Regardless of which trade you are in, using an inspection checklist is considered to be a best practice. When we go into a home as a residential service contractor, there is an overwhelming amount of things to look at. Using a checklist keeps our eye on the big picture, rather than focusing in on only one detail of an HVAC or plumbing system.

Pilots use checklists every time they fly. Everybody knows that flying a plane is complicated and missing an important step can lead to catastrophic disaster. Using a checklist isn’t optional — it’s a requirement. Although missing a step on a furnace tuneup is unlikely to result in the loss of hundreds of lives, loss of life is a very real possibility. Our customers trust us to be thorough and professional. They trust us to keep them safe.

Even though our customers may not be excited about the shopping list of things we may notice and document as a result of following a checklist, many expect us to use one. Customers who belong to our service partner programs are often conditioned to expect the conversations that come from the checklist. If you skip the checklist, this can be as glaringly obvious as forgetting to put your shoe covers on before entering the house. Our customers consistently expect this level of professionalism.

Checklists also protect us from the dreaded “call back.” Professionals notice things that may need attention in the near future and bring it to the customer’s attention. Going on a call back where you recommended replacing the pressure regulator or the flame sensor before it failed is a lot more pleasant than visiting the customer and explaining why you didn’t catch that because “you were just here.” The first example makes you look like a knowledgeable professional, the second makes you look sloppy. Never assume that the customer doesn’t want to spend any money, despite what they say. Most people, if given a choice, would spend the money on a new tire rather than get a flat on the freeway. It’s their decision to make, not ours.

Many technicians associate checklists with tuneups or partner plan visits, but what is the difference? Checklists should be used on demand calls as well as tuneups. We are trying to establish cause and effect on demand calls. What caused this part to fail? If you go to a doctor for any reason, they take your blood pressure because it is an indicator of potential problems. An experienced plumber will always check the water pressure on the house, because he knows that so many plumbing issues result from high pressure. An experienced HVAC technician will always check the filter as part of his diagnostic process.

When we notice things that deserve the customer’s attention, these are talking points. We aren’t closing the work right now; we’re educating. Save the recommendations for later in the service call.

Now is the perfect time to dust off that checklist because we are experiencing another change of the seasons. For HVAC technicians, the shift from air conditioning to heating is pretty dramatic. For plumbers and electricians, the change may be subtler, but we still need to change our thinking and help our customers avoid some of the issues that can plague them when it gets cold. Use the checklist to help you be the professional the customer expects you to be.