Service departments increasingly lead profit generation

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HVAC technician Kenn St-Pierre of Haven Home ClimateCare, Kingston, Ont. performs a precision tune-up.

By Glenn Mellors

If you have been following my articles, you would conclude that my focus is and always will be on growth, profitability and moral responsibility to our customers.

Years ago, when I started in the industry selling boxes was the name of the game and service was referred to as “a necessary evil”!  Back in the day, you could send potential customers direct mail, e-mails, phone calls, or even knock on everyone’s door to round up leads. Today, with tougher privacy laws, it is far more difficult to “hunt down” the potential customer. Rather, we have to make ourselves as visible and memorable as we possibly can so that we are top of mind when consumers go hunting for us!

The game-changer

Success in the HVAC industry now comes from our service department, the champions who face our clients in good times and bad. Our technicians are the ambassadors for our company, our marketing department and lead generation department…a far cry from the days of them being our “necessary evil”!

In 2020, the successful companies will be service companies that sell boxes, not the box company that provides service to only our own clients! What were we thinking! What an awesome game changer – now we get paid to go into someone’s home and present products and services that we offer.

So, when does opportunity knock?

In my previous article – “Air Conditioning season; the nine weeks from hell!” – we wrote about the predictability of opportunity as a moving target; the kickoff starts when it gets hot! So does the furnace season; kickoff is the first cold night. It’s predictable, yes, but the date is still a moving target.

Education is critical in keeping up to date on equipment. An apprentice technician installs a thermostat under the watchful eye of a judge at Skills Ontario 2019. HRAI member volunteers organized and ran the residential HVAC competition.

And that first cold night is followed by an abundance of emergency ‘no-heats’ and we start the cycle again, only this time it is heating season. Light-up season is our first round of sales lead opportunities and our first opportunity to capture new customers, or is it?

Can we take the ‘emergency’ out of the heating and cooling seasons?

New opportunities

We just determined that our service department is our marketing department and that kickoff is the start of our selling season. What we are really saying is that every time a service technician is in a home, we get an opportunity to sell something. There is no better opportunity to market to a client than through the honest communication between a customer and technician. They are the trusted ones that give advice only and not a pushy sales pitch.

But I am not a fan of ‘selling techs’! The technician’s job is to uncover the problems associated with indoor comfort and advise the customer of their options. They can then suggest someone comes out to see them at a time of the customer’s convenience and then sets up the appointment with the office.

Often when I ask companies where much of their business comes from the answer is always “from past customers”. If this is true, then I pose the question as to how do we make more past customers? This statement gets met with a funny look or a tilted head. My answer is quite simple.

Creating new ‘past customers’

Once the person I am talking to realizes I am serious, they will ask me the question, how do I create more past customers?

What is the least expensive non-threatening lowest-risk product you sell or if you don’t should sell? My hope is that they say, “a precision tune-up”. A pre-season tune-up has huge benefits for both the consumer and the provider.

  1. The complete tune-up can be performed ANY time of the year allowing ample time for complete testing of the equipment.
  2. Any weaknesses can be identified and repaired before season kickoff.
  3. It reduces the number of calls at kickoff from your clients, allowing you to capture other contractors’ customers.
  4. It is performed at a convenient time for everyone.

This is not to be confused with a prepaid maintenance plan service. A PTU is actually a standalone low-risk offer to your customers. The beauty of this service is that everyone can benefit from a precision tune-up ANY time of the year, allowing for low-cost marketing. Imagine if you sold your customers 400 PTUs in August or April, how would technician time management look now? No lay-offs; just steady 9-5 work.

And the best part; half your clients won’t have to call you on heating system startup.

A steady revenue stream

The precision tune-up is a standalone item that can roll into pre-paid monthly or annual paid customers.

Imagine a revenue stream of $60,000 every month. This is very real and happening around you every day. Once you have had the opportunity to go in on a precision tune-up and show the customer the value, converting this one-time visit into an annual visit is a piece of cake. Developing your own group of monthly pay customers is what we refer to as ‘job security’. Pick your monthly fee and multiply it by the number of potential customers in your database and you will be amazed at the opportunity. Your monthly payment plan should provide savings over the one-time PTU price, making it a no-brainer for your clients to sign up.

Making it work

Here’s how it happens:

Scenario No. 1 – the PTU

You are called out for a PTU, you bring the client into the room to watch what you do, talking all the while about the benefits of this service and the need for this to be done annually. Once completed, you go over the monthly plan. Once there is interest, you offer significant savings on today’s visit if they sign up on the monthly plan.

Scenario No. 2

Your technician arrives to a no-heat call only to find that the flame sensor is dirty and not rectifying flame. Your technician explains what needs to be done and adds a second opportunity. As part of our 21-point precision tune-up, this repair could be completed as part of the PTU. The technician explains the benefit of the annual PTU and proceeds with permission to complete the task. Again, while the customer is participating, we introduce the benefits of the monthly plan and the potential saving that can be taken today.

Before you know it, you have half your client base on a plan, kicking off the season over a period of weeks, not days. And for those customers that didn’t take advantage, you will get them on ‘kickoff’!

Now that you have many of your customers on “planned” season kick-off, won’t it be easier to manage your manpower for the other 364 days!

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