Ruth King gave SkillsUSA winners a reality check just before the awards program.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - What do you say to young technicians just starting out in the business, who have already proved that they excel in technical knowledge? You tell them that a lot more is needed to stay in the business and keep their customers happy.

That was the message from Ruth King, channel manager for HVAC Channel.TV, to an audience of high school and vocational students who reached the national finals in HVACR at the SkillsUSA Championship. Her seminar took place just a few hours before winners were announced at a closing ceremony. It drew a mix of students and educators.

"You have an incredible storehouse of technical information," she told the students, "so you can get into the industry; but it is up to you to stay in. You must become an HVAC doctor. You are an intern now. You are good enough to be dangerous."

That additional learning is not only in the technical area, but also in customer relations.

She told the story of a technician who had "book knowledge" but whose customers hated him. "He treated customers badly, like he knew more that they do. When the company did follow-up concerning this, the customer would say, ‘Yes the product was fixed, but I just didn't like him.'"

She told the students that they should communicate with customers "like you were on a date. In that case, you are trying to attract someone. On the job, you are trying to attract the customer."

She added, "An employer is looking at you to generate revenue for the company by taking care of the company's customers. The customer writes your paycheck. If you do not generate revenue, you will not have a job."

A customer, she said, wants good communication from a technician, a job that is done properly the first time, and dependability.

The process may involve the technician acting as a salesperson. She cautioned that this does not mean hard selling. "The customer can choose to accept your offer, but a customer has the right to know the choices or options s/he has - just like a person expects a doctor to explain all choices or situations faced by a patient.

"Learn to ask the customer the right questions. Look around a house. If you see a cheap store filter and the home has a smoker, know what you can offer them. If the compressor goes out in a 20-year-old A/C unit, you need to explain why a compressor changeout is not the best choice.

"If you are always generating work for your employer, you will be the last one not to get hours. Ours is a cyclical business. Contractors are always looking for people who can generate work."

Graduation from school doesn't end the learning process, she said. "Your education has just begun. Spend as much time reading your trade journals as you do hunting and fishing magazines. Join trade associations. Network by talking to others. Visit trade shows and factory schools. When you get stuck, yell ‘help!'"

Because the HVACR market is currently considered a seller's market when it comes to technicians seeking jobs, qualified techs should look for potential employers who are reliable and moral in their business dealings, have a commitment to ongoing education, and are willing to put the tech on a career path. However, "Good pay and good benefits cannot offset a poor place to work," King cautioned.

She noted that young technicians often have visions of eventually owning their own business. That means "reading lots of business stuff. You've got to learn the business side."

In congratulating the young technicians who had reached the national finals of SkillsUSA, she said, "You have done wonderfully well in school, but the world can still be a shock to you. You will encounter some obnoxious customers. Learn to deal with them and you will never not have a job."

Publication date: 08/02/2004