Peter Schwartz, president of NATE
Originally published: 12.01.11 by Terry Tanker
Terry Tanker sat down with Peter Schwartz, the new president of North American Technicians Excellence (NATE) in Bonita Springs, Fla., during the Air-Conditioning Heating and Refrigeration Institute’s annual meeting to discuss N.A.T.E. and how the organization is improving marketing and making it easier for contractors to become certified.
1. Do you have a favorite hobby?
Hiking with my son.
2. How would your wife finish this question...Peter should never . . .?
Stop doing what he loves. And, never steal my Halloween candy!3. What’s your hidden talent?
I’m a pretty good cook.
4. What is your secret ambition?
To write a novel.
5. What were your goals when you joined NATE last year?
To implement high-touch personalized service to everyone we serve, and to make NATE an easier organization to do business with.
6. What are three big goals for 2012?
Achieve ANSI 17024 accreditation, develop and launch Energy Efficiency Analyst certification, and complete Spanish-language translation of our most popular examinations.
7. What has been the biggest accomplishment for NATE in the past 12 months?
The complete reconstruction of our website and the streamlining of the order process for NATE exams.
8. Is the certification process automated?
About 30% of it is, and we want to improve that number.
9. How do you plan to build more demand for NATE certifications?
By continuing to accelerate and drive consumer awareness, industry recognition, and branding. Our new website is part of it, but only one part. We’ve made a great deal of changes in our visuals, our collateral marketing materials, our electronic marketing, attendance of industry events, and other things.
10. What has been NATE’s biggest stumbling block?
One challenge has been to create programs to help contractors advertise and promote the value-added certification for their HVACR technicians.
11. How are you addressing that?
We’re currently designing and developing new collateral pieces and making use of the NATE logo more accessible. We’re also going to be launching an e-newsletter for contractors that will give them ideas on how to promote their NATE certification to their customers.
12. What should be the No. 1 thing they are promoting?
NATE certification separates contractors from the pack. It benchmarks and validates a competency level, something that can be a challenge for consumers and contractors. NATE certification provides a comfort zone for consumers and — as our research has shown — significantly lowers warranty costs and callbacks.
13. Sounds impressive. Why don’t more contractors invest in NATE certification?
The biggest reason is because we need to do a better job of marketing NATE to consumers so that consumer demand will increase. Our focus will continue to be on the contractor, but we are finally also focusing on the consumer.
14. Is there anything else “new” NATE has started focusing on during the last 12 to 24 months?
We have spent a significant amount of time meeting with manufacturers, with other associations, and with government agencies in a coordinated effort to raise our profile, leverage resources, and work toward recognition of NATE as a key component in the energy-efficiency and sustainability equation. We are very, very aggressively engaged in the sustainability and energy-efficiency arena.
15. NATE bought national radio spots during NFL and NCAA football games and other shows. How much did brand awareness from consumers go up?
It’s very difficult to measure the success of that type of media. But we have received reports from a number of metropolitan areas about people calling contractors who say that they heard the spots on the radio. We consider it very successful.
16. Are you planning on expanding these types of consumer media buys?
We’re going to repeat and expand the radio campaign next year by piggybacking our message into ads by six major manufacturers in our industry. This is a good example of leveraging resources to create more bang for the buck and getting out our message to a much greater number of consumers.
17. How is NATE making the taking of examinations faster and easier for all involved?
We are working to shorten lead times with a print-on-demand feature. The maximum lead time to order and print NATE examinations will be 72 hours versus the current two weeks. Additionally, we’re looking to negotiate with a third-party proctoring company that would expand the number of locations where a technician could take our test. I’m working with three companies now that have examination facilities throughout the United States. One of them has 546 locations. The convenience factor will likely help our re-certifications as well.
We want to increase the ratio of electronic versus print tests each year.
18. Have you found that once technicians are certified, that they become loyal and subsequently re-certify themselves?
It depends. I believe that re-certification is an ongoing challenge regardless of how successful our metrics say we are. So I’ve launched a campaign where we are reaching out and touching technicians about their certification a certain number of times a year.
19. Can you give some examples?
We are sending a report card to technicians after the third year of certification, giving them a report of where they stand in the re-certification process, and encouraging them to re-certify with 60 hours worth of continuing education or to re-take the test — at the same time emphasizing the importance of certification. Managing this process and working internally with the various training organizations will make it a lot easier for our technicians to maintain their certification.
We’re also going to better prepare them for re-sitting for specialty exams by providing specialty tools to inform them of things like changes in technology that they will encounter on the exam.
20. Since this interview is appearing in December, do you have any New Year’s resolutions you would like to share?
I want to exercise more, eat fewer fatty foods, and work my tail off for NATE.