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Some contractors may be reluctant to answer yes to both questions, but the stark reality is that the Internet can no longer be ignored as a means of conducting business. Contractors are using Web sites to advertise their business and attract new employees. They are using common trade Web sites to schedule service and maintenance calls. They are also using the Internet to conduct business-to-business (B2B) transactions with manufacturers, suppliers, subcontractors, and general contractors.
The News asked its contractor consultant panel to respond to the following questions regarding their Internet usage:
- Does your company use the Internet to market your products and/or services?
- Do you use a service that connects customers with your company and schedules service calls?
- Do you conduct B2B over the Internet?
- How important is the Internet to you?
How do you use the net?Scott Getzschman said his company relies on its Web site (www.getz schman.com) for a number of reasons.
“We advertise monthly specials on our web page and include coupons for service specials,” he said. “We advertise our company’s history and add any breaking news. We also have links to the equipment manufacturers we sell, and to the Better Business Bureau.”
Roger Grochmal said that “We’re not sure how to harness it [Internet] in a way that can benefit our customers and our business.
We have chosen to use it strictly as an information and feedback vehicle for our customers.
“We want to broaden their knowledge of all the things we can possibly do for them,” he added. “We also look for feedback as to how we are doing.”
Jeff Somers said his company uses its website extensively for contact with customers, employee prospects, and B2B commerce.
“We use the Internet for marketing, recruiting, and purchasing materials from online suppliers such as Grainger,” he said. “Our Web site is primarily used for marketing and providing general information about the company.
“We have a careers page and information on the products we offer. In addition, we use hvacjobs.com for targeted recruiting.”
Aaron York has had mixed reviews about his company’s Internet presence.
“We have a presence with various pages which are linked to Rheem, Honeywell, Yellow Pages, etc.,” he said.
“To date there has been little success, although we have had some. We are continuing to expand our presence.”
Mary Marble said her company’s Web site (www.jamarble.com) may undergo some changes, but right now she is not sure what direction it will take.
“We do not actively market our business from this site,” she said. “We are sure that we will, but we are still in the thinking stage. It would be great for our customers to schedule service calls over the Internet and I am looking forward to it.”
Scheduling serviceJo Navaretta said her affiliation with national franchiser AireServ has helped her company’s position on the Internet and the company’s ability to contact web-surfing customers.
“Through our [affiliation] we have signed on with ourhouse.com in order to pull in business from the Internet,” she said. “They do not schedule service calls, but instead refer calls to us via e-mail.
“We are also in the process of investigating other vehicles such as [ourhouse.com] to become affiliated with. In addition, we have a Web site linked to AireServ corporate and we are listed with US West in the Internet Yellow Pages.”
“Our customers communicate with us via the Internet and some insist on e-mail notification of the status of service calls,” commented Jeff Somers. “We are seeing more specifications for service contracts that require us to transport files and provide status reports via the Internet.
“We are not taking service calls via the Internet yet, but plans are to offer clients access to their specific files, including service history, financial data, and placing of service calls.”
A couple of the panel members said they feel that using the Internet to schedule service calls and communications with customers takes away from the personal contact that is so important between contractor and customer.
“We do not use the Internet to schedule service calls yet,” said Roger Grochmal. “To us, the true value of the customer contact is in being able to establish a relationship based on personal service, which makes the service call setup and schedule an interactive process if it is going to work for both parties.”
Aaron York prefers in-house scheduling, too. “All scheduling is done in our office. Using outside customer finders has not proven successful for us.”
Business-to-businessMary Marble puts a lot of emphasis on conducting B2B over the Internet. She cited a current project her company is involved in.
“We have a GSA project in downtown Detroit which has a project-specific Web site set up. This type of communication was a requirement of the project. The Web site allows everyone on the team — owner, mechanical, engineer, etc. — to communicate over the Internet.
“This site allows everyone with access to send and receive communications, view construction drawings and specifications, and anything else that would normally be done in person, over the phone, or by fax,” she said.
“Hopefully the GSA will find that this process will reduce costs and increase efficiency to bring the projects in on time and within budget. So far, so good — it has been a very useful tool for us on this project.”
Jeff Somers stressed the importance of keeping all of his company’s employees linked to their customers.
“Every person with a PC has access to the Internet and we use it to locate suppliers, weather reports for planning, information on new customers, and finding directions for technicians and faxing them back to their trucks,” he said. “We also use it to send plans and drawings to clients and suppliers.”
Roger Grochmal sang the praises of B2B online.
“We are working with one distributor completely online,” he said. “We can look at pricing, order status, and account activity and history. Most importantly, we can look down the supply channel into the factory and use this information to better manage our inventory. We also do some warranty claims processing over the Internet.”
Jo Navaretta says the Internet is one of two ways her company communicates with the field.
“We use the Internet to communicate with our AireServ field representatives,” she said. “It is also used in dealing with some of our suppliers, but most of our business is still done using the fax machines.”
Importance of the Internet“We believe the Internet is a very powerful tool when used properly,” said Jeff Somers. “I can only relate its importance to fax machines, [when we asked] ‘How did we ever get along without them?’
“The same applies to the Internet. As we drive the business towards eCommerce, today’s hvacr contractor needs the Internet to stay informed and keep everyone, from employees to customers, informed quickly and conveniently.”
Aaron York is still somewhat skeptical.
“The Internet is not very important to me,” he said. “But it will likely improve in time.”
Scott Getzschman holds an opposing viewpoint. “We get quite a few hits per day [on our Web site], so we know people visit our site. It is a true asset to our company.”
“We are dabbling in a number of areas to improve our efficiency and our customer service using Internet tools,” said Roger Grochmal. “We intend to move faster on the things that yield the best results as time goes on.”