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INDUSTRY: HVAC

Ultimate Guide to Hiring HVAC Technicians: Finding, Training, & Managing

September 4, 2018 • Having a hard time finding good technicians? You’re not alone. The country’s unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in half a century, and fewer young people are going into skilled trade work. But don’t lose hope. Quality folks are out there. And, this guide is full of tips to help you find them, hire, train, and manage a successful team. Finding HVAC technicians First, let’s look at a couple of traditional ways companies find skilled technicians. Download Field Guide: How to Hire & Grow HVAC Your HVAC Business Without the Headache Placing job ads Place ads in local newspapers, on job sites, and hanging fliers in supply houses. This used to be the easiest way to get the word out to experienced candidates looking for a job. Nowadays, however, most skilled workers are already employed and not necessarily looking. With fewer skilled technicians on the market, you might need to employ other tactics in addition to the ads to ensure you have the best pick of candidates. Strengths: Ads — especially online — cast a wide net and can help you find folks that aren’t already in your network. Weaknesses: The downside of casting a wide net is that you end up with lots of responses from folks who are not a good fit. Either they’re not qualified or they are trained, but there’s a good reason why they’re unemployed. Tip: Techs might be looking for better rates or benefits, or more hours. Make your ad stand out by clearly stating what you have to offer over other local companies. Examples would be offering a guaranteed forty hours or dental insurance. Vocational schools With a shortage of skilled workers, companies are relying more heavily on HVAC schools for new hires. Strengths: Folks fresh out of school are cheaper, moldable, and eager to learn. You can start fresh instead of being forced to break bad habits and perspectives that don’t align with your company. Weaknesses: It can take months or years of on-the-job training to get a green worker to the same level as an experienced hire. Tip: Want to find the cream of the crop? Maintain friendships with the instructors and ask for introductions to their best students. Your network Even newer companies have connections, and it’s probably a wider network than you realize. Ask local contractors, suppliers, and other trade professionals that you work with to spread the word for you. If you’re a member of the local union, contact them, as well. Don’t forget that your network includes your current employees! In a recent survey, 35% of trade companies hired technicians based off of employee referrals. Strengths: Other trade professionals are likely to know—and be able to vouch for—good workers. Weaknesses: This approach is hit-or-miss, especially when few professionals are looking for work. Tip:  Pay it forward by always being ready to connect professionals. When folks have earned work from your connections, they’ll be more prepared to help you out in turn. Hiring the right HVAC technician There’s a lot to consider about each candidate, including their work history, credentials and technical know-how, as well as their soft skills and how well they fit into your existing team. Taking the time to make the right hire will save you effort in the long run. Weed out candidates with a technical skills test You might not always have time to train someone and need a capable technician ready on day one. This is where a technical test comes in handy. Technicians can say whatever they want on their resume, but do they really know what they’re talking about? Weed out candidates with a written or on-site skills test. Check out example questions from the NOCTI Job Ready Assessment test. Contact multiple references Asking multiple references about a person’s work performance and character can give you a more honest and complete sense of how they’ll be on the job. HR expert Bruce Anderson recommends asking for the names and contact information from your candidate’s previous employers instead of simply asking for general references. Prioritize soft skills and a willingness to learn Companies often face the dilemma of prioritizing technical skills and experience or soft skills and personality fit. If you are able to do more on-the-job training, consider prioritizing soft skills — like customer service and promptness — over technical knowledge. According to soft skills trainer Steve Coscia, “more 80% of a mechanical worker’s future success will be based on his or her soft skills.” In the long run, it’s easier to teach a hard worker technical skills than it is to nurture a stronger work ethic. Personality assessment tests can help you discern whether a candidate would be a good fit for your company. Of course, a general aptitude for skilled trade work is necessary and isn’t for everyone. Candidates should at least be able to pass basic mechanical aptitude tests. Training HVAC technicians on the job No matter the experience level of your new hire, everyone will require some training, whether it’s understanding your specific company’s culture and expectations or on-the-job technical training. After you’ve made a hire, set clear expectations about what is expected of your employee in these first few months — and in general — from people that work for you. Train on technical and soft skills ACHR News recommends training new employees in four areas: mechanical skills, time management, customer service, and troubleshooting. For instance, even if they have a good understanding of HVAC systems and how to repair them, how good are they at troubleshooting for basic or advanced problems? These can be two very different skill sets. HVAC systems aren’t the only technology technicians need to be trained on. Have your new hire practice using your internal systems — such as updating arrival times, setting estimates, and invoicing — before they need to do these with your customers. Institute a trial period Set a 30 to 90 day trial period with clear expectations about what they should be able to do and understand by the end of the trial. Your new HVAC techs should also understand what will happen if they fail certain parts of their assessment. During this trial period, your new hire will do a mix of training and job shadowing and slowly taking on more of their own responsibilities. A well-documented trial period eases the process of letting someone go who isn’t do a good job. Offer incentives early on Offering incentives for hard work and exemplary service sets a precedent that good work is not just expected, but will be rewarded. Incentives — such as raises, bonuses, or time off — build goodwill and company loyalty and can counterbalance the anxiety of the trial period. Managing HVAC techs According to Steve Howard, founder of an HVAC training and consultant group, one of the top reasons that HVAC businesses close is the failure of the owner/technician to fully move into a managerial role. As you grow your business and your team, so do your responsibilities. So what does it take to manage a successful team? Encourage autonomy from Your employees The goal is to employ a team of technicians that are capable of managing themselves. When you’re confident your team can do their jobs without being micromanaged, you can focus on the big picture. Hold each team member accountable for their performance through weekly or monthly required reports. When these reports are available to the entire team, individuals can track their performance compared to that of their co-workers. Be honest and transparent about how they are performing individually and collectively. Maintain incentives for good performance Incentives aren’t just for new hires. Matt Michel, CEO of Service Roundtable, explains, “Pay wages for time on the job and you will get time on the job. Pay incentives for productivity and that’s what you will get.” He goes on to explain that incentives don’t have to be financial. Recognition can be just as rewarding. Bruce Breeden, founder of Field Service Resources, LLC, suggests offering incentives for advanced training, such as licenses and credentials. Use the right tools The right technology can make managing a team simple and efficient. Keep track of your team with a live map. Keep them up-to-date about new service requests and changes to old jobs with a centralized scheduling and dispatch tool. These tools should be easy-to-use for you and your team. Making the most out of each employee is critical to the success of your business. Throughout the entire process — from hiring to managing employees — honest and clear expectations, and a willingness to train and reward each industrious person will pay off.

Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator

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Channel the Power of Referral Marketing

January 18, 2018 • People are generally creatures of habit. We get our hair cut by the same person, we order the dish we already know we like, and we buy products that we trust. When we can no longer rely on our own experience to make decisions we look to the people we trust for new recommendations. That’s why, if done right, referral marketing is one of the most efficient ways to gain new customers for your business. Below are some referral marketing strategies to get you started. Why are referrals important? There are three reasons referral marketing is one of the most cost-effective marketing strategies that also tend to have extremely high conversion rates. Exact targeting It’s like the old saying goes, “Birds of a feather, flock together.” When your customers are referring you to their friends and family, you know that you’re targeting individuals that are similar to customers that have already booked you. Simply based on the fact that they were a referral you’ll know that they’re in need of the service you provide and are a good fit for how you run your business. Trust building When you’re looking for a recommendation who do you trust more: A complete stranger online or someone that you know and admire? We tend to be more trusting of the experienced-based, opinions we hear from friends, family, influencers, and anyone that’s already gained our trust. Reach The number of leads you can gain from your customers is endless. Each of your current customers has a number of referrals they could send you. Every time you gain a new customer you’re gaining another batch of possible referrals, and so on and so forth. This makes referrals one of the most scalable channels for leads available. What makes a good referral marketing campaign? A good referral marketing campaign is low-cost, while still incentivizing your referrers to tell others about your service with something that makes them feel valued. You can choose to give a discount on your service for a certain number of referrals, send them a company t-shirt, or offer a gift card of some sort. Here are a couple examples of successful referral programs. Uber If you’ve ever signed up for Uber you know about their referral program. In all seriousness, if you haven’t heard of it, Uber is a ride-sharing program. The success of their company is largely attributed to their referral program. How it works is each customer is automatically given a unique referral code when they sign up. If they give their code to their friend all the friend has to do is enter the code they gave them and both individuals are given a discount on their next ride. The unique code makes the customer feel valued, while also offering a monetary incentive. Dropbox Dropbox is an online file sharing and storage company that offers cloud storage, file synchronization, personal cloud, and client software. Their referral program is different from others because their incentive isn’t monetary, instead, they offer product based perks. They offer an extra 500MB of free storage. Like Uber, they reward both the new customer and the referring customer the extra storage space. This referral strategy tends to provide the highest quality leads since both participants are interested in having more engagement with your product or service. Go to market strategies Now that you have an idea of different kinds of referral programs and why they’re important, here are six strategies to ensure your campaign is a success. 1) The customer experience   While providing great customer service on the job is important, unfortunately, it’s not enough to motivate your customers to share it with others. If you want them to recommend you to their friends and family, you’ll need to provide them with a memorable experience that begins before the job even starts, and continues well after the job is completed. This means doing things like allowing them to conveniently book you online, providing open communication, and following up with them after the job is done. 2) Reporting, metrics, and analytics In order to see if your campaign is actually working, you’ll need to be meticulous about your reporting. That way, you can see where your customers are coming from and find new opportunities to gain more. You’ll want to start by implementing a way to track where your new customers are coming from. A good way to do this is through a referral code or asking how they heard about you in an exit survey. Once you have acquired enough data, you can dive deep into your metrics to see what’s working and what’s not. Keep in mind, if something doesn’t work right away it doesn’t mean it’s a bad campaign. It might just need some more time to gain momentum. 3) Make your service shareable An easy way to create more brand awareness within your targeted demographic is through your customer’s social media. Everyone on social media knows that customers love sharing experiences like what they eat, where they’re going, and whatever else they think others will find interesting. Make your service easy for your customers to share with their friends and family by providing them with before and after photos to share on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. You can make this even more appealing by making a contest out of it. Just have them tag you in their post to be entered to win a discount on their next service. There are plenty of free programs online that randomly select a winner for you. 4) Gather more reviews Another form of referrals comes from the advice of strangers on the internet, aka online reviews. Yes, your customers do look at these. If they don’t know anyone personally that has worked with you, they’ll look online for an educated opinion. If you know that your customer had a great experience, ask them to leave you a review on your website, Google, Facebook, or Yelp. Try automating this process by setting up an email marketing campaign that asks your customers to leave you a review a week after the job is complete. 5) Collect your assets You can create new assets, or repurpose previously used graphics/copy, making the process even more efficient. Keep track of all of your before/after images, customer reviews and testimonials, and additional assets you’ve acquired. That way if you want to share anything on social media, or provide potential customers with examples of past work, testimonials, and recommendations you can do so without chasing them back down. It is important to keep a strong collection of assets that will be ready to use at any moment so that you aren’t held back when the need for graphics arises. 6) Create your rewards incentives You can create new assets, or repurpose previously used graphics/copy, making the process even more efficient. Keep track of all of your before/after images, customer reviews and testimonials, and additional assets you’ve acquired. That way if you want to share anything on social media, or provide potential customers with examples of past work, testimonials, and recommendations you can do so without chasing them back down. It is important to keep a strong collection of assets that will be ready to use at any moment so that you aren’t held back when the need for graphics arises. Knowing the value of referral marketing is vital to helping your business grow. By creating a well-planned referral campaign, you’re turning your customers into advocates for your business. Since the customers you gain came from an opinion they respect, they’ll be more likely to become a loyal customer themselves. Investing in a referral marketing campaign will ultimately save you time and money while nurturing a source of leads that have an endless potential.

Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator

the power of referral marketing