I recently was talking to a customer about his restaurant’s refrigeration equipment. The equipment had experienced a series of component failures. The failures were unrelated, but still prevented the equipment from functioning to his satisfaction.

During the course of the conversation, he stated that the failure of the equipment could affect not only the health and life of his business, but also the health and lives of the people who ate the food stored in that box.

The technician’s work certainly focused on the life or death of the refrigerator, but could it possibly mean the difference between life or death for some people? In the back of my mind, I did know that the answer was yes. Did it consciously occur to me that this was a big responsibility? Did it occur to me to make the technician aware of the responsibility? No.

Life, Death, And Business

When the point of affecting lives comes up in the conversation, particularly in a restaurant, the maintenance and repair of refrigeration equipment can be seen in a new light. The products held in coolers and freezers can spoil if the equipment is not functioning properly, and the lives of people can be dramatically affected.

But the conversation with the customer was not taking place because the customer was happy that no one died, or that no one got sick. The customer had a laundry list of complaints:

  • The repairs took too long.
  • The technician was overpaid.
  • The technician was not quick enough getting there.
  • The equipment was not fixed quickly enough.
  • The technician was in the way of business operations.
  • The customer did not want to hear anything about what caused the problem. He did not want the technician to perform all the repairs that were needed. He was insulted that the technician wanted to discuss the condition of the equipment. And, he wanted the repair work and the entire refrigerator guaranteed indefinitely.

    To top it all off, he wanted to haggle about the bill.

    New Point of View

    I bet most service technicians have experienced this. But to me, it seemed different now. The customer had just made it clear that he understood the importance of the relationship between the technician, the equipment, his livelihood, and the safety of his customers.

    It was clear that he looked down at me, at the service company I represent, and at the technician. He felt that we were nothing more than an inconvenience and annoyance.

    He thought that his bill was too high. He couldn’t have cared less that in order to repair his equipment properly, it takes years of training in electricity, electronics, refrigeration, diagnostics, analysis, and detective work. He didn’t care that the entire refrigeration industry, whose services he was using, has gone through massive changes in the last five years.

    Many laws now apply to this industry. Refrigerants are being phased in and out. New refrigerant-handling procedures are in place, and the equipment is more efficient and technically advanced than ever before. But most customers probably do not know that technicians are required to be certified or licensed to handle refrigerants in many states.

    Actually, he felt that not only all service work should be free, he seemed to believe that we should pay him for his inconvenience, lost product, and lost revenue.

    Now that his position was clear, he helped me form a clear opinion as well. If we are curing the sick equipment and helping protect people’s lives and health, aren’t we performing a service similarly to that of a doctor?

    Doctor Technicians — yeah, that’s it, Doctor Technicians — that’s what we are. But if this is the case, then what is wrong with that restaurant scene?

    Is There a Doctor In the House?

    A doctor is not looked down on in the community. A doctor is not cursed at and told to fix it and get out of here. He is not viewed as an annoyance while performing his trade. He is not generally accused of overcharging or routinely challenged to reduce the bill “or else.”

    So what is it that causes hvacr repairs to end up in situations like the one I described?

    Is it that a doctor doesn’t normally make house calls? We do. Is a doctor expected to always cure the patient on the first call, 100% of the time? No. But a technician is expected to every time, and very cheaply, regardless of the problem.

    Is a doctor expected to do his work extremely fast? No. The exact opposite is true. We quite often complain that we did not get to spend enough time with a doctor — that he was too quick in his examination, prognosis, and prescription of the remedy.

    Now I do understand that as a patient, we often receive advice from doctors telling us to stop smoking, exercise more, go on that diet, or stop lifting as much. We may not like the advice, but in order to protect our health, we normally follow it, or try to.

    A technician’s advice is too often viewed as an insult, cop-out, or just a bunch of lies. It is as if the person thinks that we are out to sabotage his or her equipment when the technician is only trying to protect the customer and prevent the problem from recurring.

    Guaranteed Trouble

    Then there is the issue of a guaranty. Do you stand behind your work?

    A technician should stand behind his work, if he is allowed to perform the work he believes is necessary. But too often, the customer will not give the technician the authority to repair the equipment properly. In some cases, when an extremely old piece of equipment ought to be put 6 ft under, the technician is told to make it come alive, like Dr. Frankenstein did for his creature. We all know what happened there.

    And finally, what happens if the repair doesn’t fix the problem, or if additional repairs were needed and declined by the customer, causing the equipment to fail again? Is it still under warranty? If the initial work doesn’t cure the problem, is a technician expected to do additional work for free?

    The next time you have make a follow-up visit to the doctor, ask him if this “call back” is free. He’ll probably manage a weak smile before hitting you with the reflex hammer.

    I believe that the Doctor Technician should stand tall and be recognized as a valuable asset to the community. He is not a shade tree mechanic. The equipment that he works on is very sophisticated.

    To excel in this industry, a technician requires years of training to properly diagnose and repair the modern refrigeration equipment used today.

    Are we proud of our profession? Do we convey the right appearance and confidence? Do we command respect? I am afraid that the answer is not as clear-cut as it should be.

    Hutchinson is vice president of Technical Operations of ISI Commercial Refrigeration Inc., Dallas, TX. He conducts seminars on commercial refrigeration equipment, is on the ACR advisory board for a local technical trade school, and is an advisor to several manufacturers.

    Publication date: 01/29/2001