Waitress-Turned-Superstar Service Technician
Alisha Garner of Home Heating & Air Conditioning in Twin Falls, Idaho, Has Transformed Herself in Little More Than a Year from a Waitress with No Trades Experience into a Top-Performing Service Technician Thanks to Her Diligent Work Ethic, People Personality, and Technical Aptitude.
by Bob Houchin
Alisha Garner considered working for Home Heating & Air Conditioning some time ago. Roy Long, the company’s service manager, urged her to fill out an application for an opening they had in the office. Nothing really materialized from it; so, Alisha continued her work as a waitress at a local, favorite diner in Twin Falls, Idaho. She noticed Home’s owners, JR and Christy Featherston, would come by from time to time. Little did Alisha suspect what Christy would say to her one day in September of 2016, a little more than a year ago.
Christy had long desired to offer Alisha a job as a service technician. The company prides itself on hiring for attitude and training technical aptitude. JR and Christy long admired how Alisha conversed with customers, radiated personality and positivity, and worked her job diligently. Finally, when Christy overheard Alisha talking about changing her car’s brake pads, she approached her with the opportunity.
“It sounded great. No one taught me how to change my brakes, it was something I learned on my own. Christy reassured me if I could figure that out, they could help me learn the technical side of the job,” Alisha explained.
Alisha’s first four weeks, she rode with Roy. Next, Home invested the time and money to send Alisha to Ultimate Technical Academy, a technical school and SGI vendor partner, in Arkansas. Christy thought the content would be interesting and tagged along. Upon her return, the learning process continued, and Alisha has blossomed. In fact, she’s become a regular at the top of the Home Heating & Air Conditioning Scoreboard, duking it out with some of the company’s longstanding top producers.
“My first call that I went on, I went with another technician. I actually sold the system,” Alisha said as she beamed with pride. “I’m a people person. I always have been. I’ve had no issue getting along with people in their homes. I love what I’m doing.”
Alisha continues to invest in herself. After she’s tucked her four young children into bed each night, she studies 60 to 90 minutes for her apprenticeship course. “When you have school, sports, and all sorts of other activities, the online option was much better than the 11-month program that ran 5 to 10 Monday through Thursday. It just wasn’t possible with the kids,” she said.
Alisha is more than happy to put in the time. She loves her new career and new trade. “When looking at hiring a female technician, I’m sure there are people who would worry about their safety—JR and Christy are worried about mine. They’ve made it very clear: anytime I don’t feel comfortable, for any reason, I am to call the office, leave, and they’ll dispatch someone else. I’ve not yet had to do that, thankfully. You get some of the older customers who will give you a hard time. But they’re harmless. I’m pretty used to them, too. After all, I was a waitress for a long time,” Alisha said with a smile and a smirk. “Overall, this has been a great journey.”
How has Alisha managed to thrive in a brand-new industry so quickly? Let’s take a look in this issue’s “Learning from the Best.”
How do you make sure to have a positive attitude walking into each call?
I’ve always naturally been a positive person. It doesn’t do any good to be negative; it’s not going to get you anywhere. I always try to be upbeat.
What are some things you say to customers to develop rapport and eventually a relationship?
The big thing around here is weather. I always will start by saying, “It’s a beautiful day out here!” Then, I look around—I try to do it quickly, so as not to look nosey—but I look for something we might have in common. One gentleman had model airplanes, for example. I started talking with him about my boys and how they like to fly their planes but can’t because they’ll break them within minutes.
I’m guessing you try and always get the customer to smile or laugh right away?
Absolutely, for sure. Who doesn’t want to smile or laugh? It instantly puts you in a better mood.
After talking with the customer and doing your diagnostic of the system, are there a few upgrades or products you always seem to offer customers?
I always offer hard-start systems devices and pan treatments. I’ve had success with them because I always try and show the customer what I’m talking about. Once you show them, they’re sold. When they see the gunk at the bottom of that pan, it sells itself.
Christy mentioned you rode yesterday with a representative from Dynamic Air Quality Solutions and you were excited to do more IAQ sales, is that correct?
Yes, we’ve had some training sessions on it. I didn’t have the full grasp of it until Don [Hearn, from Dynamic Air Quality Solutions] went on a call with me. I’m very hands-on. Once I see someone do something, I can do it. The next day, I noticed a homeowner had an older [electronic air cleaner], and it was no longer working. I could tell she kept a tidy, clean home. It opened the door to me talking about IAQ. She ended up holding me hostage for 20 minutes because she wanted me to wait for her husband to get home from golf so she could get the approval. And she did.
Obviously, as a service technician, one of your most important jobs is flipping leads. How do you present that type of news to a homeowner—that he or she would be better off looking at replacing their system, rather than simply fixing it?
If they’re a Comfort Club member, those customers know because our technicians do a good job of letting them know their system is getting older. So, they’re not as surprised. But with any customer, I always try and give options. One situation where we always push to replace is when we find a cracked heat exchanger. I always give them the option of me looking into the warranty on the heat exchanger. They’ll sometimes get X amount of dollars to replace it. However, I always say to the customer, “I wouldn’t put the extra money it takes into a system that old. It still has five or six components that each cost $500 to $600 to replace.” So, I give the options—so they don’t think I’m just trying to sell a system—but I also try to guide them by sharing what I would do if it was my home.
Great technicians always find ways to go above and beyond. Is there anything you do that always impresses homeowners?
I use my vacuum [on the furnace]. Although, if I’m in a laundry room or garage, I will vacuum around that area, too. Customers love it. Also, like a lot of techs, I get customers that like to look over my shoulder. I make it a point to talk with them. I avoid the awkward silence. I find something we have in common and keep talking about that.
While customers are with you, do you also explain what you’re doing to the system?
Yes, especially with female homeowners. They tend to feel more comfortable with me, so they don’t hesitate to ask what this or that does. In fact, I’ve had more than a few women tell me that they’re more comfortable having me in their home than a male.
Do you get any push-back from male customers being a female?
Honestly, I’ve only had one customer give me any kind of guff. He was 87 years old. He said I should be at home taking care of my children. I said, “If you’re going to pay my bills, I’ll gladly go home and do so. But you need two incomes to make things work nowadays.” I said it playfully, and so after that, he warmed right up to me.
How do you ask for reviews at the end of the call?
We use PulseM. They send a text message to the customer with a picture of us and a little information about us. It lets them know we’re on our way. Then, when I’m about to leave, I tell them they’ll get a report card from us. It takes about a minute to complete. If they like what I’ve done today, please take a moment to fill it out. Of course, if they didn’t like what I’ve done today, they don’t need to waste their time. I get them laughing again, so that’s the last thing they remember.
What’s it like working at Home Heating & Air Conditioning?
It’s amazing! I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have this job. It’s like a family here. If you need anything, all you have to do is ask. Usually, you don’t even have to ask—people volunteer to help. With having four, young kids, I have doctors’ appointments. They’re so amazing working with my schedule so I can make it to those things. Everybody jumps in to help here, even my fellow technicians. I was sick a couple of weekends ago, and I was supposed to be on-call. They jumped right in and helped take care of it for me.
Christy mentioned they do a lot of cooking around the office and it isn’t unusual for new employees to put on a few pounds. Have you fallen victim?
I’m actually very fortunate. I have a great metabolism. Otherwise, yes, I’d be in trouble. I really think that was their goal last winter—to fatten me up. I told them if I get too fat I can’t get into those crawl holes!
In wrapping up, do you have any advice to women who may be apprehensive about getting into the trades?
Quite a few of my customers are very impressed with a woman in the field. They tell me women are more meticulous and attentive to detail. So, go for it. It’s been a great move for me.
What advice would you have for any new person getting into the trade?
You have to be focused on customer service. Always, always, always make sure your customer is satisfied. You don’t make a paycheck without them being happy.