Our identities are shaped by life experiences. We spring from our parents, survive our youth, and pass through awkward teenage years learning from our mistakes. We fail, and we succeed. If we’re lucky we find a place where we know who we are and develop the character that reflects credibility, trustworthiness and confidence.
Our companies pass through similar events that shape who we are and what we’re perceived to be. The question is; what’s the difference between your view of your identity and who your customers perceive you to be?
One thing is certain, nearly every interaction we have with a customer further develops their impressions of us. These interactions, whether good or bad, combine over the years to make up our identity. If we’re not paying attention, years may pass without reflecting on we are or what we’re becoming. This isn’t good.
What Forms a Company Identity?
Let’s look at a typical customer and consider the interactions that affect how our customers view us.
Say a customer has a 25 year-old condensing unit, and recently saw a typical energy savings ad that got the couple talking about replacing their air conditioner. The wife begins researching equipment replacement on a manufacturer’s web site. Then she Goggles air conditioning and enters her zip code.
Her first exposure to your company is your website. Does she immediately have any connection to your company? Does the name ring a bell? Is the logo familiar? Does your company marketing present a consistent message that she recognizes, is there a spark or idea that keeps her focused on your company, or does she simply click the back button to hunt for someone else?
If you would have had a service agreement with this customer, a relationship could have been formed. Odds are that you would have been the first call she made. However, that all depends on how she perceives your company from past experiences. How did the last service call go? As she considers calling your company, she may quickly consider:
• “That service techs smelled like an old ash tray.”
• “Last time they were here their truck left an oil puddle in my driveway.”
• “Why had they never before recommended that we replace our air conditioner? Maybe they don’t do that type of work?”
• “Their gal on the phone is so abrupt with me, she’s almost demanding. I feel like I’m bothering her when I call.”
• “I’ve never felt I received full value from their service call anyway.”
Well, you’re now dead. 15 seconds of considering your mistakes and she’s off to your competitor. Not fair you say? Well based on these five impressions she received from your company, your identity sent her in the other direction. Could there have been justifications you could have provided to explain each of her impressions? Sure, but the opportunity has past and you’ve lost a customer.
Contrast the effect of these impressions with what each could have been:
• Service technicians: clean, sharp and professional
Trucks: well maintained, appropriately presenting a clear image of your company and the services you provide
• Marketing: clearly states your services
• Office staff: courteous, caring and effective communicators
• Value: the recurring theme in your marketing and conversations.
What Makes Your Company Unique?
Face it, we all sell air conditioners. Twenty years ago, it was the brand of equipment that we offered that made us unique. Then, wearing booties was the key distinguishing factor. Next, it was service anytime day or night. Then the distinguishing factor swayed in the direction of indoor air quality (IAQ).
Should you choose to adapt your company’s identity to match the flavor of the month, it’s doubtful if you have much of an identity at all. These companies are like the kid in high school who changed his hair cut every other month or who’s clothes fashions followed the latest craze and who constantly looked a little uncomfortable with themselves and a often out of place.
Identity Building Blocks
A solid company identity is built through consistency over time. Identity building blocks include a pleasant experience with every customer. These include far more than marketing and often hinge on a culture that permeates your entire company and is presented through a repetitive consistent thread that makes the fabric of your company.
First of all the attitude each employee carries unmistakably reveals their belief of who the customer is and how they should be cared for. No owner or manager can order an employee into good behavior. It’s the culture of the company that builds a society of real caring and empowered individuals to resolve issues and satisfy those we serve. Culture is not built in one training session.
Does your marketing send a consistent message from one season to another? Is it recognizable at a glace by its consistent colors and style? Are the fonts, artwork, and format familiar? Does the piece speak your company’s name and verify your image at first glance?
The appearance of the office, the shop, trucks, paperwork and most of all employees makes all the difference in the world. We judge by first impressions because at the moment that’s all we have to go on. We need to judge, especially in a professional setting where we are engaging someone to perform valuable services.
Many of us think that because our industry and services are technical in nature that this one should come first. Could it be true that technical ability is a minimal requirement? If this component isn’t there the company won’t last long anyway, so basic technical ability is a given. On the other hand, excellence in technical ability beyond the current level of the industry can go far to elevate your company and strengthen your culture.
Of course there are many other building blocks. The point is to spend some time considering your company’s identity and focus on where you are today and how you would like to be viewed by your customers, your community and your employees.
Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute, a training company specializing in measuring, rating, improving and verifying HVAC system performance. If you're an HVAC contractor or technician interested in building a Performance Based Culture in your company, contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800-633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at nationalcomfortinstitute.com for free information, technical articles and downloads.