I think it's fair to say that our industry has an image problem. Granted, many have been working hard to correct that issue, but it still exists.

The problem is that the public still doesn't seem to trust those hardworking men and women who come to fix their air conditioners and furnaces in all sorts of inclement weather. If they did respect their technicians or contractors, wouldn't they take their advice instead of looking elsewhere for solutions to their problems?

Consider the issue of IAQ. Many contractors offer their customers total home solutions to remedy their air quality issues.

Instead of trusting their contractor, many homeowners instead turn to high-end retailers who offer incredibly expensive equipment that is supposed to clean the air but usually falls far short of its claims.

Perhaps it comes down to image. The salespeople in those high-end stores are always impeccably dressed and can spout all sorts of information about how their products will improve the customer's life.

Do technicians and contractors typically present that same polished image to their customers? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, but it's not consistent throughout the industry.

Which Tech Would You Prefer?

I recently interacted with two service technicians, albeit under varying circumstances, and the impressions I received were very different. The first technician, Fred, came to my home to do the annual inspection on my heat pumps. Fred was dressed nicely in his uniform and arrived promptly for our appointment.

After thoroughly inspecting my equipment, he gave an incredibly articulate dissertation on what was wrong and what needed to be done to correct the situation. Needless to say, I was impressed.

Several weeks later, I bought a used bass boat through an ad in the paper. The owner of the boat happened to be a service technician for a local heating and cooling contractor. I arrived at the appointed hour to see the boat, only to find that the technician - let's call him "Bob" - wasn't there because he'd taken a last-minute side job. Bob's aging mother, who happened to live next door, was left to answer any questions.

When I decided to buy the boat, I had to track down Bob at his side job across town, so we could go to a bank and have the necessary papers notarized.

While we waited for the notary, the forty-something Bob kept up a steady stream of conversation about how he was going to use the money from the boat to jack up the new Jeep his mom just bought him so he could go four-wheeling in the desert. Then, out of the blue, he asked how old I was.

My answer brought a distinct guffaw and a knee slap, followed by, "I never would have guessed that. I thought you was older than me because of all that gray hair." Nice.

Now perhaps I'm not being fair in saying that I wouldn't want Bob in my home and I certainly wouldn't trust his judgment regarding what type of IAQ equipment I needed.

Perhaps when Bob is all cleaned up and in work mode, he comes across as being just as articulate and educated as Fred. I highly doubt that, though.

We, as an industry, need to make sure that the first people into a customer's home are of the Fred caliber and not the Bob caliber.

Until that happens, homeowners will continue to buy expensive equipment that doesn't work from other outlets because they perceive they are buying from a skilled professional.

Joanna R. Turpin is a contributing editor for The News. She can be reached at 480-726-7121, 480-726-7120 (fax), or joannaturpin@cox.net.

Publication date: 07/11/2005