By Kelly Faloon
Brigham Dickinson, president and founder of Power Selling Pros, is a featured speaker at the Contractor Leadership Live event in September. We talked with him about his thoughts on the HVAC industry and his passion for training contractors’ customer service representatives.
1. When and why did you decide to go into your particular career field?
Well, it was an accident. I was a subcontractor selling pay-per-click online advertisements for ad agencies, which was the new, big thing10 years ago. One of my clients was Troy Neerings of Neerings Plumbing and Heating in Salt Lake City. He called me to talk about his pay-per-click advertising. He was getting a lot of leads, but the leads were ‘no good.’ I'm like, ‘What do you mean the leads are no good? If they can fog a mirror, it's a lead.’
He said the people who called were looking for information, such as a ballpark price, and wanted to talk to a technician. He wasn’t used to those calls; he was used to people booking the appointment so they could someone out to their homes right away.
I told him those leads are opportunities; consumers today shop around and they want to know how much you charge. He was going to get more of those types of leads and he needed to know how to book them. He needed to learn how to wow those customers and help them feel as if they called the right place.
So I told him I would train his team how to handle the leads. I did it for free and the company’s call conversion went up 20 percent.
Next thing I know, his buddy in Boulder, Colorado — Tom Robichaud, the owner of Precision Plumbing — calls me up and wants me to train his CSR team as well. This time, I charge for my services. And his call conversions go up. So Tom refers me to Mike Agugliaro, the owner of Gold Medal Service in New Jersey.
Eventually, I convinced Mike and his general manager that I could improve their business. That one lead referred me to about 27 different contractors, and my business in CSR training was off and running.
Today, we've got a certification program with three levels, and we guarantee by the time you're done you'll book 85 percent of your phone calls. The industry average is about 50 to 60 percent of calls versus set appointments.
You NATE-certify your techs, you should Power-certify your CSRs. They don't get a lot of attention, and it's a mistake because it's how customers get ahold of us — they call us.
2. How did you develop the passion you have for the mechanical contracting industry?
I love the industry because it is a bunch of underdogs. Why do I say underdogs? Because they're technicians, for the most part, who said to their boss, ‘I'm done. I'm out,’ and they give it a go with their own business. They lived the American dream and started working, and it's not easy. It's not easy to get a good foothold and to build a business up and for it to be successful. It's brutal.
To be able to help them and support them with something they absolutely need, it's really gratifying, it's rewarding.
I teach them that it's not about answering the phones. It's about creating a wow experience over the phone. We can take those same principles into every interaction with customers — whether it's an online chat, a phone call, a visit in the home, or on a happy call, making sure they're happy and content, and that everybody's got a service agreement.
If we can follow those principles, that is how we win. That is how we beat Amazon, no matter what they do, no matter how they do it. We have boots on the ground. We have people who can look at you face-to-face and say, ‘I care about you. I want to help you, and here's how I'm going to do it.’
We want HVAC contractors to be successful. We want them to grow. We want them to be affluent. When the owner becomes affluent, he can be a local leader. I promise you, that local leader is going to have the ability to help his community a whole lot better than Amazon, Apple or Google.
3. What's the most important thing you can impart on the readers for what they can expect to hear during Contractor Leadership Live?
The fastest and easiest way to make more money right now — booking more calls by giving customers an exceptional experience with your company.
4. Tell us something interesting about yourself.
I had a business that went belly-up, bankrupt. For months I was paying employees and not myself to the point where I just couldn't do it anymore, so we shut it down. The business was in Florida. I crawled back to my hometown here in Salt Lake City and began anew. That’s when I got into the pay-per-click business and, eventually, working with CSRs in this industry.
5. What's the most exciting part of your job right now?
It is rewarding, but the main reason why it is rewarding is people use our eight principles to achieving a wow experience not only in their professional lives but in their personal lives as well. One CSR supervisor used those principles to get through to her teenage daughter, who is struggling right now.
That's what's so great about what we teach. It's communication skills. It's interaction skills. It's the ability to come across in a very positive, electric way. It’s the ability to listen, really listen, not just nod your head and have eye contact, but respond, restate and rephrase. Ask more questions and truly empathize with others. Then reassure them and create solutions together.
It is literally the most gratifying job in the world. That's the big win for us — the ability to change lives, make them better.
6. What is the biggest issue we need to face in the HVACR contracting space?
Amazon buying out Whole Foods. In a contractor's mind, they're thinking, ‘Who cares? Who cares? That's the grocery industry.’ They should care because Amazon, Google and Apple are all looking in the backyard of this industry and they're seeing the opportunity. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is known to have said, "Your margin is my opportunity," meaning our margin, the contractors' margin, is his opportunity.
The problem is that 10 to15 years ago, most of us who are in the residential HVAC business got out of new construction for one reason and one reason only — not enough margin. We were installing 15, 20 systems a day and making pennies. We got out of that business and got into residential because it paid better, it paid faster, and the margins were extremely good.
We only needed to install four systems a day to really make a profit, instead of 15 to 20. We enjoyed an increased quality of life. That's the whole point of starting a business: to improve a lifestyle, make a difference, become affluent, and be a leader in your community who has the time and the ability to share and to serve others. That's the whole goal. Until we get there, we're working really hard.
It's important for those of us who support contractors to do everything we can to make them successful so they can be a benefit, a thought leader in their communities. Until they get there, they're on their own, and they can't be any good to anybody else.
What's interesting about Amazon is that, if it takes 25 percent of our margin, which is what it’s asking for right now, we're going to have to install a lot more systems. And we lose our local brand because we're Amazon now. If Amazon decides not to use your company and uses somebody else, for whatever reason, you're dead and that lead source is gone.
It is much better to keep your margin and keep your brand, but here's the thing. Here's what you lose, and this is what a contractor needs to understand. Those guys who are just focused on money, they'll probably be a $10 million, maybe a $40 million shop at most. Guess what? They’re still underdogs compared to Amazon.
Amazon will beat you at wholesale, at low price, and beat you with ease. According to Consumer Reports, Amazon is the best in customer service. Why? It's easy, it's wholesale and if you don't like it, you can ship it back.
HVAC contractors won't win that way. So how do you win? What do you do? The answer is really simple. You've got to be awesome. Why did they buy out Whole Foods? Because they're going to take out the human interaction and replaced it with processes, systems and robots. What's wrong with that? There's a reason why 15 percent of Chick-fil-A's customers come back on a weekly basis. They come back because of the experience Chick-fil-A creates.
HVAC contractors have to create that wow experience because they have no choice. They can't win on price anymore. The best thing they can do for their businesses right now is to raise their prices and then demand it by the experience they create. You are a dead man walking if you think you can continue to win on price. It's only a matter of time.
7. What technology is coming up in the near future that you believe will alter the mechanical contracting course forever?
HVAC contractors must embrace technology and innovate. Innovate the heck out of what you do and how you do it. That's every piece of amazing technology out there. You use it to innovate and make yourself stand out above anybody else.
On the market today are glasses with a video camera that technicians can use in the field. You can take your best technician, pull him out of the field, put him in front of a bunch of TV monitors, and put five techs in the field who all have these glasses. Your experienced tech is able to look at five different systems and say, ‘Here's what you need to do on that system. Here's what you need to do in this system. Here's what needs to happen there.’
Next thing you know, it's like taking that one amazing, wise technician and cloning him five times. Because he can help not only with what needs to be done, but he can help with sales pitch, he can help with pricing, he can help with whatever you need. It's going to change our industry.
If you are combining innovation and phenomenal customer service, no one can stop you, no matter who they are, no matter what they do.
About Contractor Leadership Live
You can hear Brigham’s presentation, “Book More Calls, WOW More Customers and Make More Money!” at Contractor Leadership Live, Sept. 12-14 at the Huntington Convention Center in Cleveland.
Contractor Leadership LIVE is a new, multi-day event that brings together the resources you need to transform your business. You will see the latest technologies and learn about proven strategies from a powerful line-up of today's HVAC industry experts. There's no better opportunity to level up your business while building a solid foundation for the future.
Slated for September 12-14 at the Huntington Convention Center in Cleveland, this national event will feature conference sessions by top educators to inspire you to transform your business while delivering insight on the latest industry trends that are impacting contracting business owners and service professionals. The expo hall will give you an opportunity to learn more about the latest products that help drive business and boost profitability while connecting you with the manufacturers that are responsible for developing those tools and solutions that are critical to your success in this ever-changing business environment.