My oldest son plays high school football. It has changed a bit since I was in school, and it turns out there is no offseason for football — or any sport, for that matter. So football is constantly talked about at the family dinner table.

My kid is a wide receiver, and I enjoy hearing how the team is progressing. Every now and again, he will relay that the coach announced at practice that they just need to spend time focusing on blocking and tackling.

That is code for getting back to the fundamentals. It is sometimes a necessary step for every team or organization. I believe it is also true for the HVAC contracting world in 2023. It is time for contractors to take a good look at their business and get back to the fundamentals.

Why? It’s simple. Things are tightening up a bit out there. No reason to be alarmed … this is what economies are supposed to do. It is healthy. And let’s face it, the last couple years have been pretty good for the HVAC contractor, and it might be about time for a slowdown and market correction.

I know what some are thinking. With supply chain issues, workforce hiring problems, and figuring out the upcoming refrigerant transition, it has not exactly been complete smooth sailing the last couple of years.

But in 2023, it is looking to be a bit harder to get homeowners to replace instead of repair. And when they do, high interest rates might prevent them from buying the highest efficiency system and some add-ons.

All those factors mean HVAC contractors need to be locked in on the smaller items that, a lot of times, make all the difference. To get back to the football analogy: get back to business fundamentals.

One of those items is soft skills — an important skill that often gets overlooked in the hectic day-to-day management of an HVAC business.

I recently talked with an HVAC contractor from Canada, Sean Hamilton, who finds soft skills so important that he opened up a second company called Take Charge Learning, which focuses on providing soft skills training.

“It is the stuff we take for granted out there,” Hamilton said. “It is the communication and making a good first impression. This stuff is important.”

While these skills can certainly be taught along the way, it is a lot easier if contractors are hiring folks who have this aptitude. Many contractors think that soft skills are just as important as technical skills when they are hiring an employee.

“When we are initially deciding to bring someone in, soft skills play a big part. How are they interacting in the interview? We are looking for some mechanical aptitude, but to be honest, that is the easier things to teach,” Hamilton said. “You want a combination, but I lean heavily on the soft skills side of it.”

Items like eye contact with the customer, making sure they feel heard, and being respectful in their home is all a part of good soft skills for an HVAC technician. It can be the difference in gaining a customer for life or it being a one-time transaction.

And without a doubt, if your technician is showcasing good soft skills with a customer, you are much more likely to receive a good review both online and in-person.

And, of course, soft skills do not stop at interacting with a customer. These skills are important when interacting internally in the business. Do the people you are promoting to leadership positions have these skills? They better if you want them to be effective managers.

Open and professional communication will make your business a much better place to work. And remember that workforce hiring issue we mentioned at the beginning of this article? People that like their job tell their friends about it. When that happens, suddenly finding good new hires gets a bit easier.

So as business becomes harder to come by, make sure you are falling back on the fundamentals of your HVAC business. Training on soft skills is an ongoing process. Make sure you are dedicating time to the cause.