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Air conditioning start-up in uncertain times

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This is the time of year when dealers hold barbecues and open houses to introduce new equipment, like this one at Air Heat Supplies in Mississauga in 2016. Hopefully, these events will return soon.

By Glenn Mellors

As I am writing this article, I am watching snowflakes mocking me as they fly by my window on May 11 in Southwestern Ontario. This should be the start of air conditioning start-up season.

If you are like most, you have been spending the last few weeks shopping online for personal protective equipment or PPE for your business to ready yourself for air conditioning start-up season (see article in April 2020 issue for more information). After the last eight weeks, we need the revenue!

I often refer to this time of year as revenue killer time because we can spend our time doing 20-minute or all-day repairs on equipment that has been neglected since last summer. How do you charge appropriately for those service calls? The 20-minute calls are difficult because by the time you charge $129 diagnostic and an hour repair to clean dead bugs out of the contactor ($225 flat-rate repair guide) to try and collect $354 is difficult.

Then there is the all-day system leak test and repair that ends up costing the homeowner $1,200, which they don’t want to pay either. Both repairs end badly for both the customer and you!

Have you ever stopped and listened to the person who answers the phone for you? Or rather, how you answer your phone? Stop and really listen. Short calls with no appointment started with “how much do you charge for servicing air conditioners,” followed by a “thank-you” and a dial tone. Longer calls typically include trying to diagnose over the phone, followed by a “thank-you” and a dial tone. Remember, prescription without diagnosis is malpractice and for those of you who know me, you have heard that many times.

Service calls are quick with a well-equipped truck!

I hear this more often than I like – “the customer was just price shopping.” No, you were just giving them cheap answers with zero value factor.

Conversation is key

Let me share a little scripting with you: “how much do you charge to service air conditioners?” Your response should be “have you ever done business with us before?” Regardless of the answer, your next words should be remarkably similar – “if you have” or “if you choose to do business with us, we will come out to your home and provide a 22-point inspection of the unit. This will include checking wire connections and refrigerant levels, cleaning, adjusting and lubricating all moving parts, putting a fresh coat of silicone protector on the outdoor unit, and giving you a summary of all necessary repairs required to put the unit back into its top-performing condition. You will receive a detailed estimate on your repair or replacement options before we proceed any further. For this service we charge a fee of $XXX.

“Should additional work be required before we can complete the 22-point inspection, we will inform you of the additional fees required. Sometimes the simple issues are resolved within the inspection, while others are not, either way you are covered with our 100 per cent satisfaction guarantee! Would you prefer mornings or afternoons?”

The point I am making is that you are explaining the value before saying the price. You are booking time slots and controlling your revenue per hour at the same time.

The 22-point inspection:

  1. Check and level the thermostat. If required, eliminate the stat from the repaired fault or recommend an upgrade for extra cost – this increases the average invoice amount (AIA).
  2. Spray off the condenser unit and coil to clear debris. Make sure to educate the customer on the importance of maintaining clearance around the unit and not piling stuff on or near it.
  3. Inspect coils for flattened or eroded fins.
  4. Check electrical connections and clean contactor with compressed air.
  5. Check capacitors for burnt smell or oil leaks – replacement option for AIA.
  6. Check for refrigerant leaks at service valves.
  7. Check the furnace filter and offer replacement.
  8. Check damper positions and adjust – humidifier or zone.
  9. Check temperature drop across coil and record.
  10. Lubricate all moving parts.
  11. Check furnace motor start cap and record. Low readings mean replacement and AIA.
  12. Check blower fan for dirt – removal and cleaning for AIA.
  13. Record indoor RH.
  14. Check and record indoor and outdoor ambient temperatures.
  15. Wipe down indoor air handler/furnace.
  16. Keep a 20-inch clearance around the furnace and look around for other items such as litter boxes or furniture refinishing hobbies, and record.
  17. Check condensate function and test drain for blockages.
  18. Look for the manufacturer’s installation and operation guides.
  19. Carry nine-volt batteries and offer for smoke detectors.
  20. Check for CO alarms and offer them to customers if not found – increase AIA.
  21. Return outside and check refrigerant levels by superheating, NOT with gauges. Unnecessary gauge use can cause leaks.
  22. Review findings and estimate repairs along with risk assessment of predicted end of life of the system.

Customer satisfaction

This entire process would have taken you all of 45 minutes to an hour tops. The customer has already received great value for your service. Now when you deliver the estimate on further repairs or upgrades, the customer will be open to those options and will feel that they are in total control of what happens next.

This is a great diagnostic flow chart of system diagnosis and elimination that you can follow as an everyday practice and provides your customer value and provides your company with a new forever customer.

In the last few weeks, manufacturers have been testing duct mounted UV lights for controlling viruses in the home, office, and workplace. The installation of two ultraviolet units, one before and one after the A/C coil has been suggested and some manufacturers are reporting an above-average kill rate. Although still in the early stages, like everything else with COVID-19, reach out to your suppliers and get as much information as you can.

As the keeper of our customers’ indoor air health, it is our responsibility to do so. Stay well and work protected!

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