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What Today Taught Us

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Laura DiFilippo

Like a lot of contractors, I cringed when I watched the Today show report on HVAC contractors on July 10. I’m so proud of this industry that it infuriates me when something like this reinforces the false perception that contractors are crooks or are incompetent.

Unfortunately, we have to be honest and admit that, yes, there are untrained and/or unscrupulous contractors out there. Just like there are unscrupulous lawyers, stock brokers, doctors, insurance agents, and … well, pretty much every profession and industry imaginable.

But I was proud of ACCA and the other industry organizations who participated with the producers. Even though we’ve worked with producers on similar news segments in the past (for example, our Arizona state chapter cooperated with Dateline NBC on a similar investigation last year), this was definitely the highest profile broadcast yet.

And while I hate that they were able to so easily find contractors who played right into the producers’ stereotype (and I don’t doubt that the producers went out of their way to make sure they did — that’s the business these news organizations are in), I’m glad that we were able to provide at least a little balance to the story and show homeowners that there are ways to find good, quality contractors.

I also think it’s an important reminder to all of us contractors about the importance of integrity to business. I know I’m using it with my employees to hammer home the importance of being completely upfront and honest with our customers. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s just plain good business.

When inspecting a home’s faulty air conditioning system and speaking to the homeowner, there are really three important steps the service technician should take:

  • Explain necessary repairs or services.
  • Offer recommended options.
  • Clearly distinguish between the two.

Especially in extreme weather, homeowners want to hear what has to be done to make a faulty system work right now. So the first step any technician should take is to determine what will do just that. Explain to the homeowner the most basic things that must be done in order to get the system working as soon as possible. Explain it to them in a way that they can understand, given the lack of knowledge most people have about HVAC.

Now, we all know it’s not always that easy. Maybe you can get the system working right now, but it’s not going to last. Maybe you can get the system working right now, but there are steps you can take to make it more efficient, lower energy costs, or improve comfort. Maybe the system needs to be completely replaced. I strongly believe it’s okay to make these recommendations, and explain the steps that would need to be taken and what benefits they would provide.

But always, always clearly distinguish between what is required and what is a recommendation. If any of the contractors on the Today show had just fixed the problem (which all of them seem to have found right away), and then made sensible, honest recommendations about possible improvements, they would have looked like true professionals.

It’s important that the customer make the decision! We can’t make the decision for them — unless there’s something life-threatening, such as a cracked heat exchanger, where we may have no choice. Otherwise, offer options, explain them truthfully, and let the homeowner decide.

Finally, I was once told, “Never send an email you wouldn’t feel comfortable reading on the front page of the newspaper.” The same thing is true about home service work. Whether it’s you or your employees, you should never do anything in a customer’s home that you wouldn’t feel comfortable watching on television.

This Today show sting was the highest-profile one yet, but it won’t be the last. It’s easier just to assume that there are hidden cameras whenever you go into a home. The best thing is, as long as you just do the right thing by your customers and your employees, you should never have to worry about what the cameras might see.

I look forward to the day when a news show like Today decides it can’t broadcast a sting operation because all the contractors it called did the right thing (and they’d never broadcast something like that, right?). Until then, it’s up to all of us to serve our customers to the best of our ability — and educate them one by one on how professional contractors are really supposed to act.

Posted In: Opinion

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