How to Develop and Promote HVAC Service Managers
Service managers play an integral role in HVAC, Facilities Management, Mechanical Engineering, and Building Automation businesses. They are the senior level employees who represent your company to customers and manage teams to make sure projects get done right, on time, and on budget. In our industry, good services managers are in high demand and can be difficult to hire. As a result, sometimes the best approach to finding the right service manager for mechanical services or HVAC businesses can be promoting a technician or salesperson who demonstrates the attributes of a good leader.
Likewise, in any company, there are internal quirks and nuances to master. By developing and promoting employees within your organization who already understand how things work, you avoid the learning curve and the risk of a cultural mismatch. So, promoting from within has many advantages. The biggest risk is that someone who is a great technician or salesperson will stumble when asked to start managing multiple clients and employees. In the post, we’ll address how to evaluate sales and technical employees to determine who is ready to be promoted to a service manager, and also how to support and mentor them to ensure success after the promotion.
Who are Service Managers?
In the HVAC, facilities, building automation, and mechanical services industries, a service manager’s primary responsibility is to lead a team of technicians and dispatchers to ensure that company goals are met and clients are happy. Their tasks can differ significantly from one day to the next, so the right person will have the ability to think on their feet and improvise when necessary. Responsibilities involve scheduling technicians, resolving customer complaints, recruiting new talent, and overall team supervision. In many organizations, account development is also part of the job. As the person closest to the client, the service manager is often best positioned to generate repeat business from additional projects.
As we mentioned earlier, it’s important for the service managers to understand team dynamics and be able to manage the technicians working on their projects. In addition, they must be savvy enough to “manage up” and maintain good relations with upper management. A service manager needs the support of company executives in order to marshal resources when necessary to ensure a great experience for their customers and their teams. The service manager is oftentimes the face of the organization when dealing with customers and must coordinate between management, technicians, and customer to resolve any disputes that may arise. A good service manager is typically hardworking, responsible, and reliable – somebody your company can rely on to get the job done right without much supervision.
In many instances, there are employees on your team who may not exhibit all these qualities at present, but, with coaching and experience, can be very successful as service managers. Occasionally, you may have people working for you today with all the requisite skills and aptitude, but who have been overlooked. In either case, you probably have one or more junior who deserve a shot at becoming a service manager. So, what traits should you be looking for when assessing which of your technicians is ready to step into a leadership role?
The Attributes of a Good Service Manager Candidate
A Good Listener
All great managers are good listeners. In order to manage a team, a service manager must be attuned to team dynamics, listening carefully to concerns as they are raised. Action must be taken in a visible manner so that the team knows that the service manager not only listens but works to resolve problems. Whenever a group of employees doesn’t feel heard, a lack of motivation and turnover are the result. The same goes for customers. When customers feel that their concerns aren’t being addressed, they too will lose enthusiasm for your company and look for alternatives. With so much competition in the field, it’s important that a service manager quickly and effectively responds to customer issues. With social media, reviews sites and general word-of-mouth, a couple of bad customer experiences can become a reputational crisis for your business. Preventing these problems starts by having service managers who are good listeners.
Keeping Meticulous Records
When managing a team of technicians, directing dispatchers, dealing with vendors and customers, keeping meticulous records are a must. Warranty issues, repairs, product recalls, service calls, and other urgent tasks need to be recorded and kept up-to-date to ensure a smooth operation. Budgeting and other costs need to be closely monitored, as well, and by keeping a record of the daily business operations, work orders and invoices a good service manager keeps this information at their fingertips. When evaluating staff for possible promotion to a service manager position, look for those who show natural organizational skills. Keeping good records is one indication of organizational potential.
“The customer is always right” is a tried-and-true principle of business management. What it means is that a well-run business will always have empathy for the customer, try to understand their point-of-view, and accommodate their needs. Since your service managers are the front line facing your customers, they need to have empathy for the customer. When a service manager deals with an angry customer, they must be empathetic and capable of diffusing tension and deescalating the situation. In HVAC, facilities, and building automation, you’re dealing with expensive equipment that is critical to the customer’s businesses – so sometimes tensions can run high. When your customer’s AC system goes down on a hot summer day, and their business needs to shut down, the situation is going to get overheated both literally and figuratively. The key to success for your company is having a service manager who can empathize with the customer, understand their concerns and yet calmly explain that everything possible is being done to solve the problem while running defense for your technicians so they can focus on their work.
Some of the best service managers are people who have been technicians themselves. Not only can it help the manager relate with to everyday frustration and roadblocks, but it can also help when brainstorming creative solutions. Hands-on experience provides a depth of understanding that enables a service manager to make effective suggestions and get the team back on track if they go down the wrong path.
Also, service managers are usually tasked with reviewing the work of team members and offering recommendations for improvement. Hands-on experience makes it much easier for a service manager to be objective when assessing performance. The team may also respond better to constructive criticism, and work harder when they know that the service manager speaks from experience.
Interested in Leading
When looking to promote a technician to a service manager within your organization, it’s important to choose someone who has proven they have leadership qualities, but it’s also important for that person to have demonstrated a genuine interest in leading people. Not everyone enjoys leadership, even if they are capable of doing it. In fact, many people who enjoy technical work shy away from leading people. So, don’t promote a skilled technician just because they can lead. Pick the person who wants to lead. When interviewing internal candidates, have a candid conversation with them about their desire for leadership. Make sure that they understand that being a service manager is a people management job more than a technical or sales job. If they prefer technical work, reassure them that the technician role is valued and they can continue to advance their career as an expert. The last thing you want is to promote someone who felt they needed to take the role because their job was in jeopardy.
Integrity is a necessary quality for anyone who manages people. Service managers are asked to deal with sensitive or private information about the people on their team. To effectively handle delicate situations, a service manager must have a reputation for integrity and be perceived by employees as trustworthy. Only consider promoting internal people who have demonstrated the integrity and ethics that your company would like to model.
Willing to Learn New Technology
In the mechanical services industry, technology is transforming the industry. Buildings are now being designed to use the smallest amount of energy possible. With a focus on conservation, the techniques and technology have changed. When you’re hiring a new service manager, it helps to find someone who is willing to continuously learn new technology and keep up with industry trends. Not only do they need to learn the technology, but they need to learn how their teams will implement it. How can they be certain their technicians are doing a good job if they aren’t familiar with the technology themselves?
Talented and experienced service managers are critical to the success of your business. They are tasked with keeping an eye on many moving parts, dealing with all kinds of people, and staying on top of advancing technology. It takes a special person to be successful in the service manager role. Before you look outside your organization, see if you can promote someone from within. Use the skills and attitudes outlined in this post as a guide. There is a chance that someone in your company is ready to step up and has the right skills and experience.
At HVACExec.com, we can help in case you find that need to look outside to hire your next service manager. In fact, we’ve developed a unique set of techniques that you can use to assess external, as well as internal candidates. We bring over 20 years of experience in placing HVAC, Facilities Management, Mechanical Engineering, Building Automation, and Energy Conservation Professionals.