As spring quickly approaches, those of us in the technical world must be prepared for what’s to come: sting season. Local news channels have their eyes peeled and will be on the lookout for unsuspecting technicians who could get tripped up with tune-ups that uncover nothing more than a loose wire. With such serious implications at stake, we must stay informed and vigilant to respond accordingly and keep ourselves safe from potential harm or damage. In this blog post, we’ll discuss what measures should be taken during sting season to protect yourself while still performing the high-quality services your customers expect from you!
Examples of Sting Operations
Imagine being a technician heading out for a simple tune-up at a home. You have no ill intentions because you’re an HVAC tech who does right by people. Not only do you have the training and expertise to evaluate a customer’s air conditioning system, but you have all of the tools you need to do it. You get paid to do a good job. You work for a company with a good moral compass, and there’s no pressure to make extra sales to boost the company’s profits.
Now, imagine working for the opposite type of company. You get paid for the parts you sell and receive a bonus for any amount sold over $10,000 per week. That type of company can fall prey to sting operations, like the ones broadcast by NBC’s Chris Hansen or the Rossen Reports aired by our local NBC affiliate KCRA3. These investigators will contact a few HVAC companies and have a “good tech” come out and go over the system. Once they give it a clean bill of health, the TV investigators have the homeowner call several HVAC companies to have them come out and perform an a/c tune up. Cameras are setup to monitor what the tech is actually doing. On the other side of those cameras, the good tech, homeowner, and investigator are watching to pick apart everything the unassuming technician is doing.
What Types of Traps Do They Set?
The investigator will have the good tech set up the air conditioner with a loose disconnect handle at the wall. Something like that won’t even allow the air conditioner to turn on. But any experienced and good-hearted tech would see it and plug it in for no additional charge. Then the tech would just finish the tune-up as normal.
Another bait investigators will use is a rusty capacitor. Now, the good technician who initially evaluated the system has already acknowledged the capacitor shows minor rust on what looks like an old capacitor. However, the test we perform to see if a capacitor is still good requires measuring the microfarad rating with a meter and comparing that result with what the manufacturer of the capacitor prescribes. If the microfarads are within that specification, the capacitor is good. Period. Experienced, greedy technicians can use their knowledge against unassuming customers to get the sale and pad their sweet commission from the boss.
What to Do if Chris Hansen Shows Up at Your Service Call
One Chris Hansen episode I saw showed the technician going out to the air conditioner, not really checking anything, just wasting some time, making it seem to the homeowner that he was actually checking the system’s operation. Then the technician calls the customer out to the unit to discuss suggested repairs — a new fan motor and capacitor. Our good tech already noticed the fan had some rust, and the capacitor was good. Yes, the system was old, but it still met manufacturer specifications. So Mr. Hansen comes around the corner and confronts the scandalous technician about his findings. The tech immediately starts to head out the door, ashamed and embarrassed by his actions.
In the same episode, an honest technician came out and noticed a wire was disconnected from the contactor. This was done by the investigative team. The tech reconnected the wire, checked the rest of the system, and collected his tune-up fee. Before heading out the door, the investigators confronted him and thanked him for the excellent service.
I feel very comfortable with my technicians and how they represent our company’s morals and ethics. I’ve hand-picked them and strongly feel they are not greedy individuals. In fact, those who come to Fox Family are usually the ones who are tired of that game. If a part needs to be changed, recommend it by all means. And I want my techs to stick to their guns when they feel something else could be done to optimize the system. That way, after we leave, I don’t get a call from a customer asking why we didn’t check the ____ after we replaced the ____. That’s not a fun conversation to have.
I think Hansen or Jeff Rossen wants every tech to find that one thing and move on. But, in our industry, we feel it’s our duty to mention other things that stand out — like oil around a motor’s bearings or a duct that looks like it may have been stepped on and crushed. Would it be wrong to see oil leaking out of a motor’s sealed bearings cap and suggest, “Hey, we can change that out today while I’m here, or you can wait until it goes out and replace it then?” After all, the motor may run within factory specs, but oil leaking out of the bearings doesn’t meet that standard. And that’s when I want my techs to mention it to customers. I’d hate to hear them say, “Well, you never mentioned oil was leaking out of my motor, and now it’s burned out on the 4th of July, when I have my whole family over!”
Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.
Fox Family Heating & Air
Not All HVAC Companies Are Scammers
Unfortunately, some unscrupulous companies and technicians manipulate customers to make money. The customer is often taken advantage of and sold repair parts they don’t even need. While money drives all of us to do our jobs, our industry is full of people who are genuinely hard-working and trying to do the right thing. As professionals, we face a difficult decision every day — often between what’s best for our business and what’s best for our customers. We are constantly walking a fine line between providing great service, optimizing the customer’s system, and doing the right thing. But it’s also about making money honorably, right? So it’s important to always remember why we got into this field — yes, it requires money. Still, at its core, it should be about improving the quality of our customers’ lives.
Spring season brings a buzz around the HVAC industry, with technicians gearing up for much-needed work and customers eagerly looking forward to the first comfortable days of warmth. However, at the same time, technicians should remain aware that it’s also sting season. This is where having integrity shines in the field — always working as if being recorded — ensuring every job receives detailed work and every customer is respected. In this way of doing business, trust builds between technician, company, and customer alike, which can be hard to find in a competitive landscape like HVAC.
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