When Price Shoppers Call

Sept. 1, 2008
Customers have a license to misbehave. I tell my HVAC contractor clients that a customers job is to do whats best for them.

Customers have a license to misbehave. I tell my HVAC contractor clients that a customer’s job is to do what’s best for them. Customers care little about whether their behavior upsets a contractor’s phone rep. A customer’s bad attitude and sometimes unruly behavior shouts, “It’s all about me!”

This happens when a customer needs a contractor to fix a broken air conditioner and calls numerous HVAC companies seeking the lowest quote. What matters most to the customer is getting the lowest price. The customer isn’t interested in a business relationship. He or she is seeking a commoditized service, performed at the least expensive rate. During the customer’s quest for a cheap price, the feelings of the responding phone reps at HVAC companies are of no consequence.

“How much do you charge to fix an air conditioner?” asks the customer. If the phone rep begins to qualify symptomatic details or asks when the air conditioner stopped functioning, the customer may abruptly attempt to steer the phone rep back to the “just tell me how much you charge” track.

Anyone in the HVAC business understands that quoting exact prices over the phone is a precarious practice, because in the absence of vital details and visual information, there’s a good chance a price quote will be incorrect. But many customers still want a price. If the caller doesn’t receive a quote, they feel justified in calling another contractor until they get what they want. The customer ends any hope of a business relationship and slams the door, or shall we say, hangs up the phone. Their fixation on price greatly reduces any chance of opening the door again.

From Price to Value
The strategy I recommend to HVAC contractors in handling price-shoppers includes shifting the conversation from price to value.

When a customer asks, “How much do you charge to fix an air-conditioner?” the HVAC professional’s response should be, “That’s a great question and we can give you a quote after we get visual confirmation about what is wrong. Can I schedule an appointment for you today? Our trucks are fully stocked, our technicians are all certified, and our work is guaranteed. May I please have your name and street address?”

When a phone rep focuses on value rather than price in a well-paced, articulate, and friendly manner a new dialogue begins. This new dialogue challenges a customer’s mindset about whether they should entrust their home and family’s safekeeping to the cheapest guy in town. It’s subtle and effective, and in many cases customers will pause and consider a valuebased proposition. World-class contractors view all customer inquiries as opportunities which require a courteous and constructive response.

The icing on the cake is when a skilled phone rep invites a customer to call back after searching for the cheapest guy in town. This invitation is known as “keeping the door open,” and it’s very effective. Success with the door-open strategy lies in the reality that a customer’s search for the cheapest guy in town will often fail. This puts the customer in a difficult and sometimes embarrassing situation, because the air conditioner still needs to be fixed. Who will the customer call now? The customer will call the HVAC contractor who extended the nicest invitation and a persuasive, value-based explanation.

It’s the role of managers and company owners to ensure that their staff is well-trained to deliver a value-based service message which invites customers to call back.

Steve Coscia, president of Coscia Communications, is a best-selling author, columnist, 20-year service practitioner, and telephone skills specialist. He is the author of the HVAC Customer Service Handbook. He can be reached online at www.HVACcustomerservice.com, by phone at 610/853-9836 or email [email protected].