Thanks to all of the contractors who have sent questions to me. In this issue, I’m going to address one concern that came up in email after email – how to deliver superior service in a profitable way. It’s an issue that we should all be thinking about, and to their credit, the most progressive mechanical contractors focus on it every single day. But times change, attitudes shift, your customers think about you differently – a lot of times, you can’t figure out why. So here are some thoughts around the most popular question I received so far:
Q: Our customers aren’t nearly as happy with my company as they used to be. Ten or fifteen years ago, they thought we were great and they always called us when they needed something. Now, the feedback I receive isn’t as good. I rarely get rated “exceeds expectations” on my surveys, my renewals are down and I believe my sales have taken a hit as a result. It seems like everyone wants more, but they want to pay less. What gives?
A: You can pretty much pinpoint one of two scenarios. Either your service has totally taken a nosedive, or more likely, it’s that what used to be good enough for your customers is no longer good enough.
Times change. People’s tastes, preferences, likes, dislikes – they all change. In turn, companies need to adapt to the fact that their customer base is changing. The thinking goes like this, “If I can get a movie from Netflix in one day, why do I have to wait 4 days for a furnace motor?”
Why your customers think, act and approach you differently than they used to and what you need to do to overcome it.
Access to Information: Homeowners can quickly find out nearly as much about an HVAC system unit as their contractor. The Internet has made it easy for anyone to find intricate details about anything, even areas that are highly specialized. WebMD.com is a perfect example, where people can research their own medical conditions. Now, people are much better informed and when they go to the doctor, they’ve done their homework.
In the HVAC industry, your customers are researching your website, your competitors’ websites, the manufacturers’ websites, etc. For example, “air conditioner” and “air conditioning” were searched 10 million times combined each month in the summer of 2009. At your customers’ fingertips is all the information they need to make an informed decision. It’s the latest version of “I have to get 3 quotes before I choose” scenario. The bottom line is that you need to embrace this new reality. Accept that your customers will have access to more information, and focus on improving the website content that you deliver. Make it relevant and engaging. If customers view your communications as a) the easiest to understand, b) the most appealing to read and c) the most expert, you are much more likely to attract or retain them to close the deal.
Secondly, you also need to make sure that your web content and brand message are aligned with the actual service experience of the customer. If it’s not, there’s a disconnect and perhaps disappointment.
Higher Expectations – Customers generally have higher expectations than they used to. They aren’t as naturally loyal, and they expect superior service every step of the way. This is driven in part because there is a new sense of what is possible. They have greater access to both technological and cost-saving information. And they have more choices. Add to that the current economic situation. Every dollar is precious and people are making darn sure that they are getting every penny’s worth from their investment.
The real challenge here is to figure out how you can meet and exceed your customers’ expectations on a consistent basis. Untangle yourself from the day-to-day, take some time to gather information. To meet and exceed higher expectations, you need to honestly ask yourself:
• Do I really know what my customers want and expect?
• Are we the best at delivering that to them?
I recently had a client who made the commitment to ask himself these questions honestly. He went one step further. He surveyed his customers for their input. One of the things he found out was that his appointment windows were so broad and his on-time percentage so weak that he was creating disappointed customers in droves. He also discovered that his off-hours answering service was so unprofessional that they were seriously damaging his reputation and brand equity. Then he mystery shopped his own service department. This was a very revealing experience for him, and is a perfect example of what can be uncovered in the process.
So yes, things have changed. Your customers aren’t the same people with the same expectations that they had 20 years ago. But neither are you, and there’s big opportunity for you here. While customer expectations are a lot higher, the majority of companies haven’t yet figured out how to meet and exceed them. I would recommend becoming familiar with the Net Promoter Score (NPS), a relatively new methodology of measuring customer satisfaction and loyalty. The NPS gauges how likely your customer would recommend you to a friend or colleague. A high NPS means you have a lot of “promoters” who think highly of you, while a low NPS means you have more “detractors”. For more on the NPS, visit www.netpromoter.com.
In the next article, I’ll answer a few questions about energy audits and taking advantage of this great opportunity. I’ll discuss the survey methods you can use to uncover and confirm your customers’ needs and wants. I’ll also discuss the most powerful question you can ask your customers. Until then, focus on developing a high Net Promoter Score.
Blaine Fox, Vice President of Warm Thoughts Communications, is a recognized expert on the residential mechanical services industry. He is currently working with some of the nation’s leading HVAC contractors to improve their marketing, fine-tune their operations and grow bottom-line profits. Previously, Blaine was general manager of ServiceMark, a $32 million HVAC contractor with more than 25,000 service agreement customers. Blaine oversaw 160 field employees, 30 install crews, 12 sales people and a call center that handled 140,000 calls per year. Blaine is a sought-after speaker, and presented at Comfortech 2009. He is also a frequent contributor to HVAC industry trade publications. He can be reached at [email protected]