There are lots of words in the English language that have multiple definitions. One of my favorites is "fix." If you look up fix in the dictionary you will find definitions like the most common: "to set right or repair." But other definitions include "to direct gaze," "to establish definitely," "an instance of bribery," or "to spay or castrate." Yikes. The list goes on but I think you get the point.

In the HVAC contracting trade, the most common definition of fix is to "set right or repair." Technicians usually fix an equipment problem caused by a faulty part, old or worn-out part, or a faulty installation. Unfortunately, the latter is a common reason for service callbacks. Contractors live with this but try to keep callbacks to a manageable level.

In order to fix a problem and reduce callbacks, contractors spend thousands of dollars training their people on all of the latest equipment diagnostics and troubleshooting. The more a technician knows about the equipment he or she services, the fewer callbacks. That's simple and logical - and very real.

But Who Runs The Callbacks?

In the haste to do things right and fix the problem once and for all, contractors often turn to the most reliable person they can find. That person is usually the best service tech, the service manager, or the contractor him or herself. That makes sense: ensure that there are no further callbacks by sending out the best person.

Other contractors feel it is best to send the original tech back to the job so he or she can "learn from their mistake" and correct the problem. That's not bad thinking either; it gives the service technician some real on-the-job training that may normally only be taught via a textbook.

There are merits to both scenarios. Of course the customer may have a say in the matter, too. The customer may not want the original service technician to come back and "create satisfaction" for the owner. In that case, it may be best for owners to dust off their service skills and make the call themselves.

But if any owner is compelled to send him or herself on the callback or send their best service technician to fix the problem, they are basically throwing away nonbillable hours with the best and most expensive labor. That may work in isolated cases, but making a practice of it is virtual profit suicide. Using the best labor to fix a callback is not a prudent way to run a business.

So, Fix The Fixer!

I'll probably get my usual quota of replies that criticize my insensitivity and lack of HVAC business skills to make a judgment like this (and please keep those e-mails and letters coming). But I know that it is often ego that clouds the best business decisions. So how do we fix this ego problem? I'd say the best way is to sit down and run some numbers.

First, calculate your callback rate. Make sure you keep accurate records of all of your callbacks and run the percentages of callbacks against all calls. If you keep good records, you can also figure out what each callback costs you in terms of labor and materials.

Now figure what it costs you to send your best technician to fix the problem. Include yourself in that calculation because your hours count, too. Now compare those rates to the rates of the original service technician. How much could you have saved by sending out the original service technician? Better yet, how much is your time worth to you? Don't you have better things to do than fix a tech's mistake?

John R. Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-464-1970, 248-786-1390 (fax), or

Publication date: 12/12/2005