Learning to work with customers

August 9, 2000
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Whether it’s basic application training or honing your troubleshooting skills, no one will argue that the need for education is important. But how many contractors are aware of customer service training?

Many companies are realizing that employees need to know more than the technical aspects of heating and air conditioning. They must also learn to communicate better with customers.

One organization leading the way in customer service training is the ACT Group, Inc., headed by Steve Howard. Howard is the creator of No Pressure Selling®, a seminar that instructs technicians on how to successfully sell by connecting with consumers.

The seminar has proven successful. Founded in 1985, the ACT Group now presents over 300 No Pressure Selling seminars across the country each year, as well as a four-day boot camp in Phoenix, AZ.

Why bother?

“Consumers are tired of being manipulated,” Howard says. “It is important that the customer is in control.”

Howard also says that communication with clients directly affects business.

Seminar instructors are finding that there is a great deal of prejudging, both on the part of the homeowner and the contractor. Instructor Greg Woodman says many contractors find themselves in the same predicaments and make the same mistakes.

“Most of them are not making a lot of money,” Woodman says. “What we see most contractors do is only install low-end systems.”

Woodman also says that many contractors are just trying to make the sale. They are only offering the cheapest equipment and units to be cost competitive. Also, they are assuming that a homeowner will not pay for a more expensive unit, even if it is more cost effective in the long run.

Tom Roland, a manager with Butch Distributors, Inc. in Harahan, LA, has taken the seminar, and knows what Woodman is talking about.

“Techs are pre-selling homeowners on where they live and the type of home they are in,” Roland says. “They assume they can only buy a cheap model.”

Roland also says that more contractors need to let their clients speak about their needs and wants, but some contractors are not letting homeowners do this.

Larry Anderson, Sales for Specialty A/C in Benicia, CA, has also taken the seminar and has seen what Woodman and Roland have described. He has also learned from the seminar that many customers do not feel comfortable with their service technician.

“In general, consumers today get very confused if someone doesn’t help them,” Anderson says.

“It is our job to question their needs.”

Anderson believes that contractors need to feel comfortable enough to ask questions and let homeowners do the same.

How it works

Howard and Woodman take their students through role-playing. This allows them to become more comfortable with asking questions and presenting product information.

“If you can’t practice the skill, it won’t become a behavior,” Howard says.

The role-playing seems to work. Anderson and Roland say they find this to be the most effective part of the seminar because it gives them the opportunity to be put into the actual situation.

The seminar also presents four steps to better communication:

1. Show the customer why s/he should choose you over a competitor.

This could include introducing yourself and your employees. Also, share your credentials and give the customer a copy of your schooling and experience. You can even provide photos of your shop or facility.

2. Tell the customer what you are doing. When checking out the house, take the homeowners with you and ask if they notice any specific problems. Explain exactly what you will be installing and how it is done. This will help the homeowners feel that they are part of the process.

3. Demonstrate the available choices. After the homeowner has described exactly what he or she is looking for, don’t just suggest one system. Present the customer with every option that will take care of their needs. This will make the customer feel more in control of the decision.

4. Take complete responsibility for the job. If the customer has a problem or question, you must make yourself available, even long after the installation.

The key to excellent service is being comfortable with customers and making them comfortable with you.

“Try to turn customers to friends because that is where referrals come from,” Woodman says. “We try to convey that if you want to be a different distributor you have to provide service on top of value.”

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