Avoiding and Eliminating Callbacks

Callbacks are horrible… They kill the trade from every possible angle in ways that are hard to fully quantify or make up for. They destroy customer satisfaction, reduce technician morale by causing long hours resulting in unprofitability for companies and less earning opportunity for everyone. Possibly worse of all, callbacks tell customers that you are no better than their cousin the maintenance man or the $35 an hour Craigslist tech. If they wanted to call someone back they could have just called them instead of a true pro.

Callbacks make me furious!

They have always made me furious. Back when I was a tech there was NOTHING I hated more than having a callback… Wait… I take that back, I hated being accused of a callback when it wasn't a callback in my mind even more.

Since those immature days of pitching a fit whenever I got a callback, I have come up with my definition of what is and isn't a callback.

Callbacks Are – 

  • Anytime an installation or repair error is made either due to overlooking a problem or doing it incorrectly, regardless of how long ago it occurred
  • When a customer calls back for a similar issue on the same piece of equipment within 30 days, even if it isn't the exact same problem
  • Cases where the customer cannot be charged for the work performed due to its relationship to prior work
  • Calls back out or complaints due to a failure to communicate, diagnose or repair completely

What we have learned is that the only way to reliably prevent callbacks is to come up with systems and processes that actively PREVENT callbacks rather than assuming that if you are a good tech they won't occur. Often we would blame the customer, the follow-up tech or faulty parts for callbacks when it was actually within our power to prevent if we were more proactive. Here is what we learned.

Look Around More Carefully

Before you start diagnosis with tools look over the equipment for anything abnormal. Strange sounds, signs of abnormal condensation and oil spots can all be signs of trouble.  Look for wire rub-outs, loose connection and arcing. If it looks like work was done recently, double check that the correct parts were used and that they were installed properly. If wires are a mess, electrical connections exposed, refrigerant lines rubbing out or severe corrosion/deterioration on critical metal parts it should be addressed with the customer.

Never just fix the first problem you find and leave. If that's all you do you won't have a low callback rate and you will miss opportunities to serve the customer better. In my experience, the vast majority of systems have either initial installation/commissioning deficiencies maintenance issues, abrasion concerns or just plan faults that get missed when the tech fixes only the first and most obvious problem.

Diagnose More Precisely 

The proper and full diagnosis of HVAC/R equipment isn't that difficult if you are using the proper tools and techniques, but we still hear techs say “it should be fine” when looking at a charge or “That looks pretty normal” when taking an amperage reading. These aren't things that a good diagnostician guesses at, it is either within design specifications or it is in need of repair, alteration or upgrades and the customer needs to be communicated about it. KNOW the target evaporator DTD, condenser CTOA, motor RLA and system design capacity vs. delivered capacity for the piece of equipment you are working on. If you don't know what these things mean then start HERE and download the MeasureQuick app to help.  Once you stop guessing you will get it right the first time more often and prevent some nasty callbacks.

Improve Your Workmanship

Most bad workmanship is due to poor training, tools, supplies and real or perceived time constraints. You always have time to do the work correctly or you need to FIND time to do it again. None of us get everything right, but you can work to improve your workmanship with every job you do whether it is how you make a wire connection to how to connect ducts or making a flare that never leaks. Get it right the first time and leave it looking like a pro did it instead of a handyman or a kid fresh out of trade school.

Keep the right tools and materials on your truck to execute great workmanship and then do it a little better each time based on what you learn along the way.

Communicate Completely 

  1. Communicate with the customer when you arrive and listen carefully to understand ALL of their concerns, not just the obvious ones and not just the ones that are easy to repair. If the customer is concerned about a high power bill, a noise, an odor or a warm room…. INVESTIGATE IT
  2. Explain your diagnosis process to the customer before you begin working. Let them know that you will check the system as completely as possible and bring them results of your findings before you proceed with any repairs.
  3. Once you find and note any and all issues ask them if you can show them your findings and either bring them to the points of interest if practical or show them photos on your phone or tablet. Do not use fear, negativity or drama to present the issues, be factual and to the point about the issues and prices to repair. Once the customer approves or declines each item let them know you will make the desired repairs and retest to ensure that there are no additional concerns once the system is up and running.
  4. Once you are done with the work make sure to reiterate any remaining issues that they did not approve and get them to sign an invoice or document that clearly shows what was and what was not done. Once this is complete ask the customer if they are satisfied with the service and if there is anything else you can address for them before you leave. Make sure to reiterate what you left the thermostat set to and what they should or should not expect from equipment based on the repairs made. If the customer does not have a maintenance plan in place make sure that their paperwork includes a suggestion of maintenance and that you discuss the importance or proper maintenance to the customer.
  5. Fill out your paperwork fully and clearly with all work performed, and work declined and any condition issues on the equipment. Be detailed about which unit you were working along with proper model and serial numbers.

If parts are required make sure to get photos of EVERYTHING you can find, data tags, parts tags, boards, compressor model and serial etc… going back to a call just to get a model # because it was missed or written down wrong is a huge waste of time.

Eliminate the Careless Errors

Walk the job before you leave and put your tools away in their proper place. This will help prevent leaving disconnects out, caps off, float switches tripped, thermometers in the duct, screwdriver on the roof etc…

Some of you are just more prone to these sorts of careless mistakes but that is not an excuse, you just need to come up with systems that prevent these forgetful errors. Here are the best ways –

  • Create a checklist you go over at the end of every call that you review before you pick up your keys and put them in the ignition.
  • Don't talk on the phone, text or look at social media while on a call. Create a Do Not Disturb rule on your phone during the work day so that it only rings if the person calls twice in a row. Let your loved ones, manager and dispatch know that they will need to call twice to get you if it is urgent.
  • Force yourself to put tools and parts in the same place every time so that you can tell very quickly if you left or forgot anything.
  • Never leave in a rush. Finishing a call is never as simple as hopping in the van and peeling out. Follow a process and think through the job before you pull away. Don't be in a hurry to “get away before the customer walks out and asks another question”, that sort of thing will get you in big trouble.

Gut Check

The final test is a gut check. If your gut tells you the diagnosis isn't right, you didn't make the repair right or the customer isn't 100% understanding what's going on then please DON'T LEAVE. 

I know it can be tempting especially after a long day or an especially difficult call or customer but trust me, leaving never makes it better. Hang in there, read up on the system, perform more tests, check the ducts again whatever you need to do but don't bail.

Sometimes you will have a customer that you just know is going to turn around and call back. You can tell they aren't listening to you about your findings or they have a misunderstanding about the system operation. These are the ones you want to MAKE SURE you get your recommendations in writing, clearly spelled out with a signature.

If you really want to ensure it doesn't come back, spend 15 extra minutes and write them a nice, positive email and copy your dispatcher and your service manager with a description of what you found, what you recommended, what you repaired, any system condition issues and how they should expect the system to operate with photos attached.  It will really reduce those immediate callbacks from difficult customers.

  1. Observe the entire system

  2. Diagnose all the issues

  3. Test the system fully

  4. Communicate through the entire process

  5. Follow a process to ensure you don't miss anything silly

— Bryan




The Slow Death of the Honest Technician


I was sitting in a session at the HVAC Excellence educators conference (which was excellent by the way) and my phone buzzed. So like a typical punk kid I looked down at it to see that my friend Josh had sent me a Facebook message asking if we served the East side of Orlando because he wanted an A/C maintenance on his home. I told him that we did not serve that part of town and I didn't think anything else about it.

Then yesterday I see this post

So we go out to look at it, and sure enough. The system is BARELY low, like 3 degrees of subcool low and we added 1/2 of a lb of R22 (weighed in) and did a leak detection. Yes, there was a TINY leak in the evaporator coil so Josh will probably end up getting a system at some point… However, the other tech did not do maintenance at all, he did not quote a coil or anything other than a system. He literally showed up, saw the unit was 14 years old, pulled out his leak detector, found a hit and wrote up a proposal for $5400.00. He tried to close the “deal” right on site. No load calculations, no looking at the ducts, just a leak detection, a proposal and run.

How many 14-year-old units have zero leaks?

He didn't clean the drain or the condenser coil, he hardly even checked the charge. Heck, Josh has a UV light that wasn't even working due to a simple loose connection, he didn't look at that.

Unfortunately for this company, my friend Josh is a local consumer advocate who goes on local TV news REGULARLY to talk about ways to save money and EXPOSE SCAMS.

When I contacted the owner of this business to try and reason with them they wrote me back that they were going to report me to the EPA because we recharged the unit. When I explained that recharging R22 on systems under 50 lbs is perfectly allowable they responded with more threats and emotional rantings.

The standard narrative is that there are just a bunch of greedy scammers out there trying to take advantage of people. Clearly this is true sometimes, but many times the story is longer and sadder than that, often this type of thing happens when well-meaning people get worn down.

Tell me if this sounds about right.

A new tech get's hired into the trade, maybe he has some schooling maybe he doesn't, either way, he get's his EPA license and starts riding around with another tech. The tech he rides with spends most of the day complaining about his boss, dispatch, other techs, customers and politics but almost no ACTUAL training. When they arrive at the job there are two main objectives

#1 – Get in and out as quickly as possible with as little work as possible.

#2 – Sell as much as possible during that short time. This can be hard start kits, capacitors and surge protectors some places, IAQ products others and some it's always finding a way to push a new system. For many, it's all three.

Usually, this makes the new tech feel at least a little uncomfortable but this starts to fade as the days of riding around whining broken by short stints of selling continue.

After a few months, the new tech is put into a van with some parts, pamphlets, invoices and proposal forms and set loose on the world. If he is smart, he realizes pretty quick that when his bosses talk about customer service what they really mean is making as much money as possible in a day with as few customer complaints and callbacks. Usually, the easiest way to do that is to condemn everything, when a system is replaced nobody ever knows if your diagnosis was correct or not. When you do a PM there is always something you can point to as a major issue that gives you an easy out, cleaning, after all, does not ring the register.

Techs justify their behavior

When I was still in trade school back in 1999 I participated in a skills challenge against other students from schools across Florida. There was another guy who was already working in the field and I remember him saying “I never just change one part, I change as many as I can and the customers never know the difference and their unit will last longer”. I was appalled then as I am now by this type of thinking but I'm pretty sure he honestly believed he was doing the right thing. He had been brainwashed into thinking that this was what being a technician meant.

So this all begs a question, who is to blame and what can be done about it?

The Root Cause

It is just easier to make money when you focus on selling instead of technical excellence. You can be great at what you do and still not make a profit but when you FOCUS on profit at every level you will usually make more of it…. for a while.

I actually blame the quality techs and companies who don't charge enough for what they do as one reason this happens.

I have been one of these contractors for years. We squeaked out a meager profit every year driving used vans, using cheap tools, trying to make ends meet and praying the vans don't break down. All the while, the sales-focused businesses have new trucks and spiffy, clean uniforms.

The good guys need to stand up and stop apologizing for what we charge and what we do. we need to CHARGE for the high-quality maintenance we do so that we actually make a profit on it. We need to diagnose the whole system and make quality recommendations to our customers based on the solid and complete diagnosis we perform. There is no reason we shouldn't be able to afford quality tools and a well-stocked van if we are the ones WHO ACTUALLY KNOW HOW TO USE THEM.

Instead, we beat one another up on price and undercut one another, calling another good, quality company who charges more a “rip off” or a “scam” just because they have their pricing figured out to where they can actually make a profit.

This company who went out my friend Josh's house was going to charge $5,400.00 for a  3.5 ton 14 SEER Heat Pump system, that isn't a crazy price but to some, it may be seen as a “ripoff” because they would charge $4,500.00. We might charge $6,000.00 for the same system… with a new return liner, and line set, installed with nitrogen flowing, evacuated to 300 microns, with a proper load calculation, permits and a perfectly weighed in charge confirmed by manufacturers specs to a proper subcool.

The “Ripoff” is the one who doesn't deliver on their promise, not the one who charges more.

What to do about it 

If you are a manager or owner of a company make sure you are supporting your techs to get more TECHNICALLY sound and support them to use those legitimate technical skills to translate into profitable repairs and quality workmanship. Communication skills are key in a residential tech, a tech who understands IAQ like the back of his hand will naturally sell more IAQ products, a tech who understands airflow and duct design will sell more duct upgrades and the tech who understands complete system performance will make more needed repairs. This is a long road and there are no shortcuts.

R22 isn't illegal, not every customer needs a UV light, a hard start kit doesn't magically extend the life of all compressors, every PM isn't an opportunity to sell something and every system out of warranty doesn't NEED to be replaced.

If you are one of the good guys let's band together, keep our heads up and charge enough to have a good life.

— Bryan

Technician Head Trash

It's Friday at 6PM… The schedule is clear as far as you can tell… other guys have been getting cleared right and left… so you call in standby.

5 minutes pass

10 minutes pass

You check in again… and sure as &%$#!

You get sent across town to another call that YOU KNOW has been there ALL DAY. That dispatcher is trying to make you pay because of that time you threw her under the bus to the service manager because she has been taking FOREVER to get you your calls!

I'm pretty sure this exact scenario has happened to me several times and I know these sorts of thoughts go through the minds of techs all around the globe on a daily basis.

We can pick on dispatchers but it isn't just them

  • The new apprentice who ALWAYS loses your tools because he's sloppy
  • The other tech who ALWAYS gets stupid callbacks that you have to run after hours
  • The lying customer who “just changed” their filter when it looks like it's been in since Reagan was in office
  • The Wholesaler counter guy who doesn't know a drier from a TXV
  •  The Manager who hits you with a callback when it WASN'T YOUR FAULT! (and it wasn't a callback anyway)
  • The CSR who NEVER gets the address right in the call and you end up driving all over creation only to find out it was Prestwick Ln. NOT Prestwick Place
  • The idiot installer who NEVER sets the charge right and ALWAYS leaves the gas valve off!
  • And don't even get me started on SALESMEN!

People treat you wrong, they are lazy and ignorant and sloppy and sometimes they are even out to get you…

While some of this may be true it's all head trash.

What is Head Trash?

Head trash is any unproductive thought or emotion… just that simple

Head trash makes you angry, gets your blood pressure up, impacts your health, hurts your relationships, distracts you, takes you off your game and impacts your ability to make money.

Head trash leaves you feeling like a victim, like circumstances have the upper hand on you, like you have no control of your life or future.

Head trash impacts your family, your career, your goals, your friends and your co-workers.

When you live with a lot of head trash EVERYONE is a potential enemy… every circumstance could be (and probably is) a threat in your mind.

Isn't This Self-Help, Woo-Woo Bull Malarky?

It may sound like it, but all of the most healthy, fulfilled and happy people I know understand how to manage and eliminate head trash.

To me, the results speak for themselves.

Combatting head trash is simple to do but difficult to choose. Dumping head trash goes against our natural fight or flight instincts.

We have a whole portion of our brains called the Amygdala that is DEDICATED to our most basic needs and fears and it comes in HARD when we feel angry, scared or persecuted.

When I got that callback sheet that I KNEW WAS BS and I balled it up and threw it at my supervisor when I was 19…. Yeah… that was the old Amygdala at work.

I hear so many negative, angry people spouting what they call “the truth”, but then when they open their mouths all that comes out is opinions, bias and exaggeration with very little objective “truth” to be found.

Blame and complaining is popular… even comfortable, but its completely unproductive. The world has so many real problems you can work to solve without spending time thinking and talking about things you aren't doing anything about or attempting to fix.

Here are Ways to “Take Out” the Head Trash for Techs 

  • Think about the people you care most about and why you do what you do.
  • Remember that you chose and continue to choose your profession and where you work. You are COMPLETELY FREE to change at any time and find something you like better. You are in control of your career and decisions.
  • Consider your own weaknesses and mistakes. This will help you have more patience with others when they fail in different ways.
  • Remember that almost everyone values their own contributions and importance to an organization as unrealistically high, INCLUDING YOU.
  • Call someone that helped you along the way, thank them and check in on them.
  • Don't assume bad intent. Sometimes people are out to get you, more often then not, they are dealing with their own issues that you don't even know about. People are rarely thinking about or scheming against us as much as we imagine, just fault on the side of assuming the best of others.
  • Choose to be positive as an act of protest against negativity and drama.
  • Talk to someone who won't stand for your whining BS, not to someone who agrees with you about how tough you have it.
  • Stay away from the words ALWAYS and NEVER. They are ALWAYS exaggerations.
  • Give stuff up… most of what we get worked up about is meaningless.

I heard something the other day that really stuck with me.

It is impossible to be ungrateful and truly happy. It is impossible to be truly grateful and unhappy. 

If you are like me, you want to try and pick that statement apart and try to find exceptions… STOP IT!

You can and will beat head trash if you –

  • Take responsibility for your choices
  • Choose a positive outlook
  • Surround yourself with happy people who want to make you better
  • Stay away from dramatic complainers
  • Take time for gratefulness

Here is some tough talk

In the good old USA you decide what type of person you are going to be and what sort of life you are going to have.

Take out the head trash

— Bryan

The Secrets to Happy HVAC Customers

It was an awkward conversation, bringing a technician nearly twice my age into my office for a talk. “I'm good at fixing units, I'm not some fancy talking sales tech” the technician half mumbled as I sat looking at him. “The customer complained that you made them feel uncomfortable, you were unfriendly and you tracked dirt in the house” I responded.

“I did NOT track dirt, I wiped my feet REALLY good” he replied, all the while knowing my policy on wearing shoe covers.

It didn't work out, it almost never does when a tech takes on the mindset that their ONLY job is fixing broken stuff.

Maintaining happy customers has many parts and only one of those parts is fixing broken stuff even if it is the most important part, in my opinion. Some people call these “soft skills” or an article like this “customer service training”, I just call it common sense, see if you agree.

Here are some essential steps in keeping residential HVAC customers happy.

Keep Their Home Clean and Damage Free

This means remove shoes or wear shoe covers every time you walk inside. I much prefer shoe covers because it allows you to demonstrate care for their home without walking around it in nasty old socks.

Use drop cloths whenever working inside the home on closet equipment or when doing any cutting or cleaning inside. You will need to replace drop cloths with some regularity to keep them looking decent.

Whenever brazing indoors make sure to use metal shielding or a fire resistant drop cloth to keep from damaging floors and surfaces. In general leave your workspaces cleaner then when you started even if it requires using a shop vac, a broom or a rag.

Make the Equipment Look Better

Making things look better starts with obvious things like

  • Doing a good condenser coil cleaning
  • Cleaning the leaves out of the condenser bottom
  • Cleaning off the return air grille
  • Cleaning The drain pan and line really well
  • Cleaning debris out of the return box
  • Wiping down the outside of the equipment
  • Neatening up wires
  • Replacing damaged line insulation
  • Removing and cleaning the blower wheel

Some of these things you may charge for, some of them you may do as part of a maintenance or service call but either way when you do them well the customer feels good about what you did because it's something they can see and understand.

Act Like You Are Having a Good Day

When a tech shows up with a sour look on their face and starts complaining about the dispatcher or their boss or the other company or that OTHER customer… it rarely ends well. Customers may even smile and nod or even commiserate, they do this not because they like it but because they are afraid they will be the next victim of the negativity.

If you want customers to be happy then you need to be happy and set a rule to NEVER complain about anything with a customer.

Watch Out for Pets 

Never open gates or doors without asking first and if the customer has a pet ask if they are prone to bolt for the door so you can make sure not to let it get out. People take their pets very seriously, so treat them like precious occupants of the home.

Look like a Pro

You don't need to have a perfect white shirt or gelled hair, you do need to look the part of an HVAC expert so that when the customer sees you they will feel confident in your ability. This means coming to the door with your “go-kit” of tools in hand, reasonably well kept and a look that says you are ready to take their problem seriously and take care of it. Honestly, clear eyes, a smile and brisk walk say more about a person than whether they have a beard, a few tattoos and an untucked shirt in my opinion.

Listen and Reiterate

I see many tech “project” themselves from the start of the call until the end. You are the expert in the customer's eyes so it's good to be confident but that rarely means you need to talk a lot. A good tech will ask the customer thoughtful questions about their system, what they may have noticed, their comfort etc…

When a customer mentions the same thing a few times then you can reiterate it, “So comfort in your office seems to be an area of concern, I'm going to take some extra measurements and look at your ducts to see if we can improve that”.

You don't need to PUSH or be dishonest to sell or to have customers see you as an expert. You mostly need to listen.

Fix the ENTIRE System 

Don't find one issue and stop. Check the entire system and note anything that could improve the longevity and efficiency of the equipment or the comfort of the home. Nothing makes for angry customers like callbacks, so do everything you can to fix it ALL the first time and do it the right way.

NOTE: This should not be used as an excuse to be a parts changer, if you tell a customer to replace a part without being confident the part is failed including how and why you aren't an honest tech and you are bad for our trade.

Have a Closing Conversation 

At the end of every call before you walk away have a final conversation you have with the customer that is natural to you. Something like “at Kalos we really want to improve on every call, is there anything we could have done from the start to the finish of this service that we could have done better?”

The goal of this final conversation is to get feedback from the customer and allow them the space to consider if they really are satisfied or not. If they are then saying it will help cement it in their minds if they aren't then you will want to know that before you leave.

If you practice these things, communicate clearly and treat people with respect I can bet you have really happy customers.

  • Care for their home
  • Clean stuff
  • Listen
  • Fix Everything they want fixed right the first time


— Bryan

What 2018 Holds for Techs

We don't work in a trade of dreamers and unrealistic New Years resolutions.

We are doers who know that nothing worthwhile comes easy and 2018 is no different.

We have some “threats” entering the residential segment of the trade with Amazon and Google looking to make a bigger entry into the home services trades, standardizing pricing and driving prices and profits down for the trade if they have their way.

We have an ever growing skills gap with more experienced techs retiring and many in the next generation that don'tsee work and work ethic the same way.

Even with all of this, there are far more opportunities than challenges, here is some of the good news.

Pay will continue to increase

Technician pay keeps going up as those with the skills to do the work become more and more rare. But you need to understand something…

As tech pay goes up, the price of service will also go up

Techs that want to be payed big money can't be ashamed to bill out big money, that's just how it works.

No matter how you bill out, what segment of the industry you work in or how you are compensated, for you to stay employed making good money your employer also need to make a profit. Get used to a world where your skill and knowledge is worth more, don't be apologetic about it.

Natural Refrigerants

As the EPA and international regulations continue to be change the industry is looking for stability and refrigerants that can be relied on for longer than a few years. The answer are natural refrigerants that are inexpensive and compliant with global warming regulations.

For grocery store refrigeration this means CO2, and for small appliances R290 (Propane). I predict we will also see a resurgence of Ammonia in applications it hasn't been utilized in for years.

These systems do and will require special training and safety precautions do to flammability and toxicity in some cases.

Comfort trumps efficiency

As the payoff of energy efficiency decreases due to diminishing returns and consumer demand for comfort and Building health increases we will see a growing emphasis on building science as part of an HVAC contractors scope.

Blower door testing, zonal pressure testing, fresh air, IAQ testing and remediation and humidity control are all going to become a more common part of the HVAC process.


Commercial buildings of all types are getting more technologically advanced and there are very few in the HVAC industry who are well versed in controls and data systems. Techs with these skills will be in high demand and paid well.


Variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems are becoming more and more common in commercial buildings with few techs prepared to install and service them.

Like any new technology it is only as good as the people who work on it making those with skills and knowledge in VRF a hot commodity. It may be a good idea to read up and take some classes on VRF in 2018.

Techs who keep learning, especially gaining specialized and rare skills when the opportunity arises will be well compensated in 2018 so long as they they are willing to dig in and get it done.


Don't be ashamed to charge what needs to be charged. Just like a doctor or lawyer, we have a valuable skill. Be honest, work hard, develop new skills and knowledge and don't shy away from sending bills and collecting checks.

— Bryan



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