Plumbing Technicians Offer Tips

Techs from ZOOM Drain share their insights from on-the-job experiences. 

Over the years, I have learned about the service business. No doubt about it, I got the best education “riding shotgun” with service techs; the front line is where the action happens. Service techs have to be super heroes. They need to develop technical, operational, sales and communications skills. And, they must have a sense of humor and perspective to make it through the tough days and problem jobs.  

So, I thought I would ask a few service techs to share some advice with other service techs. I put together a list of questions and interviewed three rock star drain techs in our franchise organization, ZOOM DRAIN. Our tag line is:  Fast. Focused. ZOOM! And these three represent all that, and a bag of chips. Enjoy and share with your team.  

Introducing the interviewees:  

Steve Martino: Martino is 25 years old and has been at ZOOM DRAIN Philadelphia for three years and nine months. Before he joined the team, he worked with his dad, who was a home improvement contractor. He is married with a five-year-old daughter. 

Mark Sell: Sell is 30 years old and has been at ZOOM DRAIN Philadelphia for 14 months. Prior to that, he was a restoration technician. Sell shared, “Drain work isn’t anywhere near as messy as that!” He is married without kids and has a dog named Oliver.

Shaun Matty: Matty is the veteran of the crew at 42 years old. He’s been at ZOOM DRAIN Long Island for 17 months, and he has been in the drain industry since he graduated from high school. Matty is married with a 13-year-old daughter. 

What's the best tip you've gotten from another tech?  

Sell: From more than one of the more experienced techs, I heard this great advice: Be thorough with your diagnosis. We have checklists. It helps to use them. We have one for when we start the job, and one for finishing the call. Once you clear the line, check it. This sounds really basic, but when you are busy, it is easy to miss something. I love my customers, but I don’t want to see them again for the same problem.  

Martino: I was told not to get too confident. It’s a good idea to discuss options with the customer. “We will start with this. Then, if that doesn’t work, we have this next option.” Our training is really good and helped me see the big picture, how it all fits together. 
When I first got on my own truck, I thought I could handle anything. The training covers about 80 percent of what we run into. The other 20 percent will get your attention. It takes time to get really skilled at drain cleaning. There are surprises and problems you’ll run into, even on a job that looks easy at first. 

Matty: Early in my career, my cousin, who trained me, told me that water rises in the lowest point. I use this on every drain call. If there is a clog, find the lowest point in the line, to make sure you tackle the problem. Talk with and listen to the customer, and walk the whole system as you diagnose the situation. That’s my go-to tip to avoid callbacks.  

What do you make sure to tell a new kid?  

Sell: If you show up late — to work or the job — you put pressure on yourself to rush. That doesn’t set you up to win. I show up early. I like to give myself time to do things the right way. There are emergencies in this business. I try not to create more of them.  

Martino: Stay motivated. New kids ask me how I always manage to hit sales and productivity goals. Here’s how I do it: I take one more job. I break down the goal to the number of calls I would need to go on to hit that goal. I sell a lot because I work a lot, not because I sell something that isn’t needed. I do a good job. The problems are there. And, I do the math. One small, additional call per day will get me to the goal. My dad told me you have to work for what you get. I live by that.  

Matty: Don’t get discouraged. It takes a while to get good. Even experienced drain cleaners have bad days. Oh, and be careful taking off sewer caps! They are under pressure. Check out the system before you touch the cap. Determine if the system is connected to the city sewer or if it is a cesspool or septic system. Ask the customer and be respectful, but verify for yourself as you diagnose the situation. Even if they told you they just had the tank pumped, you still want to check. Because, if it’s a cesspool, there may be a whole lot of trouble coming your way.  

What's the biggest challenge you've had as a tech?  

Martino: It was challenging when I graduated from apprentice to tech. I loved the hands-on training and riding with other techs. The techs would let me do the work, and they would be right behind me in case I got into trouble. When I first got on my own truck, I felt prepared. Then, it hit me; I got scared. This is what prompted me to share first and second options with my customers. That keeps me from being backed into a situation where the customer loses faith in me. Now that I have some miles in, I am not scared anymore.  

Matty: At my last job, I worked for a company that did service on really big grease traps. Because I am a small guy, they used me for this task. If they have never serviced the traps, well, you can imagine how disgusting that hardened grease is. I wore Hazmat protection, but it’s still really gross getting into those tanks, putting myself right in it. The other guys kept an eye on me, and that was helpful. Still, I would have to use a chisel and hammer to find my way through the grease to locate the connections so we could pump and clean the systems. Yeah, I’d say that was a challenge.   

Tell me about a really great service call.  

Sell: Two weeks ago, we followed up on a job where the plumber had gotten into trouble. He got the cable stuck and couldn’t clear the line. He recommended that the next step was to tear up the wall and re-pipe that section of the plumbing. The homeowner decided to get a second opinion, and I was sent on the job. It was challenging, but I got it done. It’s not that the plumber had done anything wrong. He just hit the end of what he could do. I really love that kind of challenge. I am a pretty competitive guy. Even when I play softball, I might take it just a little bit seriously. 

Martino: A really great call is when the customer is happy. Some jobs are easy, and some are hard. The easy fix is nice now and then.  

Matty: A woman called us because her mom, who was in her 80s, was told by another company that her sewer line was broken. They really didn’t want to spend the money on a replacement line and asked if we would take a look. When I got there, I found roots, but the line was in good shape. I called our dispatcher and got the OK to jet the line and clear it. It’s great to work with a company that backs you up and lets you do the right thing.  

Do you have a favorite tool or app that you could recommend?  

Sell: It’s great that we all have cameras on our trucks. Most of the time, customers are delighted to see the camera. It impresses them. I show the customer what I am seeing in the line, and it makes it easier on both of us. Also, I use Google hangouts if I need help. I’ll call the field supervisor or another tech and show them what I’m looking at.  

Martino: I love the price book. Before I worked here, as a home improvement contractor, I would just make up prices. It was stressful. I’d go out to the truck and put something together, but I didn’t like doing that. The price book takes out the guesswork. It makes the customer feel more secure, too.    

Matty: I really like the cone gun I use to clean out tub drains. It straps to my hand and makes me feel like a Super Sewer Hero. It’s a great tool. My favorite is the Spartan model 700. 

What's the thing you like best about the industry? What's your least favorite thing?  

Sell: What I like best is that there is always going to be plenty of work; The opportunity is endless. What I don’t like is breaking bad news to a customer. We are their best bet for solving the problem, but it’s never fun to learn you have a major sewer situation.  

Matty: The thing I like best is leaving a job and knowing you defeated the problem. The worst thing is being stuck on a ladder and figuring out, “Uh oh. Here it comes.” 

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