Is Value Perceived?

The other morning, I was scrolling through HVAC Facebook groups when I came across a post from a homeowner. He was requesting recommendations for a book that would teach him how to design and install a new HVAC system, complete with ductwork, in his home. Immediately, my HVAC career flashed before my eyes like a Christian reliving his life on judgment day. I thought about all of the mistakes that I have made over the years, as well as the struggles that I have had by learning things the hard way. His request seemed pretty naive, to put it politely, so I responded with the first reasonable thing that popped into my head. I recommended that it would most likely be cheaper and less time-consuming for him to go to work and spend the time he would have spent learning to install a system working in his field of expertise to earn the money necessary to hire a professional for the job. He responded, “Really, cheaper than $15,000 – $20,000?”

I didn’t respond because I was heading out to watch the Chicago Bears annihilate the Falcons on that cold New Year's Eve. In years past, I might have snuck a peek at my phone a few times during the game, but this game was a little different. This was because the Bears were actually winning and also because my right hand was frozen since I inadvertently grabbed two left-handed gloves while I ran out the door heading to the game.

When I got back to the car and was waiting for my son to remove his four pairs of pants, three pairs of socks, four shirts, and a jacket, I glanced at my notifications. Another Facebook user responded to my comment, calling me several vulgar names and saying I am not there to help others and HVAC is easy and not “Rocket Science.”

I felt my blood pressure rise as I read the comment. I wanted to bark back at the guy with my south-side temper, but I took a deep breath and tried my best to respond tactfully. I said, “I have spent the last 20+ years mastering my craft, reading countless books, and attending more classes than I can remember. This trade is something you put together over a lifetime and not easily learned by a weekend warrior.”  

The gentleman who made the original post commented shortly after, saying, “Although I disagree with how the other member spoke, he does have a valid point. HVAC isn’t rocket science.”

The rocket science thing bothered me probably more than it should have. In part because my hands are covered with scars from the thousands of custom sheet metal fittings that I have fabricated over the years. These two guys don’t value what I do. They don’t value the time I have spent learning to engineer and install a top-notch HVAC system, and why would they? If you don’t understand what it takes to accomplish something, why value it? At the end of the day, we are all appliance repair people who swap parts and change boxes, right?

This exchange got me thinking about perceived value vs actual value. The definition of perceived value, according to Investopedia.com, is a customer’s own perception of a product or service’s merit or desirability to them, especially in comparison to a competitor’s product. Perceived value is measured by the price the public is willing to pay for a good or service.

I ended up responding with, “I would suggest purchasing ACCA’s Manual J, S, T, and D, and once you have read them, come back for step 2.” That was my passive-aggressive way of increasing my perceived value and proving my point. If a customer doesn’t see the value of the skill that we provide, is it our job to HVAC-splain in hopes that he will more eagerly run and grab his checkbook? If you fail at proving your value, you are more than likely going to cave to the customer's request and maybe even provide the service for a lesser price than you would have normally.

The problem comes when contractors are good at parading around their perceived value but fail to deliver actual value in the end. The customers that have experienced these types of contractors most likely have a bad taste in their mouths toward HVAC professionals in general and assume we are all birds of a feather. With all of these private equity buyouts squeezing the profit dollars, I’m starting to believe that this may become the rule and not the exception.

The same thought process should be considered when an employer thinks about his or her employees. Tech A is a filter changer, tech B can only run maintenance calls, and Tech C has callbacks on one out of four installations. It also holds true in the reverse situation: what value does the employer show to his employee? 

When we start putting ourselves in other people's shoes and empathizing with their situation, maybe we will notice the actual value being provided. Relationships in business should be a partnership where it is assumed that everyone wins. We need to understand that everyone does their part and plays an important role in what should be a mutually beneficial exchange. This means we need to stop trying to selfishly tip the scale in our favor.  

We all deserve to be shown a certain amount of respect and also make a living wage that provides what’s necessary for our families. And it’s not easy to earn that living wage; HVAC has a high divorce rate, tons of stress, long hours, and is hard on our bodies. After all, if you wanted a respectable career that was easy, you should have gotten into rocket science.  =)

-Adam Mufich

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