Back to Basics for Residential Companies
Answer the Call, Regardless of the Hour or Day
Residential HVAC companies have been striving to become unforgettable in their markets for many decades for one very obvious and important reason: it creates referral and repeat business. While each company seems to have a different method of determining it’s cost per lead, and each company’s number is a little different, there is one thing that we can all agree on: Leads that come your way by referral and repeat business are the cheapest qualified leads you will ever receive, and, most would argue, are also the highest quality leads you will ever be able to acquire.
So, what makes a residential HVAC company unforgettable?
Evolve or Die
Surprisingly, in the face of everything we have been told in recent years, the answer hasn’t changed one bit over the entire history of our beloved industry, and it’s a simple answer: adding value.
We have all heard the cliché “evolve or die” thousands of times, and it’s absolutely true. However, evolving in and of itself, or evolving just for the sake of evolving, is not enough. There are certain fundamentals in our industry that cannot be forgotten or abandoned regardless of how much traffic your website drives, how highly your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts have helped your search engine rank, or how robust a social media presence your company has. These are the same fundamentals that make our industry great by providing us with the luxury of being in as close to a recession-proof business as is possible in the trades. I can sum up these fundamentals in two words: added value.
The component of availability within added value is the most important component of added value for any residential HVAC contractor. I am amazed at how many blogs and message boards I still see today discussing whether or not a residential HVAC provider should be open/available on Saturdays or after hours. I am shocked that this is still a topic of conversation. I have had the opportunity to serve as a top-level executive and to consult for some of the largest, most successful residential HVAC contractors in North America, and have also had the privilege to network with many others at trade shows, dealer meetings, and on incentive trips. There are two common threads that can be found in each and every one of these organizations with 100 percent consistency: the fact that they spend a considerable amount of money on marketing, and, more importantly, they position themselves to be able to capitalize on the results of that marketing, which is to say they are available in some way, shape, or form to their customers 24/7.
What good is a high click-through ratio on your pay-per-click advertising or a smart billboard that catches everyone’s eye if you’re not on the other end of the telephone when it rings or if your website isn’t set up to process online inquiries in real time?
Defining Business Hours
When are prospective residential customers most likely to contact your HVAC contracting business? When their system has malfunctioned or is underperforming.
When are they in the position to know their system is not functioning properly? When they are home. When are they home? When they are not at work. Accordingly, our “business hours” during prime heating and cooling seasons can end up being almost the exact opposite of normal business hours.
What are you doing to capitalize on these after-hours calls? You can be almost sure the vast majority of your competition is not playing well in this space, which spells opportunity for you. Would you consider turning your website off at 5 p.m. when your office staff leaves for the day? Do you make sure your radio and TV ads don’t ever run on weekends? Do you deactivate your Facebook and Twitter accounts on Memorial Day, Labor Day, or the 4th of July? Do you have someone pull down your billboards on Christmas? Of course not. However, if you are not in the position to capture the leads that come your way as a result of these campaigns, you might as well be doing all of those things.
It goes without saying that the smaller a residential HVAC company is, the harder it is to provide true 24/7 physical service, and the more employees you have to share the responsibility, the easier it becomes to provide around-the-clock service. But that is not an excuse to turn the lights off at 5 p.m. during the week, leave them off all weekend, and allow your customers to fend for themselves. After all, by the time the customer has called you, you have already incurred the expense to generate that lead. The only question remaining is whether or not you will realize a return on your investment or if you are paying to drive leads to your competitors.
Just Do It
Here are a couple of tips for residential HVAC companies, big and small.
If you are a larger residential HVAC contractor with the resources to have true 24/7 availability, do it, and make sure you highlight that capability in all of your advertising as part of your branding. Staff your office over extended hours and on weekends whenever you can. There is simply no substitute for your own employees fielding phone calls from your customers. If you are having a hard time justifying this increase in your expenses, have your staff spend this time doubling as both an inbound call-center representative as well as an outbound marketer. Are all of the customers in your database aware of all of the services you offer? What about your specials? Do all of your customers always remember (or ever remember) when it’s time to schedule their yearly preventive maintenance? These all present golden opportunities for you to expand your office hours, stay in better touch with your customer database, and provide employees with ways to earn additional income.
If you’re a smaller residential HVAC contractor and are simply not able to offer true 24/7 availability, consider at least making sure that you are able to capture your customers’ contact information and learn how they are trying to spend their money with you by using a quality 24-hour answering service. Voicemail is no longer an acceptable form of communication by most consumers’ standards, and having no way at all to leave a message is simply unacceptable. Also, make sure that you have someone in your organization able to respond to emergency messages that your answering service takes for you. Not only will this help you get a much clearer idea of your lost opportunities, but it will put you in the position to capitalize on more business as soon as you are ready, which will lead to your ability to offer 24/7 service at some point in the future.
No matter what size you are, make sure that you have a pop-up, click-to-chat feature installed on your website. Online inquiry forms, or request-service options, are not enough, as it requires much more effort on the part of your prospective customers to fill these forms out. How many times have you left a website because you didn’t feel like taking the time to fill out an online form? Your customers are the same way.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of this further, please feel free to contact me. I can show you how to use existing staff to expand your availability, or I can help you find the right answering service or click-to-chat provider. Don’t hesitate to call as my advice to readers of the ACHR NEWS is always free.
Publication date: 7/21/2014