well. Some it was over the phone, and some of it was video. My better clients wanted to keep the training momentum going. We’d go over processes and the fundamentals that people need to be reminded about. You’ve got to continually remind people about the rudiments. My role is to remind them that when people call, they’re upset, but it’s going to be OK. They see you as the solutions provider. Play that role. Don’t talk — just listen.
Before we have a consulting call, I will create a five-minute video giving them a topic, something to look up, and types of calls to keep track of. That makes them so much more prepared during the call. When someone is out in the field, doing an install or doing maintenance, how important is the preparation? Without the preparation, you’re probably going to do something twice.
ACHR NEWS: What are you hearing from HVAC contractors about the mood of customers?
Coscia: Some residential customers are now asking if the tech is vaccinated. From a human resources perspective, that’s a question you can’t always ask. The service manager may not even know which of his techs are vaccinated and which ones are not. But what he can do is convey the protocol for mutual safety and mutual good health.
ACHR NEWS: How are HVAC contractors handling the higher prices for equipment and supplies?
Coscia: No one likes when prices go up. The issue is not the price. The issue is the value. The contractors who already know how to shift the conversation from price to value already understand. They’re going to up their training, make sure their trucks are clean, make sure they are worth every penny of the price. That issue of price has been here forever. It becomes a battle if you don’t know how to shift the conversation to value.
ACHR NEWS: What type of training is the most in demand from HVAC contractors?
Coscia: It’s almost always the rudiments. It’s all really simple — reintroducing yourself, listening more, smiling. Since the first impression is 80% of what matters, if you get the first five or 10 seconds right, you win. It’s your greeting, it’s your pace of speech, it’s your smile. So whether you’re face to face or on the phone, getting these simple rudiments down is the key. Once you’ve done that well, if you’ve got a little bit of a rapport, then everything else becomes academic.
ACHR NEWS: What are your plans once you get off the road?
Coscia: One of the things I’m going to do is create another online course. The topic is going to be follow-up. You would think everyone would understand the importance of follow-up and yet people don’t. People assume customers know they don’t call them back because they’re busy.
I’m working on updating my textbooks for college courses. What instructors like are things that get students engaged, whether it’s worksheets or something that stirs a discussion. Those are the kind of materials that I create.