You might find it difficult to relate HVAC and colonoscopy customer service. Let's take a look at how the medical profession has recognized today's consumer's need to be more informed and comfortable about not only the services being delivered, but the expected outcome of those services as well. We’ll then examine how the HVAC industry has similarly responded to customer needs. Perhaps we can learn from the medical industry’s example.
What's a Colonoscopy?
For you young folks, let me explain this unpleasant fact of modern maturity. When you become around 50 years old, your physician prescribes a test where a camera is inserted into your large intestine (butt-o-scope) to check for evidence of ulcers, cancer, and other stuff. Let’s call it a preventive maintenance measure.
What's a Clean and Check?
A clean and check is like a colonoscopy for your HVAC system. An inspection is completed; and some small defects are addressed and corrected on the spot. Then the condition of the system is documented and recommendations are prescribed to resolve any issues that may affect system performance.
I think it’s safe to say that nobody likes a colonoscopy. To be honest, you must also question whether your customers really relish the thought of paying for a preventive maintenance visit for their heating or cooling system. So, what can we do to improve the experience to keep existing customers and enlist new ones into our maintenance agreement ranks?
Ten years ago I had my first colonoscopy, it was a dreadful. A mean old nurse gave me orders to get up on a cold table and wait for the doctor. There was no notice of what was going to happen next.
A doctor came in, snapped his glove on, and didn’t say a word until about 6 inches into the procedure. Then he said, “Your intestine takes a hard 180 degree turn up there, I sure hope the probe doesn’t poke through the wall of your intestine. That would be messy.”
Now that was re-assuring. Afterward there was no communication of what he found or what action would be taken. I was told to get dressed and go home. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed or looking forward to doing that again.
Last week, it was time for another colonoscopy adventure. The first nurse picked up on my hesitation and took time to describe the entire procedure with me. He actually took notes for the doctor and assured me the team would do all they could to make this experience worthwhile.
By the time I was brought into the room where the procedure was to be performed, five people including the doctor had visited me and introduced themselves. Each explained their role and asked questions to be sure I understood what was about to happen.
Before the procedure began, the nurse reviewed with the doctor what we had discussed, then asked if I would like to learn what they discovered during the procedure.
The team discussed the kind of patient I was (the nurse told the group of my work and how measurement and data were of interest to me) and decided together on a sedative that would keep me comfortable, but allow me to participate in the discovery process with them.
It took about 20 minutes and they explained what they were seeing every step of the way. I got to watch the whole thing on a big screen TV. The team told me what they were doing and why. It was over before I knew it and I was fully informed and confident of what had just happened.
By the time I got home, I was emailed a link where I could update my wife on the procedure and assure her all was well.
I was amazed at this level of customer service -- it made me a raving fan of the Cleveland Clinic and the people who cared enough to make a colonoscopy as pleasant and educational of an experience as possible.
Our Customer Service
With these two contrasting medical experiences in mind, consider the preventive maintenance visit procedures used 10 years ago, compared to the procedures you use today. What changes have you implemented to keep up with the increasing expectations and needs of your customers?
About 10 years ago an acquaintance of mine described a heating system maintenance visit she had the month before. A tech showed up at her home two hours late. He tracked dirty snow across her carpet and into the basement, then emerged 20 minutes later handing her an invoice for $125.
She asked what he had done that was worth $125 and he replied “That’s just how much it costs.” She asked for more detail and he responded, “I serviced the unit.” She then asked if she was getting any more heat and the service tech responded “I dunno.”
She told the tech she wasn’t sure if she could pay $125 for what she had received and asked for a call from the owner. The owner never called so she paid exactly what she had received; nothing.
What practices do you have in place to assure this isn’t repeated by your service techs with customers today?
Customer Service Upgrades Now
To learn about advancements in customer service, I called several forward-thinking contractors. These folks listened to their customers and added features to their service and maintenance calls that would delight any customer. Here are a couple of my favorites…
Tools to enhance communication – In addition to tech communication skills training, up-to-date office staff is reinforcing the professionalism of technicians by text messaging customers to assure on-time arrivals. These text messages also include a picture of the technician, a brief resume highlighting his or her accomplishments, and a link to their biography on the company webpage. Some include an invitation to post a comment about the tech on the company website or in social media outlets.
Customer education tools – Several companies are equipping technicians with a series of illustrations depicting common HVAC and duct system defects and the necessary solutions. Techs are trained to educate their customers, invite questions, and provide accurate answers. Customers are invited to inspect the cause of problems and techs then can show and tell how the needed repairs will be completed. More advanced flat rate pricing books are including such educational tools for field use.
Beyond the box – Interestingly, many maintenance agreements are still limited to the box or the equipment. The distribution portion of the system is added to the maintenance agreement by including static pressure and temperature measuring with maintenance agreement information. These measurement results are used to make the customer aware of invisible defects costing them excess utility expense and loss of comfort.
Measured performance – The best contractors add airflow measurement to temperature measurement and are calculating the delivered Btu of the system as a part of some service agreements. This service is added when other test data indicates very low system performance and reveals opportunities for substantial energy savings and increased comfort.
Checklists are dead
The days of completing endless checklists that only insinuate equipment is functioning are gone. Consumers have become much smarter than that and deserve more. To keep customers or to enlist them to your contemporary methods of delivering excellent and service requires new and creative tools and actions by your office and technical professionals.
Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute -- an HVAC-based training company and membership organization. If you're an HVAC contractor or technician interested in a free procedure showing how to include the ducts in your maintenance agreements, contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800-633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at nationalcomfortinstitute.com for free information, articles, and downloads.