Why is technical support important for installers?

The heating industry is constantly changing and evolving, but how do all the new regulations, technologies and legislations affect the installer’s day-to-day working life? Installer spoke to someone ‘in-the-know’ – Baxi’s longest standing technical support advisor, Henry Bliss – on the changing times of technical support.
After nearly 50 years, Henry Bliss still enjoys working in the heating industry – and not just because of the camaraderie of working in a close-knit team.
“I’m now 70 years old and could have retired five years ago but I have chosen to stay because I really do enjoy what I do. Most of all, it’s the satisfaction you get in helping people – there isn’t much I haven’t come across over the last 50 years so it’s nice to be able to share my experience and learnings with other engineers to aid them in their day-to-day job.”
boiler business webTimes are changing
When Henry first joined the industry, it was a very different environment. A boiler was a very simple appliance that only had a thermocouple, a boiler thermostat and a gas valve. It was very much a case of the cold water going in and the hot water coming out. Nowadays, everything is much more complicated – with boilers featuring electronics on board, zero-pressure governor gas valves, etc.
“It has been very interesting to witness the technological changes through the decades. During the 70s, for example, the market was dominated by open vented central heating systems with stored hot water – then we saw the arrival of the combi in the 80s.
“Now it’s all changed once again with the condensing boiler taking the lead over the past ten years following changes to the Building Regulations. Who knows what the next ten years will bring?”
Heating industry overhaul
When pressed, Henry identifies the condensing boiler as the biggest change that he’s seen in his years in the industry. Specifically designed to be as efficient as possible, the condensing boiler has brought huge energy savings for the homeowner, reduced environmental impact on a national level and, in turn, a complete overhaul for the heating industry.
“When I first started out, the boiler options were limited to heat only, open vented or a modern field system, which was very complicated. As was the norm across the industry at the time, the heat energy contained within the combustion products discharged from these boilers – which could be anything up to 180°C – was simply wasted. For some, the efficiency could be as low as 60% – meaning that for every pound spent on gas, 40p was lost.
“Obviously, condensing boilers were designed to rectify this issue by extracting as much heat energy from the fuel as possible, turning it into usable heat to warm the house. This means they burn less fuel for the same amount of heating – with most models offering 90% efficiency.
Technology on the move
“It’s also been interesting to see how the growth in digital technology has changed my role. Today everything is so much more accessible. Customers can email pictures from their phone, they can call from their job with their mobile, and they can access training content online and on the move. All these little things have helped to make a big difference in making life that bit easier when solving a technical query.”
Understandably, as both the products fitted and the way that installers work have changed so significantly, the questions that come from Baxi’s customers have changed too. As the technology involved in boilers has become increasingly sophisticated – not to mention the wider array of appliance types and ever-increasing amount of legislation – the nature of enquiries has become more and more complicated. For Henry and the rest of the customer service team, this means there is a greater onus on them to provide accurate and comprehensive advice.
Not so simple
“It is no longer a case of ‘a simple install and annual service’. Installers need to know how the boiler gets rid of condensate, how to make sure there are no leaks, how to make sure condensate is effectively removed from the boiler in line with regulation, how to calculate cost savings on boiler upgrades – then there are electronics, which is a whole different ball game.
“To an extent, I would say that today’s installers are, understandably, more likely to find the amount of information available confusing. There are so many considerations in today’s market that it can be a daunting process. That’s why, at Baxi, our ethos is about ‘making life easy’. From our technical helplines through to training, we want to help installers be as prepared as possible to meet the challenges of modern installations.”
Another recent phenomenon that Henry finds he is dealing with more and more is the rise of homeowners attempting DIY on their own heating systems.
His belief is that this is largely due to the ease with which information can be accessed online through forums or how-to videos. These sites can often make it appear to be far more straightforward to carry out maintenance than it actually is – never mind that it may actually be illegal in certain situations.
Keeping pace
Undoubtedly, the level – and speed – of change across all areas of this sector make it an exciting environment to work in, but it can also make life difficult for installers who may struggle to keep up with the fast pace.
Henry and his colleagues recognise that this increasing level of complexity will be the biggest challenge going forward for installation businesses – of all sizes and resources. In order for everyone to cope with these extra demands there needs to be a far more collaborative approach across all levels of the industry.
“Obviously, increased legislation and the rapid pace of product innovation have been vital in order to drive efficiency. However, in many ways they have made things more complicated than they used to be. Together, we need to get to the stage where the modern installer’s life is a bit easier – especially as the ErP is coming in very soon.
“For me, this really does require a collective approach. From the Government helping to incentivise homeowners, to manufacturers supplying the innovation as well as training and technical support, through to the installer providing personal, expert support, we must take a single approach to ease the process for everyone.”
[author ]Henry Bliss originally started out working at Potterton in 1968 in the tooling department and then later joined the design and development team. He was actually involved in developing the last Potterton boiler – the Suprima 120 – before the business was taken over by Baxi Group (which later became part of BDR Thermea). He then worked for himself for a couple of years before joining the Baxi technical support team in 2002.[/author]