I know air conditioning. It's my life. If someone were to tell me what kind of system they have, what color it is, and what its symptoms are, I could probably tell them what's wrong with the system over the phone. It's not just age and experience, but the art of listening; listening to the customers, listening to them talk, listening to their explanations of the problem.

Have you ever been on a service call and used your troubleshooting skills to figure out what was wrong only to find out that the customer already knew what was wrong? If you asked them some questions and listened to them, you could have fixed the problem and been on your way.

What is it that keeps us from getting involved the customer? Maybe it's because we feel like if we do we'll become accountable for the results - or maybe we'll look like we don't know our jobs if we ask too many questions.

What is the first thing you do when you walk into a customer's home or business? If it's me, I want to talk to the person with the problem. More often than not they know exactly what's wrong and can point you in the right direction. And when I'm done, I can explain to the person with the problem what I did, or what needs to be done, to make the problem that they are experiencing go away.

Here's a non-HVAC example of what I am talking about. Did you ever take your vehicle to a mechanic because of a noise or strange intermittent problem and the person on the other side of the counter is some kid whose only job is to take your number and point you to the coffee machine? You wait what seems like forever and they take your vehicle in and start to work on it. What seems like another eternity goes by until a mechanic comes to you and tells you he can't find anything wrong.

You go home, the problem you took it in for is still there, and now you're mad about losing the better part of a day, embarrassed to take it back. I know a good mechanic who I have taken my vehicles to many times. I learned a valuable lesson from him. I noticed that he would let me tell him what I thought the problem was, give him all the symptoms, and listen. When I was done he'd ask, "Anything else?"

The proper way to fix a problem, besides having the technical support and experience, is to know exactly what needs to be done. And it all begins with listening.

Let Them Finish

Let's take a typical scenario. The customer calls with a service problem. The first person they encounter (and he or she should hear a person, not a machine) should be very empathetic, listen to their complaint, take notes and, most importantly, let them finish. He or she should also engage the customer in additional conversation like, "I notice you don't have a Preventive Maintenance Agreement with us yet" or "Is there anything else we can do for you while we are there?"

Before the technician even rings that customer's doorbell, he or she should be well informed of what the customer's complaint was (most people don't like repeating themselves). Despite the fact that the service tech is well briefed, the customer may still go into great detail of what they heard, saw, felt, and tried to do to get their system to work.

I can't stress this part enough: Let them finish! If you make them feel as though you can figure out what's wrong without letting them finish giving you all the symptoms, they won't be convinced that the problem is really fixed. By letting them tell you everything, you also may find out that there is more than one problem.

And Observe, Too

Besides listening, be a good observer too. You can engage the customer in conversation by observing some of these:

  • Ceiling fan in a bedroom at whirlwind speed: The home has a zoning system.

  • Recycle bins: The homeowner is environmentally conscious and would be interested in high-efficiency equipment.

  • Added insulation in furnace closet: The homeowner is "noise sensitive" and would prefer variable-speed blowers.

  • Dehumdifier(s): There is a problem with high humidity and the homeowner may need whole house dehumidifiers.

  • West window covered with tin foil or heavy drapes: There are problems with ductwork/airflow/balancing.

  • Dust/dirt around/on supply registers: Home may need duct sealing/filtration systems.

  • Neglected air filters: The homeowners and occupants have busy lifestyles. They may need annual or semi-annual maintenance programs.

    Listen and look - two ways to keep your customer happy.

    Publication date: 10/24/2005