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What Do Customers Want?

The Volkswagen Company recently launched an interesting marketing initiative to find out “what the people want.” It’s a brilliant campaign, extremely engaging and interactive. The idea raised the question, what do our customers really want in their heating and cooling systems? Let’s take a closer look.

As economic conditions change, in order for us to continue to succeed, it’s necessary to evolve our recommendations to our customers. When money’s tight, people continue to spend it, but they will be wiser in their decisions to be sure they get the best value possible. Now more than ever, it’s essential that we understand what the people want.

Back to Basics

With all the efficiency noise whirling about these days, never forget the primary reason our customers keep us in business…they want comfort. And they’re interested in getting real comfort at a reasonable price.

In the face of economic stimulus many successful contractors are surprisingly getting back to standard efficiency equipment such as 14 SEER cooling and 80 AFUE heating ratings, but are maintaining higher sales prices by offering high priced system renovation repairs.

This allows a contractor to deliver amazing system performance, but keep the lion’s share of the money for themselves, instead of forwarding a bulk of the project sales price to their equipment vendors.

Many basic system renovation upgrades cost the contractor little, but carry a high value sales price to their customers. Gross margins for this add-on, yet essential component of the system improvement, ranges from 60 to 80%. This assures a top performing system for the consumer and a significant net profit on the project for the contractor.

One idea that nearly everyone agrees on is that unless testing is performed as a part of the sales process, few consumers are willing to write a check for anything more than essential equipment replacements in these economic times.

What the People (customers) Want - The Short List
As we drill down to what system repairs are the most beneficial to consumers, we are surprised to find out how short the list really was. We are also amazed at how little work it took to bring a typical system (a system being the equipment and the distribution system) performing at less than 60% efficiency up to a system operating in the mid 90% range. Our contractors confirm that this is what customers are quite willing to pay for.

Few consumers are willing to completely replace their entire duct system these days, but are anxious to be sure they’re spending their money on repairs that will provide payback and long-term comfort.

We’ve broken down these repairs into four simple groups for you to consider as you meet with your customers to find out what the people want. Each repair is easily identifiable after air diagnostic testing. Most are very inexpensive for the contractor to provide, but deliver substantial value to the building owners.

Airflow Repairs
Improving system airflow is the key to improving system performance. Services as simple as increasing fan speed or selecting a high capacity fan when replacing equipment can cost little but deliver a huge improvement in installed system performance.

Basic duct renovation needs can be easily identified from an air diagnostic report. Simply review the report for total airflow and rooms that have too much or too little air to pinpoint exactly where your customer can best spend their money. Adding a new return duct or increasing supply duct size is a solution for nearly every system you touch.

These basic repairs are revealed by airflow testing taking less than an hour of a sales call.

Pressure Repairs
Static pressure testing, when compared to blood pressure, is a simple concept that helps you convince your customers of needed system repairs.

Filters with three times the ideal pressure drop must be addressed. Plugged indoor coils need to be addressed as well. Cleaning, replacing or repairing dirty, restrictive system components to reduce pressure drop is no longer an option.

Redesigning and improving duct systems yield the biggest dollars and provide customers with the loudest bang for their buck these days. Small duct changes yields big system performance improvements.

Temperature Repairs
When temperature profiling identifies excessive temperature losses, a little insulation goes a long way towards improving temperature loss through a supply or return duct system. Can any cooling system afford a seven-degree temperature loss through its duct system? That’s 1/3 of temperature drop achieved by the coil.

A simple repair such as adding an insulated base behind a thermostat can significantly improve comfort and system performance and solve a myriad of problems for the building occupants.

Certain buildings have rooms with sun exposures or occupancy that demand zoning systems. When people do decide to spend money in a down economy, they are anxious to solve long-standing problems they’re been living with.

Adjusting and Balancing
System adjusting and air balancing should be included in every job to prove to your customers you’ve delivered the needed BTU to each room. After airflow has been changed, nearly all refrigerant systems need a refrigerant adjustment.

Once airflow has been changed, it’s time to tweak the burner performance. Of course a renovated duct system needs the dampers set to assure the promised performance is calculated and delivered.

Address the Entire System
In conclusion, may I offer a word of caution? Be careful not to piecemeal this work. One common problem in a down economy is trying to do just one piece of a system renovation because you feel no one wants to part with their money.

The truth is unless you address then entire system and make each of the needed repairs, the system will never perform as it should. Also, your money is made by delivering the entire system renovation package for one substantial price. There is no money to be made by fixing one duct and replacing a filter. Offer and be paid for results.

Results are what customers want and what they are willing to pay for once they become aware of the benefits they receive and live with for many years to come after this little season of tight dollars passes.

Even in a tight economy the goal remains to keep your company healthy. Understand that the both the gross and net profit of a change out and duct renovation are substantially higher than a change out alone.

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 a sample air diagnostic report, contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800-633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at for free information, technical articles and downloads.

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