There’s not a lot of love out there for us contractors, is there?

We as plumbers keep good water from bad water. We help keep the water flowing and the sewage moving where it’s supposed to go.

As heating contractors, we make our homes, businesses and factories more inhabitable and even downright comfortable. And as cooling contractors, we make areas of the country that would be too hot to be inhabitable — like where I live in Phoenix, for example — livable.

People love to complain about the money we charge for what we do. I think we’re incredibly cheap for all that we do, including making you — the public — warmer, cooler, safer and healthier. Am I right? You bet I am!

So, why this fascination with these sting operations set up by TV news stations?

Although it sounds like a good idea, it’s not often fair. There are some unscrupulous contractors out there who do try to take advantage of the unsuspecting customer, and they should be held accountable, but the majority of us contractors do what we do to help people.

So, I get upset when I see the way these TV shows set up “the problem” that the contractor is asked to uncover with hidden cameras can also be equally unscrupulous.

For instance, they take a furnace that may be 25 years old or more and rig up a problem. A well-trained technician should be properly trained by you to go through a step-by-step process to find the root cause and make a suggestion about what needs to be repaired. But, the unit is statistically reaching the end of its useful lifetime and very unlikely to be as efficient and green as anything that’s been manufactured in the last 10 years.

To me, a tech is obligated to present both a repair and replace option. If a customer wants just the repair, the tech is once again obligated to advise them of the downside to spending a lot of money on a potentially obsolete piece of equipment vital to the safety and comfort of the homeowner. Ultimately, the customer should get to decide — unless it’s a safety issue — and the contractor has to train their techs to do the right thing, not the convenient thing.

Hey, I’ve got a question. Have you ever seen a show like “Catch a Contractor” make as big a deal about all the contractors who did the right thing? Probably not. It doesn’t make for good TV, I guess. The only thing to know is these sting setups are only going to increase and fuel homeowners’ wariness of contractors in general.

Too many times, companies have been either severely hurt by the actions of just one misbehaving tech, or they’ve created a culture that secretly endorses any sales over what I call “ethical sales.”

What can you do to minimize this happening to you? Train like heck. The first line of defense on this needs to be a very strong offense. Here are the things I do to help my clients:

  • We put in detailed operating manuals that talk about gateways to discuss appropriate repair and replace options, so it’s company policy. This way, the individual tech knows when to appropriately have a repair/replace discussion.

  • We put in detailed operating manuals that help techs do a better job in a step-by-step diagnostic to minimize a misdiagnosis. If you don’t have a process and just start anywhere each time you run a plumbing, drain, heating or cooling call, you’re going to miss something. It’s not an “if” — it’s a “when.” That is costly in more ways than you can imagine.

  • We role play in the hands-on training center they’ve constructed, which makes the use of the manuals a way to help techs look around without the blinders so they see the whole job as a system and can be more of an expert advisor. Many times, the problem is not in the place where it’s showing it. You’re obligated as a tech to look at the system as a whole.

  • The manuals give the techs good questions to be asking (kind of like a doctor should do with you when you need a checkup) so they get to the right solution and they don’t skip steps. For example, techs should ask questions like “When did this problem start?” and “Is this the only area of the home having this problem?”

  • If and when something does come up, the company can cite that they have manuals, they do training and they have mystery shoppers hired to make sure that everyone at the company is performing to the highest standards.

You can’t afford to be winging it, and you must be proactive — not just reactive.

Smile, you’re on camera.