My commandments


Utilizing the “Laws of Service” are an easyway to improve your business

By George Lanthier

Over the years, I have been an oil-truck driver, service technician, service manager, instructor, service company owner and consultant, and I have often been asked for my most basic “tricks,” or what others might call “rules.” I really don’t believe in tricks and rules-of-thumb and prefer to work with what I call “Lanthier’s Laws of Service.” I have been using these for some time now and they work just fine for me. Try them, they just might work for you, too.

Listen to the customer
This is not only the first rule because it makes a ton of sense, but it also acts as a pathway to all of the troubleshooting rules we’ll outline and, in addition, it’s just a
courteous and professional thing to do. The trick is to truly listen, not just hear the
customer’s words.

Assume nothing
Oh, mama, there it is. The rule to putting callbacks, repeat calls, reworks or whatever you want to call them to an end. Check it all from the beginning and don’t assume the last guy checked it. Use your gauges and instruments like a pro and put these “bad boy” calls in your past. If you’re still having too many callbacks, get an OnWatch monitor and if you have one, use it on the
second call, not the fifth call.

Always read the directions, don’t kneel on them
What else can I say? This is also a great favorite rule of OEMs. Most of the time the best place to begin is always at the beginning. True, sometimes you will wander from the norm, but we all need a starting line.

The customer is always right!
Actually, that’s not even close, but they are the reason we do what we do. But, if we followed Rule 1, we just might be able to at least make the situation better for everyone.

There’s no such thing as too much draft
Too much draft can always be cut down, not enough, soot city.

Always use mechanical draft whenever your stack temperature is less than 450(F, or a 90-degree elbow is present in the fluepipe

Calm down. I didn’t say use a powerventer or inducer, I said mechanical draft. The best 3,450-rpm burners all can produce adequate draft for a specific application, so use them correctly.

When in doubt, purge it
This applies to burners, fuel pumps, water boilers, heating systems and air-conditioning systems; it’s like the first commandment of all HVAC work, a multi-purpose all-knowing rule of heating and air-conditioning and the best cure to ending confusion. My favorite purge?

Pre-purges and post-purges on burners. My second, purging domestic hot water heaters with modulating burners. Awesome!

The last guy on the job is always wrong; it was probably you
Uh oh, this is the one that gets everybody mad at me. Look, why is it that we always have to badmouth the last guy? Other professionals don’t do it and in its strongest form it borders on or is slander and defamation of character; think about that. I hear this on the street, in classrooms, on the Web, everywhere.

Someday you are going to knock the last guy to a customer and it will have been you. I know, and it’s very embarrassing. I did it when I had only a few years in the biz and I haven’t done it since. Think about what it says about you and your company, too.

The pump pressure is probably correct right where it is
Boy, has this been beaten to death or what?
Have you figured this out yet, by the way?

Have you realized that you almost never turn the screw up on certain equipment and on others it’s almost a given? The pieces of equipment you normally don’t mess with are water heaters,
furnaces and dry-base boilers, so that just leaves wet-base boilers.

Have you figured out that most of your “cold soaks” and “running saturations” are also on these units? It has to do with chambers and bypass piping and boiler design and watch what the boiler guys are doing about it.

If you mess up, fess up
This is a very hard one for some people. I’ve made a bunch of mistakes over the years and it’s because of this “shoot first” mentality of mine. You can’t make a zebra into a giraffe. But, when I have messed up, I’ve fessed up. It’s very hard sometimes to get all the facts straight and you go with gut instinct, but when you screw up you have to pay for your actions. If you know you didn’t do it right, admit it.

Unfortunately, this is also referred to in some circles as “serviceman’s discretion.” Oooooops!

Customers hear things you can’t
They also can smell things you can’t. This rule goes with Rule No. 1 and enforces that you must hear and listen to the customer. They honestly can hear things and smell things that you can’t. Listen to them, have some patience and use some common sense.

There are two things I carry all of the time when checking out smell and noise calls. For noises, a stethoscope. No, it doesn’t have to be medical grade; they even sell these things in auto parts stores. For smells, vanilla extract. As soon as you step into a van or put on your jacket or come in contact with anything that has oil on it you’re done for. You go outside, take a whiff of vanilla and go back in and I bet you find it. Hey, even if you don’t you can always just sit in the basement and get high on vanilla while you think of Mom’s vanilla cookies.

Eyes and people can lie, test equipment can’t
This goes hand in hand with No. 2 and is one of the most important. If you consider yourself a professional serviceman then you must have all of the gauges, tools and instruments to do the job. If you’re still hacking away and guessing at it, no wonder your boss doesn’t like you.
The most infamous three words are “I don’t know”

Servicemen can’t say these three words; it’s impossible, and we all suffer from this “Superman” complex at some point. Our boss, the customers and our peers just cannot be allowed to think we don’t know it all.

Do you know what’s really funny, though?
As soon as you move from being a technician to management they end up being the only three words you can say.

“Why is his truck upside-down in the street?” asks your boss. Answer: “I don’t know,” you reply.
“Why are we behind on tune-ups?” he asks. Answer: “I don’t know.”
“Why don’t your men like you?” Answer” “I don’t know.”
“Do you know what you’re doing?” Answer: “I don’t know.”

Amazing isn’t it? When you’re a tech you are required and expected to know it all. Then you become a parent, supervisor, manager or an instructor and you suffer from being brain dead. Amazing!

See ya.

George Lanthier is the owner of Firedragon Enterprises and is the author of nine books on oilheating and heating systems. He is a teaching consultant and expert witness on oilheating systems. He can be contacted at 132 Lowell Street, Arlington, MA 02474-2756. His phone numbers is (781) 646-2584 and he can be faxed at (781) 641-7099. He can be contacted through the Internet at

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