Fast Money at the Quick Lube

We all make mistakes as we evolve our businesses. Each of us can probably tell a few exciting stories about failures we’ve experienced, and hopefully, enough time has passed so we can finally chuckle about them. I was on the receiving end of a sales experience recently where I was doing the chuckling and the service provider didn’t have a clue how quickly he was exterminating any chance of a lasting business relationship.

It was a quick lube store, one of those places where you drive you car into one end of the building and drive out a few minutes later with your oil changed. I needed to get my oil changed and it had been bugging me for a few weeks. No one was in line, so I saw the chance to get in and out quick. "Sure it would cost a little more, but it would be worth it," I told myself as I whipped my GMC Yukon into the grease monkey hut.

See if you can find any parallels between the automobile service industry and the HVAC service profession.

Oil Change and More
I was greeted by a supervisor standing behind a computer screen that couldn’t get the spelling of my name right. He talked just a little too loud, assuring me of his qualifications by bragging about how much he knew. His grammar was poor and his manner was very condescending. He then quizzed me with a survey containing about 10 automobile technical words that I had no clue what they meant, then criticized me for being uninformed. "It seems to me if you can afford to spend $50,000 on a car that you’d at least take the time to become familiar with the owner’s manual" he said with a big smile on his face.

He then flashed me his brightly colored flat rate pricing sheet. I reached for it, and he wouldn’t let me hold it to read it. He buzzed through three pricing options, none of which agreed with the $19.95 offer hanging off the front of his store. "Oh, this beast doesn’t qualify for that service" he said with an excessive grin and went right on hoping I wouldn’t bring that up again. Before I knew it he was pointing to his pricing card describing how delighted I would be with a $69.95 oil change.

By this time, he had two guys under my hood and one guy at my window showing me his tire pressure gauge as evidence that they had found a defect. My oil was drained out of my car and I couldn’t leave if I wanted to. When I told him I just wanted the oil changed with regular oil, he frowned and told the guys under the hood to hold off on checking my window washer fluid. When I pointed to it on his flat rate card, he then instructed them to proceed.

With the cheery tone in his voice now gone, I felt like a hostage situation was materializing. His techs approached my window no fewer than five times shoving evidence in my face of anti freeze that was "looking old" and brake fluid on the end of the dip stick that "appeared worn out." Then there was a filter showing evidence of "four wheeling under dry conditions." Darned, someone must have been joyriding in my new car. With each apparent defect I asked how much before I refused the add-on sale. By the time they were done, they had offered me over $500 in repairs, on a car with just over 10,000 miles on it. I was even offered new $40 wiper blades and the current ones hadn’t seen three months of winter yet.

I paid the invoice, smiled and waived to the crew as I pulled out. They all smiled and waived goodbye without a clue that they would never see my face or a dollar from me ever again.

I chuckled as I thought about the experience for the rest of the day as this article took shape in my mind. "How close to that do we come?" I wondered. Do HVAC contractors treat people that way? After a few calls, I’m sad to report there are those among us coming awful close. Can we talk?

What’s Wrong with Add-on Sales?
There is nothing wrong with offering additional products and services. It’s our job to educate our customers and make recommendations for repairs or system improvements when they are needed and appropriate. So what’s my problem? My problem is the way I was treated and the boiler plate approach to trying to sell anything we have the slightest chance that someone will let us put on their charge card.

People deserve to be educated and then be given a moment to think about their decision before they chose what to do.

Also nobody likes to be nickled and dimed to death. When we service or diagnose a system, our obligation is to gather all the facts, provide evidence and documentations and then prepare a solution in the form of a proposal. Next, we should take time to educate our customer in plain English, free of tecchy talk, and present a solution for a single total cost. If there are options, we should present those options as clearly. Offer a written proposal if the work is over $500, in most states a verbal agreement is adequate under $500.

The bottom line is to practice what we learned as little kids. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." There’s one other lesson to remember. Get a firm price on an oil change before you pop the hood on your truck.

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. You can contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800/633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at for free information, technical and sales articles and downloads.

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