Why Not A Woman?

By Vicki LaPlant

Having been in this industry for over 30 years, I have seen many amazing changes. There have been technological improvements in equipment – furnaces and air conditioners that will tell a technician the last 20 faults that occurred. Technological improvements have enhanced interactions with the customers – instant billing of customers from a hand-held tablet, programs that allow a customer to schedule a service call on-line. Improvements in business processes – recognition of the value of maintenance agreements for the customer and the business, the importance of maximizing the return from labor through pricing methodology and pay for performance systems.

So with all these innovative changes, why are there still as few women in the industry as there were when I got in it 30 years ago, especially in the field? Whenever, I ask this question, I am often told:  “I want to hire a woman, but I can’t find one who has the technical expertise.” My answer:  “So all the men you hire for the field have technical expertise or technical experience?”

The best companies in our industry find young people and provide them the technical expertise they need. So while looking for a bright, clean-cut, well-spoken young person with technical aptitude to add to your technical ranks, why not look specifically for a woman?

I recently had a conversation with Mary Kennedy Thompson, president of Mr. Rooter, a U.S. marine for eight years who says the marines taught her there are two kinds of leaders: “those that are people users and those that are people builders.” She chooses to be the latter as I hope you do. I asked Mary what women bring to an industry dominated by men. She said, “Women bring a different perspective to a company. Without women in its ranks, a company doesn’t have a complete point of view. It doesn’t have the benefit of the full picture.” Men and women approach things differently and we see and hear things differently. Without women in the field, your company is missing half the picture.

Mary Thompson also said, “Our customer is generally a woman and if you have a woman technician interacting with her, the dynamics are different.” Whether nature or nurture, women do listen differently than men. We generally seem to be better at hearing the underlying connotation behind what others are saying. We seem to ask more questions and are better at clarifying what the customer is saying. Isn’t that one of the most important characteristics of a field person? So why wouldn’t you want someone more naturally inclined to use those skills in the field?

Another reason that I am given about not hiring a woman for the field is that “women don’t want the dirty part of the job – attics and crawl spaces.”  My answer:  “And men do?”

Meet Siobhan, an installer for a heating and air conditioning contractor in San Antonio, TX. She recently attended our class on how to educate the customer – not sell the customer. She could have taught the class. Presently, she is a lead installer for her company. We asked her to describe how she approaches an installation and how she interacts with the customer.

First, when she arrives at the home for an installation, she introduces herself and her helper to Mrs. Homeowner. While her helper is setting up for the installation, Siobhan sits down and describes the process of the installation to Mrs. Homeowner. Siobhan makes sure that the homeowner understands what access to the house the installers will need and determines how the installers should enter the home – knocking or not, and verifies the location of all new equipment and new thermostats. Most importantly, she once again offers the homeowner any accessories such as indoor air quality upgrades, humidifiers, line hides, maintenance agreements, etc. that the homeowner did not opt for at the time of the sale.

Next, Siobhan goes outside, puts on her overalls for the installation, and gets to work. Half-way through the installation, she stops, finds the homeowner, and informs her of progress on the job and reassures the customer about the installation.

At the completion of the job, Siobhan reviews her company’s checklist of installation procedures with the customer to demonstrate that all steps have been followed. She shows the customer the new equipment, on her camera phone if necessary, and has the homeowner demonstrate how to change the filter in a new furnaceIn other words, Siobhan doesn’t just show the customer how to do it; she actually has the customer do it. And she has the customer program her new thermostat.

Siobhan is young, tiny, and wiry. I asked her how homeowners react when she shows up at the door.   She said that at first, the customer is somewhat taken aback, but shortly after she interacts with them as described above, the customer is reassured and knows that Siobhan has the technical expertise needed to complete the installation correctly and professionally.

Siobhan has recently been asked to conduct customer service training for all her male counterparts in the installation and service department. And if the men follow Siobhan’s processes, systems, and advice, her company will be a company to be reckoned with.

Okay, no more excuses.  A woman should be the next addition made to your field force. Prove to me that in 30 years, innovation hasn’t just happened in equipment, technology, and processes. Show me that innovation and out of the box thinking is happening in the minds and attitudes of our male-dominated industry.


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