Dustin Bowerman has worked the last 25 years for Bradford White Corporation, a team of American-owned companies that designs, engineers, and builds water heating, space heating, combination heating, and storage solutions for residential, commercial, and industrial applications.
Most recently Bowerman has served as Sr. Director of Field Services. He recently spoke with CONTRACTOR about e-learning, video training, and his hopes for the industry post-pandemic.
CONTRACTOR: Great to speak with you today. Can you tell me, in broad outlines, about the Field Service Division at Bradford White and what it is you do?
BOWERMAN: We have a 24/7 technical support team, live staffed. We have a 24/7 live staffed warranty support group here in Middleville, MI. We have a service parts division, a training group and a specialty products support group. That includes heat pumps, tankless products, things like that.
Really, our job is anything after the sale of the product. Some call it customer service, but we’ve divided it up into different disciplines in order to deliver better service to our customer base, be it the end user or the tradespeople themselves. That’s what keeps me busy.
CONTRACTOR: I know the company offers a lot in terms of training. Your iTEC Training Center in Middleville, for example, has a 5 million BTU capacity live-fire lab.
BOWERMAN: Up until 2019 that was a hoppin’ place, really active, with two or three groups a week. And that’s in addition to the regional technical trainers; we have a few of those who will jump on airplanes to get to wherever they need to go.
But since the COVID bug hit us we, like a lot of people, have taken to canned video. We’ve dabbled quite a bit with troubleshooting videos, little two-three minute informative sessions, "video bites." But with the pandemic we’ve started doing what almost feels like a broadcast. Live-streaming, face-to-face for a different level of engagement.
Watching a video is informative, but we didn’t feel the end users, the professional contractors, were getting the most out of them. Our video content, while we do have pre-recorded content, we like to do as much live-stream, as much face-to-face as possible.
CONTRACTOR: Can you talk a little bit more about your various offerings and what they're called?
So much of our video offering was for the people who wanted to be there... So think of it as an a-la-carte menu. The customer chain—contractor to wholesaler, wholesaler to representative—would bring us the opportunities. “Hey, I want to learn about this,” “Hey, I want to learn about that.” What created a lot of the interest was what people wanted to know, as opposed to training people were just given. You know, not everyone at a training seminar has an interest in being there. They may be getting told to go.
CONTRACTOR: I think we've all been to some of those seminars.
BOWERMAN: Our goal is that when a person is spending time with us, they’re getting what they need and want. A lot of effort is put into making it as technical oriented as possible, trying to minimize any feeling of it being a sales presentation.
It’s informative, right? There’s some troubleshooting stuff that may be product-specific, or error code-specific, say, this model with this problem needs this corrective action or this investigation. But you don’t have to get into a lot of the “how to do” stuff as much, offering the 24-7 technical support.
Now, if we’re doing something for a specific customer, say, Billy the Plumber with wholesaler XYZ and their representative, those personalized video segments or live streaming functions are never recorded for sharing purposes. That’s you and I talking, that’s not for the neighbors. It’s very difficult for someone outside that conversation to fully follow the context when they’re not there.
In my experience, the recording—and I’m not going to beat up on the different formats, like Zoom or Teams—but the recording quality isn’t always the best. So, we definitely have the pre-recorded stuff for people to dabble around, but if we’re doing that hour long how do you work on a tankless water heater, we don’t necessarily publish those.
CONTRACTOR: What kind of plans do you have for the future?
BOWERMAN: We’re really itching to open doors and be face-to-face again. Our trade is so personal, so face-to-face. All of our contractors, they continue to have that engagement with their customers, and we long to have that same level of engagement again.
We have the video and the tech support and all of these other things, but they’re mechanical minded, they learn by touching and doing... Someone can watch a video and say, "I was trained." Well, I challenge them on that. I say, if you’re watching someone, say, lift weights, well you’re not getting any stronger. You’re just watching someone do the act. Until you’re actually doing it, you’re not training. So we’re very much of the belief that hands-on-training is how you learn. We’re going to have these supplemental tools available—because a lot of people want them—but we will never let that replace hands-on. If people aren’t’ able to come back here, we’re going to make an effort to go see them.
Product complexity is growing. Products are not getting more simplistic. With increased complexity comes increased prices. And I really hope our contractor friends take the opportunity to sharpen their sword, right? To get better, to grow their capabilities as products get more complex. So I’m looking forward to being busy. Training promotes confidence, and confidence promotes success, and our contractor friends need to be competent with the new things coming off the production lines.
[Think of it like] a sports car. You’re not going to drive it in the sand... You’re not going to benefit from its capabilities if you don’t use it in the right places. Likewise, a heavy duty truck, it’s going to do way more, but it’s going to cost you way more. Maybe up front, maybe in maintenance.
I think our industry’s communication and marketing teams have some awareness campaigns that will benefit our contractor base. Consumers need to know, as they’re buying the new equipment, you are probably going to see your contractor more. There’s that level of maintenance you need to keep up to get the best performance, to get the longest life out of the product in the future that you’re paying more for today.