The tools you need to succeed, Part II

Feature Story

By Alan Mercurio

Editor’s Note: The first part of this feature appeared in the November 2006 Fall Literature Showcase supplement.

In the home
Some technicians are surprised at how much a homeowner knows about their system without knowing anything about our trade itself. Whenever the customer is present I always spend my first few minutes with them talking and asking questions; I have learned most customers can give you a pretty good history of their system.

Listen closely when they get to the part where it started giving them trouble; they don’t realize this, but that is where they may offer you a clue as to what is going on. Like when they say, ‘Gosh, all of the sudden I heard this terrible noise. It sounded like metal chains clanging then it started getting cold in here. But I still have hot water.” You see, you already know you’re going to look at the circulator coupling or maybe the bearing assembly. Things like that can be helpful and save you a lot of time, especially during the busy call season. And you know what else? There is nothing a customer appreciates more than a technician that is interested in what they have to say.

Do you want save yourself a few steps? Of course you do. Before heading to the boiler/furnace room make sure the thermostat is set above the room temp (calling for heat) and that there is nothing nearby giving off a false sense of heat that would satisfy the thermostat, television, lamp or even a refrigeration appliance. There are other items I’m sure you could think of.

Now, when heading to the boiler/furnace room, check to see if any switches may have been turned off accidentally. Some homes have an emergency switch at the door before you enter the boiler/furnace room or basement. It’s a great safety code. OK, once you’re in front of the system check to see if you have power. If not, go check the fuse or breaker. Also, if you walk by the oil tank take a look at the gauge. Got oil? Is the oil valve open? These simple steps just may save you some valuable time and your customer money. If none of the conditions above exist then get busy and start diagnosing the system. It’s getting cold in there.

In an empty home
OK, let’s say the customer has just left the door open for you to go in and take care of things. Can you still get some of that history to determine what led up to this failure? Sure you can. This is why it is so important to communicate with your customer while you have them on the phone or train your dispatcher to ask the appropriate questions and relay the answers to you. These questions could be a part of your new operations manual. (see Part I of this article.) Again this will save time and money for everyone and make you look that much more professional.

Here is another neat tip for you. Have a log booklet that is left with your customer’s system. This can work for you in many ways. First of all this book does not have to be 20 pages; you can get a lot of information on a two-sided 8-1/2-inch by 16-inch form that can be folded.

On this form technicians should log any work done to the heating system, including parts that have been replaced and readings that were observed during that call. Reading such as Smoke, draft, Co2, O2, CO, cad cell ohms reading, etc. You could even have the name of the last technician that worked on the system so you can share important data with each other without even being there together, plus you could discuss this call with the previous technician to determine the possible cause of a repeat call. This is kind of like having a medical history on the heating system; it can tell you a lot. And doctors use them every day, why shouldn’t you? Figure 1 shows an example of the type of logbook I’m talking about. Keep in mind you can design one to suit your needs.

I’m sure you can see how valuable this logbook can be for both you and your customer. On the front cover you could have your company name and a phone number to reach you in the event your customer has a question or concern related to their system. And guess what? If your customer sells the house they will probably leave the logbook there and now the new owner knows who to call for service. Wow, with very little effort and expense you just got a new customer, isn’t that great? OK, I have to run now, but we will go over more on communication in Part III.

Alan Mercurio is the founder of Oil Tech Talk and the Oil Tech Talk Training Center in Hamburg, Pa. He can be reached by e-mailing

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