Air conditioning season: How to survive nine weeks of hell

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Brian Faulds of M & K ClimateCare, London, Ont. uses an app on his smartphone to diagnose an outdoor unit.

By Glenn Mellors

Every year we face the same situation of trying to make as many sales and service visits as we can to capture our fair share of the air conditioning market. And every year we face the same struggles of managing our phones, our labour, and our available inventory. Granted the start date may vary by sometimes a month but it will come, and it will be a challenge to survive the nine weeks from hell!

Or does it have to be? Perhaps if we look at it a little differently it can be nine weeks of profitable work AND happy customers. What about happy staff as well; is that possible? You bet!

Let’s look at how some of the successful HVAC retailers do it. Yes, I said “HVAC retailers”. If you start thinking like a retailer and start acting like one, you can take full advantage of these nine weeks! Remember, more than one-third of your total revenue could come from this period or a few weeks on either side of this nine weeks from hell.

As a small business owner, you have many decisions to make every day. When you wake up in the morning you must decide: “am I going to lose money today and make happy customers?” That’s right, are you going to run your guys ragged and get cooling to every customer who calls today? Will you be running in and out of each service visit band-aiding the problem while leaving a trail of ‘I’ll be back when it slows down’ revenue that you will never get back to? Perhaps even worse, leave an upset customer who calls someone else to finish the job? Or are you going to look at each customer as if it is the only call you must do today and deliver extraordinary value while maintaining profitability? An accountant friend of mine would say: “Why do you run around picking up as many dimes as you can while jumping over dollar bills?”

An alternative way

It is all up to you and there is no right answer; only you can make that decision. But what would the alternative look like?

How about satisfying as many customers as you possibly can and still being profitable.

How do companies do it? Here are a few important steps:

Step #1

Make it a priority to ensure your staff keeps healthy. This means ample breaks for a good lunch, lots of fluids and well-rested. Always have coolers of water and frozen treats available. Caution staff to not burn the candle at both ends; ample time for sleep is important.

Step #2

Split your staff into shifts and expand your hours of operation. Keep your daytime (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) team focused on your existing customers and your (12 p.m. to 9 p.m.) focused on tidying up loose ends and available to capture new customers (your competitor’s customers). There is never a better time to grow your business opportunities than by having an afternoon shift in peak periods.

Step #3

Focus on one call at a time! Whether you work for yourself or have a team of service technicians, dispatch one call at a time, or deal with the call as if it is your only one of the day. Your customers deserve your full attention. Take your time to do a proper diagnosis, not only to determine what failed but why it failed and put together some options to repair or replace and let the customer choose what is best for them.

Create a risk assessment, answer these four questions and share the results with your customer:

  1. How old is the unit? Average years of useful life is 13-15 years.
  2. What is the efficiency of the unit? Are there significant savings to be had?
  3. What is the probability of another failure and project the costs that may follow?
  4. Warranty, what if any is left on the unit?

Answering these questions on every service visit will provide you with several replacement opportunities that would normally have resulted in a repair only and frees up your service techs to move onto another call. Happy customer; happy company.

Our author discovered a handy dandy ‘smart’ refrigeration manifold that saved a lot of time.

Flat rate pricing

Do you subscribe to a flat-rate pricing system? ‘System’ is the operative word! If you do subscribe to a system, do you or your staff understand the process?

Flat rate books or apps are not built to be used to create an invoice after the fact. I hear this so often. The system is used in the home in front of the customer. It is used to show the client what has failed, possible causes for failure, and a series of possible solutions.

Perhaps a straight down and dirty repair is all they want, or maybe maintenance at the same time as the repair to really put the equipment in peak operating condition. Or perhaps it makes sense to replace the unit. These decisions are to be made by your consumer, NOT you!

After the customer has decided what they want you to do, review the pricing, the scope of work and set the stage for them to know once the job is completed, payment is required. The result, a higher average ticket price, a happy customer and you have been paid! No follow-up required.

Tools of the trade

When was the last time you did an inventory of your tools? Are they all functioning? Do you or your technicians have all the tools required for every situation? One of the biggest causes of callbacks is ill-equipped trucks and technicians. You can’t do your job efficiently if you’re sharing tools.

In this “smart” technology world there are some amazing blue tooth enabled tools and apps that can dramatically reduce time to make your calls highly efficient and reduce diagnostic time to less than half.

Glenn’s new smart manifold gave him a whole lot of information quickly.

For example, we came across an app that can save hours a month in diagnostic and commissioning time. Do yourself a favour like we did and check out SMAN Refrigerant Manifolds from Fieldpiece Instruments.

Key features include rugged construction, data logging, water resistance, and it can send and receive wireless readings up to 350’ away. With the Fieldpiece Job Link System, you get all measurements without a transmitter. Three-port (SM380V) or four-port (SM480V) models are available.

And finally, following this shortlist of to-do’s will allow you to rest well at the end of the season knowing you did the best you could do for your customers in a responsible and safe way. Take pride in the fact that you did so in a way that delivered extraordinary consumer experiences while maintaining enough profitability to come back next season better prepared for the nine weeks from hell!

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