Racing the Clock: Contractors and the Appointment Window
Communication Key to Being on Time, Building Trust
Customers hate to wait. Or, as Randy Kelley, president of On Time Experts in Dallas, puts it, “Customers do not want to wait around all day for the a/c guy to show up.”
That’s why it’s critical for HVAC contractors to consistently meet the appointment windows they have set. But, being punctual is about more than just minimizing your customers’ wait times. Smart contractors recognize they are building trust with clients when their technicians arrive within the promised window. And some are even differentiating themselves by offering on-time guarantees.
Everybody knows that it’s rude to be late to an appointment. But, for HVAC contractors, the psychology behind being punctual is about much more than simple politeness.
According to Chris Leach, owner/HVAC consultant of L&H Dynamic, “The greatest criticism of service companies today is that they are unreliable.”
So, how do you stand out from the crowd? By reliably showing up on time.
“Punctual technicians are establishing trust with the customer and begin to build a relationship that they can be counted upon even before they get to the front door,” Leach explained.
In contrast, when a tech arrives late, the customer becomes more skeptical, Leach said. “The technician is now starting off the call ‘in the doghouse,’ and will have to work especially hard to turn the situation around,” he said.
When you start out on time, you set the tone for an entirely different call and subsequent relationship. “If you can arrive on time and start the appointment on a good note, then you have already begun to build value and trust with your customer,” said Whitney St. John, office manager at CJS Heating & Air, Centerville, Ohio.
And that trust results from “keeping a promise to your customers” by arriving within the appointment window, she noted.
Frank Horvath, vice president of One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning and Benjamin Franklin Plumbing of Ocean County, Toms River, New Jersey, also stressed that being on time builds trust with clients.
“It is extremely important that we respect our client’s time and honor our commitments to them,” he said. “Both our One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning and Benjamin Franklin Plumbing brands’ USPs [unique selling points] are to be punctual, neat, and respectful of our client’s time and property.”
Scheduling Appointment Windows
To make it possible for techs to arrive on time, a company has to start out by scheduling appropriate appointment windows. While typical windows across the HVAC industry range from two to four hours, some contractors offer lengthier window ranges depending on the type of call.
“Demand service calls are given a two- to four-hour time window depending on the time of year,” said Leach. “Maintenance calls generally get four-hour windows.”
According to St. John, CJS always gives at least a two-hour window, with the goal of “providing the customer with great service and allowing the tech enough time to provide thorough customer service.”
She continued, “We try and allow a small window that isn’t inconvenient to our customers and still allows us to provide great service.”
It all boils down to good scheduling, St. John said.
“We make sure to schedule specific types of calls for the right amount of time. For example, you wouldn’t want to schedule a coil replacement or repair, which normally takes at least four to six hours, for only two hours — then, the rest of your day will be behind,” she said, adding, “You may even want to schedule it for an extra hour because it’s better to tell the customer you’re available earlier rather than saying you are late and having to inconvenience them.”
At One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning of Ocean County, Horvath said customers have five appointment window options, two of which include on-time guarantees.
“The express appointment is a one-hour window with an on-time guarantee and has the highest evaluation fee, or trip charge,” he said. “Reserved appointments offer a three- or four-hour appointment window and offer an on-time guarantee.”
In addition, the company offers six-hour windows for after-hours emergency calls and standby appointments with no guaranteed time frame. Free estimates are provided in a one-hour window.
Dispatching and Communication
While setting up the right appointment windows is the first step to achieving on-time arrival, it must be followed by good dispatching practices. Today’s dispatcher is aided by advanced software and GPS systems, but the most important tool in their toolbox is still simple communication.
“Providing consistent appointment windows is a function of good dispatching,” Leach said. “The dispatcher and CCRs [call center representatives] in any HVAC company must work together to manage expectations of customers and to have regular communication touch points with the technicians in the field.”
Leach explained that this allows dispatchers to fully understand where techs are on the existing calls and, in turn, “better manage expectations on new calls.”
At his company, Horvath said: “It is the responsibility of the dispatcher and manager to administer the appointment windows and assure on-time service as much as possible. We dispatch one call at a time to our techs, as I want them to provide 100 percent of their attention to the client in front of them and the home they are at.”
He continued: “The only responsibilities that the tech has regarding being on time is to properly communicate with the dispatcher and to travel directly to a client’s home once dispatched. For example, if a tech needs to spend a couple of hours doing additional work for a client, they must call the dispatcher and let him or her know as soon as they recognize that to be the case.”
St. John reiterated the need for good communication between the field and the office.
“It is all about great communication between the technicians and our office staff and passing that communication along to our customers,” she said. “We are always keeping an eye on our schedule to make sure everything is running smoothly and that everyone is on time. If a tech is running just a little bit behind, we call the customer and keep them in the loop every step of the way. We also always call when we’re on the way so the customer doesn’t have to waste his or her time waiting on us to arrive.”
Leach specified that these best practices for communication with the customer are possible when technicians are trained to inform the dispatcher 30 minutes before they are finished with the existing call. And, he noted, on-the-way courtesy calls can be automated.
“Dispatch software and apps today can do this automatically by sending the customer a text or email, letting them know a technician is on the way,” Leach said.
Recognizing the importance of meeting appointment windows, some contractors are taking it a step further and offering on-time guarantees to their customers.
With a company name like “On Time Experts,” you can bet that Kelley is offering an on-time guarantee. “If we do not show up within the time we tell you, the service call and repair is free. Or, if we are late for a maintenance, it’s free,” he said. “Most contractors are scared to offer this type of guarantee because they think they will be giving away free service all of the time.”
But, according to Kelly, “It just takes focus. Focus on the calls each and every day and make sure you’re scheduling properly.”
He acknowledged that one of his techs might be late to a call once or twice a month, and explained how this situation is handled.
“If we are going to be late, we call the client and let them know. We also inform them the service is going to be free. We make a big deal out of it,” Kelley said. “When the technician shows up, he knows it’s free. He tells them the service is going to be free. At the end of the call, he makes a big deal out of the amount the client didn’t have to pay because we were late.”
Horvath is another contractor who offers on-time guarantees. As he pointed out, One Hour’s well-known tagline is “Always on time or you don’t pay a dime.”
Referring to the company’s appointment window options, he explained, “If we are late for an express or reserved appointment, there is no charge for the evaluation fee or the repair of the current failure.”
Horvath said the most important things to do are: first, respect your client’s time; second, communicate early and often with your clients; and third, make good on your guarantee if you are late.
“You would be surprised how much good will is garnered when you pay up on your on-time promise if you are, in fact, late,” he said.
Not everyone wants to make this type of guarantee, though. St. John said that CJS does not currently offer any guarantee that its technicians will arrive on time.
“Should we? We don’t think it’s necessary. We always do our best to have our techs arrive during the scheduled window,” she said. “We have several guarantees, one of them being [our] 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, which means if they aren’t completely satisfied, then they don’t pay for anything. So, if they were to be unhappy in regards to being late, they wouldn’t have to pay until they were happy and satisfied.”
Overall, Leach said, on-time guarantees can be very appealing to customers. “It is a point of differentiation in the marketplace and is attractive to customers — the caveat being the contractor must have the systems and processes in place to consistently execute on such a guarantee,” he said.
Publication date: 9/1/2014