Quick question to HVAC contractors — who are the most important people to your business?

My guess is that about 60 percent of you answered customers. That is a perfectly acceptable answer, as without the customers, there would be no business. It is best to treat them well.

I would speculate that about 10 percent of you said yourself. Those people undoubtedly have a healthy ego, which serves you well in building a business. The leader of any business is certainly important. As a side note, I really like those people.

However, I think about 30 percent came up with the answer I would suggest. That would be your employees and, more specifically, your technicians.

That, of course, tends not to be the most popular belief. Customer Service 101 has taught businesses for years that the customer is always right. Even when they are not right, they are right. I assume most businesses believe they should bend over backwards to make sure a customer has a great experience so they will become repeat customers as well as recruit new ones.

However, in an industry like HVAC where it is getting harder and harder to find employees, perhaps the people you pay should be the first priority. This point was brought up to me by Keith Mercurio, who was recently appointed director of leadership development for Radiant Plumbing & Air Conditioning in Austin, Texas.

He was talking in our ACHR NEWS members’ podcast about truly being an employer of choice. A lot of companies will say that, but how many back it up with dollars? Radiant Plumbing & Air Conditioning is one of those companies. One example Mercurio shared is that the business only sends techs out on emergency calls for existing customers. If you are not an existing customer, you will need to wait until normal business hours.

Does this cost the company revenue? Certainly. Does it make technicians happy because they are on call less? Absolutely.

“This is a great example of creating a definitive edge to a business model. The company is saying that we are going to look at what it is that causes technicians to leave companies, and we are not going to do those things,” Mercurio said.

That is just one example, but that decision shows the technicians that the company is not going to chase every dollar if it means sacrificing quality of life for their employees.

“That is kind of an old-school mentality to make all the money when the sun shines and run technicians into the ground. Once other people run their employees out of their business, we are more than happy to bring those highly talented people into our business,” Mercurio said.

So much is made of employee recruitment, but sometimes, business owners can forget about employee retention. Sure, this Austin contractor leaves a little money on the table during the hottest times of the year. But what does that company save in the cost of finding and training new employees?

Do you do exit interviews when employees leave? You certainly should. Get an idea of why people are leaving your business. Also, meet with the employees you currently have. Would they feel comfortable sharing with you the worst part of their job? Through these two sources, identify a list of reasons why employees would not like to work for your business and see if there is any wiggle room.

Now, you can’t get crazy. If the answer is “I don’t like working in hot spaces” or “I don’t like driving a truck,” there is no way to solve those issues. But maybe there will be a common theme where you can make work just a little more enjoyable without costing the business too much.

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