No one likes callbacks. The technician is embarrassed by them, the service manager gets mad at them, and the business owner wishes they didn't come off his bottom line. But most of all, the customer hates them! Unbillable time is the biggest leak in any company.

I am sure that many books, seminars on tape, and maybe even counseling services are available on how to stop callbacks. But I have found, over the years, there are some very simple steps the technician can perform that will virtually cut his callbacks to almost nothing.

Simple Steps To Take

Let me start by saying that there are two very important considerations: training and experience.

Training - The technician being trained will be more conscientious and apt to apply what he is learning on a daily basis. There is no such thing as being "too trained." Listening and learning from others' experiences is also a great way of obtaining additional knowledge.

Experience - This is not to say that experienced technicians don't have callbacks, but they have a slight advantage. You have to include the "been there, done that" edge.

In my experience I have found that probably 70 percent of callbacks can be narrowed down to basically one thing. If the technician operated the system - from the thermostat - before leaving the jobsite, he would have found out that he:

  • Left the furnace unplugged.

  • Left the gas valve off.

  • Kicked a control wire loose on his way out of the attic.

  • Kicked the drain loose on his way down out of the attic.

  • Left the circuit breaker to the condensing unit off.

    I could go on and on. The point is that if the system was turned on and off from the thermostat, as the very last thing he did before he left, most callbacks just wouldn't happen.

    Another good point to make is that the technician is calling attention to the thermostat and the customer is fully aware of the thermostat setting.

    But Wait, There's More

    Easy enough, right? Not so fast. You don't want any callbacks? What about the other 30 percent?

    Again, this is not a complete list of what to do to stop callbacks. The idea is to try to think outside the box by thinking ahead. Ask yourself, "What could this system possibly experience in say, the next six to 12 months?"

    Ask the customer questions. What kind of noises might prompt a service call - or prevent one? By asking questions, a technician can find out that "it only makes the weird noises at night" or "I can only hear it when it's really hot outside." This gives the technician a direction instead of a possible callback. (I can't stand invoices that have "found nothing wrong" on them!)

    A customer may say, "You were just here three days ago, and my system quit working!" The condenser fan motor is out. Further inspection shows that there is play in the motor bearings. Was there play in the motor bearing three days ago? I would say, most likely.

    If the technician informed the customer that there was play in the motor bearings when he was out there last and wrote it down on his paperwork, this is not a callback.

    You can apply this same principle to items like circuit breakers that are getting hot, low MFD ratings on capacitors, low meg-ohm readings on compressor windings, etc.

    How about the dreaded clogged condensate drain? A repeat call on a clogged drain really annoys the customer, doesn't it? We have a "clogged drain" policy, which basically states that we cannot be responsible for drains which clog due to the fact that there is no foolproof way to clean them.

    (Actually, a clogged drain is an excellent opportunity to present high-efficiency filtration systems. If the drain is clogged, don't you think that the evaporator coil is dirty, too?)

    Still, the tech can make sure that the system is draining before he leaves, observe the drain outlet to make sure it is draining, make sure that the coil and drain pans are level, that the drain lines are sloped and trapped properly, etc.

    How about commercial buildings where there is more than one system? For example, there is a service call for the reception area system. The technician repairs the problem and leaves. A second call comes from the customer to report that it is still not working. The technician finds that the system he repaired is working fine but there is factor system that is down. Was it down when he was there last? The answer I would usually get was "I don't know."

    The building is the system. Check all the factors that affect your customer, or at least ask the customer if you could spend a little extra time verifying that all the systems are working.

    Callbacks happen. But good communication, paperwork, documentation, and attention will result in additional billable time.

    Tom Hull is vice president of service for Rosenberg Indoor Comfort, San Antonio. He is a NATE-certified technician and a graduate of the Universal Technical Institute. He is experienced in residential installation, maintenance, and service, commercial refrigeration installation and service, and service management.

    Publication date: 04/11/2005