Troubleshooting is one of the most important skills you can possess in the HVAC industry. Learning how to apply these problem-solving methods that point you to the issue quickly will not only save you time, but also leave you with happy customers who are sure to call you next time the HVAC system stops working. What do you know about the process of HVAC troubleshooting?
Troubleshooting Common HVAC Problems
All good troubleshooters have a few natural traits in common. In order to exhibit excellent troubleshooting skills yourself, you’ll need to build on your existing knowledge of how an HVAC system should work, narrow down the problem, and communicate with your clients about what you need to do and why. This process is crucial to providing quality services. Let’s break down each component of an HVAC troubleshooting strategy:
- Know the normal
- Eliminate unnecessary work
- Discuss with the customer
1) Know the Normal
Do you know the normal of the system you’re working on? Good troubleshooters learn this first since you can’t identify a problem without knowing what a normal situation is supposed to look like.
For example, imagine you are working on a condenser unit and the unit is running but the compressor is very hot to the touch, far hotter than anything you’re familiar with. So now you are trying to see what is happening to cause this compressor to be operating at this elevated temperature. If you don’t know the normal of the HVAC unit, you’ll end up spending hours testing each potential problem as your customer gets impatient. Train yourself to look for the cause behind abnormal condition so you don’t end up chasing your tail.
In addition to understanding normal functions of an HVAC unit, you should also be familiar with what mechanical parts should be used and why. It’s unfortunately very common for inexperienced technicians to install the wrong parts in a client’s air conditioning system. If you can’t find anything wrong with the system’s functionality, speed, or temperature, yet the client is experiencing problems, check the components. More than likely, at least one is incorrectly installed or the wrong piece altogether.
Pro Tip: During an HVAC service call, if you notice an installed part that didn’t come from the original manufacturer, double-check it. It’s probably the wrong part for the unit in question.
2) Eliminate Unnecessary Work
What can you do to eliminate time-consuming tests as you search for the problem? For example, if a customer tells you their attic HVAC unit isn’t powering on, don’t immediately start disassembling it and hunting for faulty wiring or other problems. Check that the power switch is turned on. While this may seem silly, it’s surprisingly common for stored Christmas decorations or a distracted family member to accidentally flip the switch. This simple solution definitely saves you time!
Additionally, keep yourself informed on the situation before you even arrive on the scene. Talk with your client to get the big picture. Which technician or service company did their HVAC maintenance work in the past? What exactly did they do? If you can, drive past the worksite and observe the unit from the street. Has it been tampered with? Have bushes or weeds grown around it?
Before you begin the job, sit down with the client and discuss any complaints they may have about how their HVAC system works. Additionally, ask them about their home’s work history and any variables that may have contributed to the problem. For instance, if they noticed the AC beginning to falter after they hired someone to mow their lawn, it’s possible that one of the mowers accidentally severed a cord with their machine. This gives you an excellent idea of where to look for the problem.
For an easy reference for both you and the customer, create a flowchart of common HVAC problems and their possible causes. While this isn’t a foolproof method, having the information easily accessible in a chart can help you narrow down the problem quickly. A chart will also give the customer a better idea of what you need to do and why.
3) Discuss with the Customer
Finally, remember that your first priority is customer satisfaction. Once you believe you know what the problem is, discuss your findings with the customer and explain what you need to do, why, and how much it will cost. Don’t save this part till the end! Make sure the customer knows exactly what they’re getting and what they’re paying you to do. This also gives them the option to refuse a certain service if they don’t want it.
This step not only builds trust with the customer, but it also establishes you as an expert on their HVAC system and as an honest contractor. Rather than trying to upsell them on expensive work or equipment they don’t need, you’re trying to restore their comfort level in their home. A satisfied customer will recognize this and happily refer you to their friends!
Your HVAC Troubleshooting Strategy
In the end, remember that operating with an effective HVAC troubleshooting strategy benefits both you and your client. Your client, of course, will be happy with a job that’s both well done and finished quickly. Meanwhile, you’ll have extra time to apply toward other jobs, as well as a satisfied customer who will recommend you to friends and almost certainly call you back for further work. Don’t sell yourself short by neglecting problem-solving knowledge! Practice troubleshooting in an HVAC setting to ensure your future successes.
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Professional conduct and ethics sound at first like something we all know and don’t need to be told. In regards to the way we treat ourselves and fellow HVAC contractors, this is probably true. However, the definition of professional conduct and ethics needs to expand to include our treatment of customers, employers, and employees as well.
Ethical standards of treatment should apply to everyone in the HVAC industry. Potential customers and employers particularly deserve a professional contractor. While there are no established ethics and code of conduct for HVAC contractors, there are a few universal ethical principles that most people will appreciate seeing. Let’s take a closer look at what those principles are.
Helping Customers vs. Upselling
Any time money is involved, the greed factor comes to play, and with greed comes deception and dirty tricks. This is in no way exclusive to any one group.
For example, let’s say you go to work for a company that pays you a fair wage and you give them a fair day’s work for that wage. There is no reason for you to earn anything except the amount you agreed to work for. At the end of the week, you’re happy with your paycheck, your boss is happy with your work, and the customer is happy with the services you provided. This type of win-win-win situation is fairly common with many business models. However, if the business owner is only interested in sales and offers a high commission only if you sell new systems, customers are at your mercy because they truly have no idea of their options. Unfortunately, businesses focused more on selling new systems than helping people pay about triple what a truly honest business would. This is when greed sets in and businesses forget how to help customers and just sell HVAC systems. This dishonest business practice is far too common.
Pro Tip: Customers just want to make an informed decision without pressure and upselling from you as the contractor. Answer their questions honestly and help them find the best choice for their homes.
Ethical Behavior for an HVAC Contractor
Be honest with the customers and give them all the options. It’s not our job to decide what is best for them, and it’s certainly not ethical to hide options from them.
The same thing comes to being professional in our dealings with one another in the trade. HVAC techs should never feel above performing an installation, for instance. It’s all part of the job.
Red Flags to Watch For
If you notice these red flags after leaving an HVAC training program, take them as a sign of which companies to avoid:
- No recovery or vacuum pumps and equipment on the trucks
- No brazing with nitrogen flushing
- Selling used refrigerant
Practices like these are why it’s so important for us as HVAC contractors to self-police our trade. These shoddy companies either need to get in compliance or out of business.
Maintaining a High Standard
Professional conduct for an HVAC contractor goes beyond simple customer service and courtesy. You must also understand exactly what your client wants and provide it, rather than trying to create more work and thus more profit for yourself. After all, a happy customer can easily become a repeat customer through ethical treatment.
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From time to time, a business or independent contractor find themselves in the unusual position of firing a customer. This is a relatively uncommon occurrence and is usually seen as something of a strange role reversal. However, the ability to cut ties with a customer is a crucial ability to have, particularly for contractors or small business owners.
Yes, you can fire a customer and your business prosperity can depend on it. If a customer is unbearably difficult or clearly trying to take advantage of you, there’s no shame in refusing to provide services to them anymore. Ultimately, this decision will protect your sanity and your business.
How to Know When a Customer Needs to Be Fired
Many customers are finicky, and some are just downright hard to work with. However, it’s not impossible to work with finicky or difficult customers. After all, they still pay you just like the good customers do.
However, there are some customers who are past finicky and difficult and are impossible to work for. This customer will seek you out just to take as much as they can from you in time and expertise, but will never pay you a dime. They generally start the process by telling you how many projects they might have for you once they get this one resolved. This only thing they want is to somehow get you to fix their system for free. In the business world, these kinds of customers are known as “tire kickers”, after people who waste a car salesman’s time by kicking the tires of every car in the lot without actually buying one.
Pro Tip: Anyone who hires you for HVAC work with the promise of dozens of future jobs is just as dishonest as someone who offers to pay an artist in “exposure”. They just want free labor from you–don’t give it to them!
Firing a Customer
Learn how to identify these bad customers sooner rather than later and fire them. Usually, this is done by giving them a price and refuse to work until a check is in your hands. Other times it requires telling them you will not work for them. In extreme cases, it might just mean blocking their number and forgetting about them.
Don’t Be Fooled
Some of the persistent, impossible customers just don’t understand the concept of being fired. Train yourself to not get caught in a tire kicker’s web of promised future work. If you suspect a customer may be a tire kicker, ask for payment or a deposit upfront and see how they react. If your instincts are correct and they’re just wasting your time, fire the customer immediately. Don’t give them time to fool you anymore.
Terminating the Relationship with a Customer
As an HVAC technician, train yourself to distinguish between a difficult customer, a client having a bad day, and a tire kicker. Additionally, remember there’s no shame in refusing to offer services to a particular client because of their behavior. Just make sure you know when to cut ties with a bad customer and how to handle the situation professionally.
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Customers know that the best way to get a good deal on products or services is to comb the market, looking for the best company for their price. While many homeowners are concerned with getting the lowest possible price for what they want, another huge factor is the company itself that they’re considering. How do they generally treat their customers? And for an expensive yet critical part of the typical American home, the HVAC unit, homeowners are even more careful of their ultimate choice.
Appealing to a Wide Client Base
Customers have definite preferences regarding HVAC services, ranging from price to availability. However, don’t forget the more nebulous yet equally important factors many homeowners consider as they shop for air conditioning services. A few additional preferences may include:
- Experience and previous work
- Reviews and testimonials
- Speedy service
1) Experience and Previous Work
Past experiences, knowledge of current HVAC technology, and records of previous work are all important to prove your competence as a trustworthy technician. Even if you haven’t been in business very long, you can boost potential clients’ confidence in you by demonstrating an intimate knowledge of their HVAC problems and how best to solve them. Show off your current knowledge as well as your previous experiences and successful jobs.
2) Reviews and Testimonials
One excellent way to provide information about your previous work is through glowing customer reviews. How many past clients are thrilled with your excellent work on their HVAC systems? How recent are their reviews? Don’t be shy about promoting good testimonies from previous clients.
3) Speedy Service
Considering how many people use their HVAC units daily, especially during the summer, timeliness is a huge factor in which technician customers will hire. If their favorite technician isn’t available for a month, whereas a less familiar one can be there in an hour, most clients will choose the faster option. By its nature, HVAC is often a time-consuming job with work showing up abruptly and with urgent need. It’s important to do your best to be open to surprise jobs without neglecting previous appointments.
Pro Tip: Once you’ve been hired by a client, outline the timeline of your work for them. Make sure they understand exactly how long they can plan to wait on you.
Exceeding Customer Expectations
A home’s heating and air conditioning systems are among the most important parts, and consequently, homeowners prefer to hire only the best to keep their units maintained. In addition to exceeding customer expectations regarding your service and skill level, make sure you can meet their preferences regarding customer service as well. Your growing client base will appreciate your effort!
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