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Handling HVAC Emergencies

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HVAC breakdowns frequently happen at inopportune times. It’s also not difficult to imagine a circumstance when an HVAC-related emergency could become life threatening. Unheated homes during the winter or sweltering structures during a heat wave can pose imminent danger, especially to vulnerable individuals.

Naturally, it’s advantageous for you as a business owner as well as to your customers to provide emergency service when such circumstances arise. It’s also natural to charge a premium for short notice service, especially when service is required on weekends or on holidays, or even during a weather-related or other emergency.

However, there is also a point when premium pricing may cross the line into price gouging. Another consideration is how to assign employees to cover short notice duty. While there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, taking certain considerations into account can help you as a business owner make the right decisions for your company.

Premium Pricing and Price Gouging

There are no easy answers, but in the absence of anti-gouging laws, a valid approach could be to calculate a reasonable estimate for additional costs associated with dealing with emergencies (such as overtime or shift differential pay for employees) and use those costs to gauge premium pricing rates. While taking such an approach may result in forfeiting short-term profits, customers will remember that they were treated fairly – and are more likely to return for repeat business, and even recommend your company to their family and friends.

Premium pricing is a well-established policy, and generally at least grudgingly accepted by the public. For example, Gasoline prices often rise during the summer as well, in response to vacation driving. Tickets to popular events are often sold at rates far above their face value to people who are happy to pay. Electricity prices are typically higher in the summer, when air conditioners are running. On the other hand, Utility companies use off-peak pricing – a variation of premium pricing – as an incentive to encourage customers to adjust their usage to take advantage of lower rates charged for using non-essential utilities during off hours.

Nonetheless, premium pricing is often viewed as price gouging, especially when pricing is applied to basic necessities or in life-threatening circumstances. For instance, Car-sharing service Uber gauges when its service is likely to be demanded by more riders, and automatically (and sometimes dramatically) increases prices accordingly. Uber has come under frequent criticism for its “surge pricing” policies. Specifically, Uber faced especially harsh criticism in 2014 when its surge pricing policy was implemented during an active hostage crisis in Sydney, Australia. During that incident, riders attempting to flee the immediate vicinity of the crisis were charged a minimum of $100 Australian – four times the usual fee.

Here in America, several states have implemented anti-price gouging laws to prevent circumstances like the one that occurred in Australia from happening during a crisis. A 2016 article in Forbes magazine described a gas pipeline leak in Alabama that resulted in an acute shortage of gasoline at the pump in several Southeastern states, including Georgia. The article went on to explain that Georgia’s anti-price gouging laws kept gas prices low.

The article went on to claim that such laws were financially unsound because preventing businesses from benefitting financially from shortages – even life threatening ones – removes the incentive for businesses to supplement their supply to meet demand. The unfortunate result, according to the article, is that a lucky few consumers are able to obtain needed supplies during life-threatening circumstances, while others are forced to do without. What the article fails to address is the fate of those consumers who simply cannot afford vastly inflated prices, and are therefore forced to do without – sometimes with life threatening consequences.

Off-Hours Employee Scheduling

Many companies assign scheduling according to seniority – staff and crew who have been with the company the longest get first dibs at desirable shifts. While this approach may seem logical, the result is often that those workers stuck with less desirable shifts become resentful. If the same few employers always wind up being stuck working weekends and holidays, or being called upon to respond to an HVAC emergency at 3:00 a.m., your company is at risk of eventually losing those employees.

This approach can be especially problematic when assigning workers to address short notice assignments. Of course, sometimes circumstances dictate who is assigned to deal with urgent situations. For instance, some members of your staff may be more highly skilled or have extensive experience in dealing with particular circumstances. In such instances, it makes sense to assign those employees to deal with emergencies in which they are highly skilled.

Such situations aside, the best approach to short-notice employee scheduling is a proactive one. Develop a policy in advance so that your workers have a reasonable expectation of who will be called upon. One option could be to develop rotating roster of on-call employees for short notice assignments, or asking for volunteers (with a shift differential as an incentive) to be on call during off-hours. Either approach can help your company respond to customers in need without exploiting them – or your workers.

Audrey Henderson

Posted In: Management

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