Last week my son-in-law called me from St. Louis at 4 AM saying the furnace stopped running and the house was getting cold. I walked him through restarting the furnace. We checked the ignition sequence, and I surmised the flame sensor was dirty or had gone bad.

We got it working intermittently, but I was concerned about my newborn granddaughter staying warm, so I told him to get a tech out to look at the flame sensor. He called a local HVAC contractor recommended by a friend.

Here’s a detailed accounting of what happened next: It was Saturday, and -4°F outside and they had a newborn in the house. THe contractor told him no one could get there until Monday. Really? This is a bad situation. However, since the heat was still mostly running we decided to risk it and wait till Monday – unless it went out altogether.

What the technician did: The tech cleaned the flame sensor – which was the cause of the lockouts. He also noticed the blower came on immediately upon a call for heat. So this technician told my son-in-law they had a bad board that would cost $1,100 to replace! He then offered to replace the 80% furnace for $3,600.

My son-in-law told me the tech never looked up the board replacement cost – he gave him a price off the top of his head and then rattled off the $3,600 replacement price. It was obvious the tech was trained to quote a high repair price and follow up with a replacement price to get a quick change-out and commission.

This technician missed an opportunity to dig further. He could have taken five minutes to inspect the unit more thoroughly, and maybe five more minutes to install static pressure test ports to actually test and verify how the unit was working.

By testing and asking the homeowner a few questions, he could find real issues that needed to be addressed. A typical customer would have appreciated the extra care and may have considered different repair or replacement options. But the opportunity was lost, as it was apparent this tech was never trained to do any of those things.

Since I was flying out to visit my new grandbaby later that week, I instructed my son-in-law to hold off on making a decision. Just in case, we ordered a board for $100 which came in a few days.

Here’s what I found: First, the board wasn’t the problem. An advanced thermostat setting took control away from the furnace and turned on the blower when the stat called for heat. I switched it back to furnace mode. I also tested the high-limit switch, which was fine.

Next, I cleaned the blower which had 15 years of caked-on dirt. It looked like it had never been cleaned. I set the blower speed to medium-low as some rooms were not getting enough heat. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any instruments with me so I couldn’t check airflow or static pressures.

What he could have done differently:

1. Checked the thermostat programming and changed the setting back to furnace control.
2. Inspected the blower and offered to clean it.
3. Offered a service agreement to lock in a long-term customer and future replacement work.
4. Mentioned the furnace was 15 years old, and they may want to consider replacing it before it breaks down. He could have then quoted different replacement options and financing.

It’s obvious this service call had little to do with doing the right thing for the customer. This was an example of a high-pressure, robotic changeout approach taught by many industry organizations. It is the bad side of HVAC.

Is this any way to treat a customer? Is this approach really necessary for a service company to make a profit? My answer is a resounding NO.

There‘s a better way to add value, increase revenues, and make a great profit while still doing the right thing for your customers.

If you haven’t already, think about changing your mindset to becoming a High-Performance contractor who trains your people to test — and always put the customer first.