It’s a management fact: you can teach skills but you can’t teach personality. So why is it that most plumbing and heating managers still struggle with recruitment? The truth is that it’s not a great time for employers looking to hire plumbers.
Nearly 70% of organizations polled by The Service Council are concerned about the ageing of their field service workforce. And they feel young people aren’t aware of the benefits of being a tradesperson, so they don’t see working for a plumbing business as a career path. What can you do about it? Read on to find out!
You need to hire skilled technicians, that’s true, and no one is saying you have to recruit someone who’s never seen a boiler before. The idea is to find a balance. You’ll be able to teach anything to someone who likes to learn, but love of knowledge, curiosity, and team spirit can’t be taught.
It doesn’t matter how much someone knows about the plumbing industry, if they’re not open to those things, you won’t be able to instil these principals in them.
Daniel Miller, Commusoft’s Client Services Coordinator, spends most of his time talking to managers. Over the years, he’s learned a lot about what makes a plumbing business tick: “Inadvertently, by talking to so many people in the field, you end up sharing strategies that have worked for others. It’s easier if you know someone who’s already done it.” Daniel finds training and helping plumbing businesses grow to be the most rewarding part of the job:
“I prefer training. ‘Cause for the most part, clients are really cool. […] There’s the problem solving aspect, too, and that can be more satisfying than anything. You’re helping people to get up and running with a new tool, getting them on their feet, and they’re usually fairly positive and optimistic which makes the job all the easier.”
So it’s no wonder that he has a lot of tips and tricks to share, which is why we’ve sat down with him and asked what would be his most valuable advice to a plumbing manager–and any other field service specialist–to which he responded:
“You can teach skills but you can’t teach personality.”
Hiring a technician for soft skills and personality traits can be daunting because these are not quantifiable things. You can’t really measure friendliness or positivity in an interview, especially not when the candidate is aware and putting their best foot forward. But it’s important that you try, and if you want to give it your best shot, check out these curveball questions we recommended here:
This being said, Daniel kindly offered his advice on the unexpected skills you should take notice of when looking to recruit plumbers:
1. Hire a technician that will provide great customer service for your plumbing business.
It’s nice to think it’s your work that will impress customers into leaving a 5-star review and recommending you. More often than not, though, customers aren’t able to tell a great job from an average one.
There’s little chance to stand out if you don’t go above and beyond to please customers, and techs that don’t understand this won’t help your company grow. On the contrary, an average experience can quickly turn into a negative one if the technician in question is having a bad day and taking it out on the customer.
Despite specializing in software support, Daniel feels like every employee has a customer service responsibility. Managers stand to win a great deal if they keep an eye out for this skill when recruiting, even for seemingly unrelated positions:
“A relaxed attitude, kind of at ease with people, generally. It’s hard to put your finger on it since it’s one of those “I’ll know it when I see it” kind of thing, but just patience and an easy-going attitude. That’s key when recruiting both techs and office staff.”
Of course, it’s not easy to spot the right techs just from an interview, but you can always ask them about their experience with unpleasant customers and gauge their behavior. Imaginary scenarios are also useful, where you can present an unusual situation and ask them what their reaction would be.
Moreover, it’s also about their behavior prior to and after the interview. Were they late to arrive? Was their appearance appropriate? Did they send a follow-up email to thank you for your time and consideration? All these details show a lot about a candidate’s personality and what they consider professional.
What makes it worth the effort is that a great customer experience can take a job from average to memorable. Even a botched job (and these can happen to anyone, no matter how good or skilled your plumbers are) can seem like less of an inconvenience if the technician manages to establish a positive and friendly relationship first.
2. Look to hire plumbers that can explain complex issues in a simple way.
Daniel credits his success in the Client Services field with something he’s had to learn over the years: How to take a complex concept and explain it in an easy, engaging manner. This is a skill that few managers acknowledge as important, but it can prove vital in forming a good customer relationship.
He says, “it’s less about trying to impress people with your knowledge; no one appreciates that, really. It would be patronizing or phony for our client base if I did it. I think they appreciate our honesty and trust in their abilities more than hand holding.”
It’s common for a customer to be taken aback by the costs of fixing a plumbing issue and insist that you lower the price. This often comes from a lack of understanding of the kind of effort that goes into the job, the price of parts, and the costs of running a business, in general.
A technician that knows how to take the time and explain to the homeowner exactly what’s going on, what their options are, and why it’s going to cost what it’s going to cost can make the difference between wasting time on a visit and an estimate or winning a job. Not only will this attitude make the customer more sympathetic, but it will also ease the distress of having something wrong with their home.
“Real transparency and honesty is a big part of that because people can trust us. If there’s an issue, we’re super transparent about it; if there’s a gap, even in the software or something like that, we’re going to own up to it.
Nobody’s gonna sugar-coat it. And I think our client base really appreciates that. If you’re able to break down the problem, then show how a solution would look like, how it’s going to work, what the time frame is, 99.9% of the time, people are very happy with this and the most pressing issue is solved. So, it’s more about people feeling like you acknowledge their problem and can help them understand what went wrong in the first place.”
3. Recruit plumbers who like writing or enjoy being in front of a camera.
If you’ve read Jason Morjaria’s recommendations, then you know why it matters to invest in sales and marketing as a plumbing business. If you haven’t, just click below:
The short of it is that you should make the most out of the employees you already have, especially if you’re not in a position to invest too much in sales and marketing. You might scoff at the idea–you’re hiring a technician, not a writer or an actor–but it never hurts to have a tech that can do either of those, even if it’s just as a hobby.
A field service content marketing strategy is key if you want a successful plumbing business. The real contribution comes from having techs that can help by writing a text about their day-to-day activities, some easy DIY recommendations for customers, or shooting a quick, friendly video for the plumbing website homepage. Most people these days, regardless of their professional occupation, are used to social media and being in front of a camera.
It’s important to strive, as a plumbing business manager, to keep things interesting and your employees engaged. So make sure to ask them about their hobbies during the interview and see if there’s anything you could use for sales and marketing.
Being a tech isn’t the easiest job and sometimes it can be straining on people’s well-being. That’s why it can be a great opportunity to give them something new to learn that they wouldn’t otherwise try.
4. Hire a technician who has the desire to learn and a curiosity about your plumbing business.
When you’re working for a plumbing business, you have to be at ease with a variety of challenges. There’s always a problem-solving aspect to jobs and a willingness to learn new things is vital. Otherwise, how are you going to get better?
This is why, one of the best ways to recruit plumbers and evaluate if they’re a good fit is by paying close attention to how curious they are. What questions are they asking you? And do they have a track-record of self-improvement initiatives (e.g. they attended courses, personal projects, etc.)?
“I find that most business owners complain about resistance to change, especially if it comes from management. It’s not techs being inexperienced or staff being unable to use software, but it’s an aversion to learning and trying new things, especially if they feel like they’ve been told to do so by ‘the man’.”
According to Daniel’s experience, plumbing business managers should aim for personal initiatives and curiosity when they hire a technician. This ensures that employees will be the ones asking for changes and improvements, as well as training and learning. Shannon Tymosko, a field service apprentice, agreed when we sat down and talked with her about hiring in the trades:
The idea that people can be automated out of their jobs is mostly scaremongering, but what will, indeed, happen is that jobs will change and adaptability will be worth more than a narrow, even if extensive, experience. Therefore, by recruiting plumbers who like to learn, you’re making sure your business is ready for anything that comes its way.
5. Look to hire plumbers who demonstrate patience.
It’s a hard thing to say but as a technician, you’ll inevitably end up dealing with angry customers. It happens to everyone and your employees need to be able to deal with this situation as best as possible.
Whether it’s by appeasing the person using those customer service skills or offering a gratuity, it’s important that they’re good at remaining calm. In our guide on how to respond to negative reviews, we advise to be prepared for these situations. One of the things you can do is look to hire plumbers who are naturally inclined to empathize and placate others. Daniel agreed:
“Don’t take it personal. It’s the advice I’d give to anyone. This is the best way to win in any situation, especially when customers are unhappy with something that’s out of your control. Be calm and don’t let anything get to you. This way, people have a chance to calm down and realize they’re not being reasonable.
More often than not, it’s not even you they’re mad at but they’re simply taking it out on you. Which isn’t fair but it is what it is. By being patient, you’ll always win the long game. And this is the attitude I look for when recruiting for my own team.”
It’s easy to see why this is a good strategy: It’s hard to remain angry when the other person isn’t reciprocating. But if a technician responds to an unhappy customer in kind, they’re only fanning the flames and it’s the plumbing business that will always end up suffering more–even if they’re in the right.
A negative review can easily influence your rating and dissuade potential customers. A bad situation handled well, however, can earn a lifetime customer and a reliable recommendation.
Therefore, one of the best ways to recruit plumbers is by asking them behavioral and situational questions. You can check out some great examples here. These types of questions allow you to learn about their personality and understand how they approach difficult circumstances. If their answers reflect a clam, cool, and collected approach–chances are they’ll be a great fit. However, if they come across as rash and hot-headed, this may be a red flag.
Keep in mind that while you can teach technical skills, it will be an uphill battle to alter someone’s natural disposition. And at the end of the day, your employees are a representation of your company. You’ll want to ensure they reflect positively on the business rather than being a detriment to it.
All in all, Daniel’s experience has made it clear that, in this day and age, hiring a technician simply for the job description is not an option anymore. With the amount of information and choice out there, it’s hard to stand out to customers.
Therefore, you need to work hard on retaining your existing ones and making the most out of all your employees. If you want to take another step towards boosting your plumbing business, download our free templates below!
Hi! I'm Cristina Maria
And I want to bring next-level strategies to the field service industry. When I'm not working on the best tips to grow your business, I'm on the lookout for a sci-fi novel to beat The Foundation.