Monday, September 28, 2009

Three Ideas

Lynn and I just returned home from Nashville, TN and the annual Comfortech seminars and product show. Comfortech is an excellent opportunity for contractors in the HVAC field to learn and see what’s happening in the industry. There were many new and innovative products and services at the show this year. Some of these included an attic insulation program put together by Owens-Corning, a heat pump water heater from Rheem/Ruud, several customer contact companies, and a new line of heavy duty tool bags, to name a few. The seminars varied from okay to excellent with three topics that stood out in my mind.
The first topic that really hit me was social networking via the internet on sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn. The world of marketing may be quickly changing with customers looking for products and services from friends and acquaintances though these types of sites. The advantage to the contractor is the cost is almost completely in time, not dollars. Most of the sites are free or just a few dollars to have the access you will need. To make the most of this new network, a contractor will need to spend several hours a week to keep their “walls” and other information up to date. Many of us over 40 (I’m well over 40), will have a more difficult time setting up and keeping up with our sites. We are not familiar with this new medium of communication. If you have children in their teens or twenties, they are probably active already in this arena. Will our “typical” customer use this newer form of communication? Well, one of the fastest growing segments of social internet networking are the over 40 crowd. I would suggest you take a strong look at this change in customer habits.
The second topic which received a lot of attention was ongoing connections to customers by establishing a broader base of maintenance agreements. In the Detroit area, where our business was located, maintenance agreements were not a strong service offered by HVAC or plumbing contractors. In the last decade, that has changed. The push by utilities to offer breakdown insurance and maintenance on appliances, furnaces, air conditioners, and hot water heaters has caused the sleepy contractor community to wake up. With the heating season upon us, it is time for every contractor to set a goal to increase their number of agreements, get renewals, and provide the service the customer is expecting. It is time to closely look at renewal rate, monthly billing, 100% follow through on providing the service checks, and follow up customer satisfaction systems.
The third topic that really hit a nerve for me was branding. I’m not totally sold on the idea of having an in house line of equipment, but I am totally sold on the idea that each contractor must have a unique brand that differentiates their business from the others in the market. There are hundreds of white vans with some lettering on the side traveling through neighborhoods daily. Most do nothing to add to a potential customer’s knowledge, or awareness of that contractor’s business. Most contractors have uniforms which look like every other company’s uniforms, most companies use booties, carpets, and have the company name on the uniform. Many companies have customer service people who are reasonably pleasant and helpful. So what are you doing to leave a unique impression on each customer you touch or instill top of mind awareness in a potential customer? Every owner and manager needs to spend more time in developing these strategies and customer focus for their company and less time with vendor salesmen, the minor stuff others can handle or solitaire on the computer.
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