Originally published: 01.01.19 by Jamie Kitchen
Reduce Callbacks Through Training
Ensure your technicians are well versed in troubleshooting, proper installation and documentation protocols.
Minimizing the need to return to a prior job and correct issues that were either missed, wrongly diagnosed or improperly serviced the first time should be a top priority of any service contractor.
The fallout from these callbacks extends far beyond the extra time and costs required to redo a job; the inconvenience or negative experience can stay with the customer, reducing the chance you will be considered for future work.
It can also increase the likelihood of potentially damaging exposure on social media, which has become an increasingly important reference for many when choosing a company they want to hire to do work for them.
To effectively reduce the chance of callbacks, contractors should employ training for technicians that addresses three key skills: diagnosing/troubleshooting the problem(s), proper installation and commissioning practices, and thorough documentation protocols that provide a recorded history of the job.
While each job is different, these skills form a foundation that ensures good communication took place, the correct components were replaced with the appropriate parts, the reason(s) for the failure were identified and corrected, and any other possible issues that might occur down the road have been
noted — and, if possible, eliminated.
While this seems like a long list, the practice of proper documentation can be a useful framework for building the other key skills systematically.
Troubleshooting and proper startup practices naturally follow a systematic approach from start to finish.
In other words, these skills are closely tied together by the methodology used to execute them.
A training program based on a core system of measurements and procedures can help bring technicians up to speed and reduce the chance they overlook or wrongly interpret symptoms.
To illustrate, a service call should go something like this: When the technician shows up on site, they discuss with the customer what the potential issues are from the customer’s viewpoint, asking strategic questions such as when the issue first took place and if there were any circumstances that occurred right before the issue was noticed (such as prior service, etc.).
Next, they do a visual inspection of the unit, noting anything that stands out as problematic. While this would include obvious points like the type of metering device (e.g., TXV, piston EEV, etc.), it could also extend to excess foliage, such as bushes growing around an outdoor unit, or anything else that may affect system performance.
From this point, the service call will continue to follow the strategy of gaining — and documenting — as much information as possible. What is the voltage value to the unit? If the system is operating, what are the refrigerant temperatures and pressures? Is the airflow through the condenser and evaporator at the recommended values? If the unit is not operating, is it due to component failure or something like a pressure control that is set to an incorrect value?
If the unit is operating, there should be sufficient information to diagnose what is wrong. If it is not working, there should be enough information to identify what is immediately causing the unit to not operate — for example, an open control transformer or failed compressor.
Aside from failed components, it can also offer some good indications of possible external causes — such as airflow issues resulting in excessive discharge pressure and, then, an open manual reset high-pressure switch.
Using the example of identifying a failed compressor, while it is obvious the system is not operating, and the compressor windings have been verified as being open, the technician should try to identify the root cause of the compressor windings failing in the first place.
That answer may not be obvious, however, simply because the system is not operating, meaning pressure and temperature measurements cannot provide useful information. As any good technician will tell you, proper replacement, startup and commissioning practices will catch any underlying issues that would have caused the failure and eliminate them.
Still, it must be done thoroughly in the correct manner to be fully effective. Training on the importance of various factors that affect system performance, using a checklist and documenting all the values and steps go a long way to ensure that happens.
A good example is refrigerant recovery. Rather than just recovering to a jug, the technician weighs the refrigerant and finds they recovered 2 lbs. 8 oz., but the unit states the charge should be 3lbs. 6 oz. or 1 lb. 12oz. This simple but very important piece of information can be key in determining what could have been wrong. If the unit was undercharged, why?
Finding a leak should be a prime initiative at this point. If not, and there was a slow leak, simply replacing that compressor will be an expensive mistake for both the customer and contractor.
The technician still needs to know proper evacuation procedures and the importance of a micron gauge, while the checklist should require the pressure be noted in microns and not inches of mercury.
When you consider many systems are overcharged and/or have airflow issues that compromise performance, making sure system startup after servicing is done correctly will eliminate these issues that ruin performance, cause the system to underdeliver and cost the owner way more than it should.
While taking care of these areas alone will significantly reduce callbacks and improve the quality of work, getting the customer to recognize and acknowledge your technicians go above and beyond is also important.
Proper training in soft skills like good communication and customer education will help. Technicians should also be trained to discuss with the customer what was checked, serviced and/or replaced and why it is important.
Showing them supporting documentation to prove purpose can help give them peace of mind that they were taken care of not just for now, but also for the future because issues that caused or can cause a problem were found and addressed. It can also help to underscore the importance of an annual checkup to ensure any future issues are caught before they cause additional issues down the road.
While service documentation and step-by-step procedure lists are important, they can only help ensure the proper work is completed and the values to be measured are noted. The technician must first, and most importantly, understand the value and relevance of each step. This is where training comes into play.
For example, technicians should understand how each component functions and the key points that affect the values of superheat and subcooling, so they avoid measuring at points that can give a false reading. Plus, knowing how to walk a customer through the system by highlighting how the various measured values play a role in how well the system operates will show these are not just hoops to be jumped through to finish the job.
The reason service checklists are effective can also be a drawback. While a step-by-step service guide can be a great way to quickly leverage what new technicians learned in school and incorporate it into their service skills, the tool itself cannot do the job. Blindly following a list can cause technicians to make just as many mistakes if the current situation is not covered in the service procedure or they are not familiar with the many outside factors that influence performance or operation.
Therefore, service checklists should be used as part of, and in addition to, a training program aimed at improving skills related to troubleshooting and servicing. This tool is meant to reinforce existing knowledge of system operation to guide wise choices.
Thus, training should focus on the following:
The theory of how systems operate, as well as what influences their performance and how. Any training in this area will quickly reinforce what technicians already know, but to a much deeper level as required and backed by “in-the-field” experience.
The importance of taking a strategic step-by-step approach to troubleshooting and startup and commissioning. Skipping steps can possibly leave out key information and result in key issues remaining that can cause components to fail prematurely.
Framing the overall service effort with the goal of “futureproofing” the system by eliminating not only the immediate cause of failure, but also—through noting and correcting—subtle changes or issues that pose a longer term but avoidable threat. This should be positioned as protecting the customer investment and can be the basis for recommending preventive maintenance.
Callbacks are a drain on resources and can quickly harm a company’s reputation. Luckily, they can also be greatly reduced through training on proper procedures, documentation and service—helping win customers for life.