ACHRNEWS

Comfort for 21st-century consumers

April 10, 2000
When it comes to selling comfort, you’ll find that new millennium consumers have different goals, abilities, and desires. Your future depends on your knowledge of what it takes to satisfy their ever-changing needs.

Here’s some vital information and recommendations to help you on your journey to 21st century success.

New millennium consumers can afford better comfort.

  • The median annual family income rose 21% to $44,568 from 1992 to 1997.
  • More than 9.4% of households have an income of $100,000 or more.
  • In the last 12 months, the median price of a resale home increased 5.3% to $137,700, creating new equity to borrow against.
  • According to the Federal Reserve, stock gains contributed to doubling consumers’ net worth in the last 10 years.

These factors created the so-called “wealth effect,” where people are inclined to spend more as their net worth increases, even if they’re paying for new items from current income or increased borrowing.

How to act on it: Give them an opportunity for better comfort on every service call and provide a means to finance everything.

It’s not just a home, it’s an asset.

Home equity will continue to be the largest portion of 21st century consumer’s net worth. Today, a family’s median net worth would drop from $38,000 to $9,500 without home equity. Next to location, amenities like better comfort drive up resale value.

How to act on it: In the 90s we saw people install air conditioning just so they could sell their homes. Help your customers boost the resale value of their homes with better comfort items, like variable-speed furnaces, duct repair, transferable warranties, and improved home air purification.

They have no time for comparison shopping.

In the 21st century, consumers will work more hours, not less, and their free time will be spent with family, community, and having fun, not cleaning house, doing maintenance, and price shopping.

According to Ohio State University marketing professor Roger Blackwell, “People will decrease the amount of time they spend on things they find unpleasant. It means paying more attention to brand names, not in search of status, but to make buying decisions quicker and easier. In effect, brand loyalty helps reduce people’s shopping time.”

How to act on it: Offer strong brands your customers will recognize.

Sales pressure causes explosions.

Many 21st century buyers grew up watching their parents get beat up by the car salesman or life insurance agent. If you try pressuring these folks into buying — you lose. If you try just “bidding” or selling on price, you lose again.

New millennium buyers are different, so the way you sell to them must be different too.

How to act on it: Use no-pressure selling to build value higher than the price, show you have the best solutions to their problems, and explain how they can afford it. Then stand back and let them sell themselves.

What’s the value of a better night’s sleep?

A survey conducted by Yankel-ovich Partners found that 81% of employed consumers feel the need to simplify their lives and create more time for home and family. More than one-third of the respondents make up for lost time by getting 6 hrs of sleep or less per day.

How to act on it: Eight out of 10 people prefer sleeping in a cooler bedroom, so explain how a new comfort system is affordable, even at cooler temperatures and how it is quieter at night to boot. Don’t forget to train your frontline team how to deal with customers who may be irritable or stressed out getting by on only 6 hrs of sleep.

Value isn’t about price, it’s about freedom.

Chores like housework are becoming a lower priority. According to a recent report by the Americans’ Use of Time Project, women spend 15.6 hrs a week on housework down from 27 hrs in 1965. We’ll continue to see the same trends with other unpleasant tasks.

How to act on it: Show how they can remove dust from their home by flipping a switch on their thermostat. Explain how a high-efficiency media air filter can do a better job and last longer. Then add filter changes to your scheduled maintenance for the growing portion of consumers who are willing to pay you to do it.

Talk about the best service, not the lowest price.

A decade of low unemployment allowed many service firms to fill jobs with the wrong people. In the 90s we all learned more than we wanted about bad service. About 80% of today’s consumers will gladly pay more money for better service.

When someone has a comfort-related problem, they want skilled people to fix it right the first time, without having to stand in line for service or take off work to deal with a callback.

How to act on it: Advertise rapid response by top-notch craftsmen and technicians — then provide it. A huge number of 21st century consumers will also invest in a maintenance agreement if it provides front-of-the-line service and helps keep their equipment from breaking in the first place.

It’s no longer the message, it’s how it’s delivered.

Many consumers are willing to pay annual fees for the privilege of not receiving unsolicited telemarketing pitches. Oregon, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Alabama recently joined other states that maintain a do-not-call list.

If telemarketers ignore consumers who sign up, they may face stiff fines. Georgia’s Consumer Affairs Office recently fined a lawn service firm $45,000 for repeated violations.

How to act on it:

  • Make referrals your number-one source of leads.
  • Look at super-targeted direct mail for response rates of up to 5%.
  • Find opportunities to piggyback your message with a non-competitor or firm who could benefit from your service.
  • If you use telemarketing, follow all the rules.

The next furnace or a/c unit must be better than what it replaces.

When will consumers invest their hard-earned money in a slower computer, smaller TV with poorer sound quality, or a car with crank windows? In your dreams, that’s when.

When 21st century consumers replace anything, they want — even demand — the next one to be better (in many cases, much better) than the old one.

How to act on it: Ask your customers if they’d be frustrated if the fan for the heater in their car had only one speed. If the answer is yes, let them know that with new technology, they no longer have to put up with a one-speed furnace in their home.

Peace of mind is more important than price.

People are placing more value on their family’s protection, security, and well being. The demand for hvac firms with clean-cut, uniformed, properly screened employees will far outpace the supply.

Many parents have only one child today compared to two or three just a decade or two ago. It’s usually easier for smaller families to afford new products that provide parents with peace of mind and the entire family with quality of life benefits.

How to act on it: Show how better indoor air quality and correct temperature and moisture levels affect their children’s health, sleep, and even study habits. The air purifier isn’t for the house — it’s for Bobby’s allergies.

Find out what they want before you tell them what you’ve got.

When moderators of consumer focus groups ask, “What could your contractor have done differently,” one answer is always, “I wish he would have listened to me.”

How to act on it: Use no-pressure selling to ask questions to determine the importance of each element of comfort (quiet operation, even temperature, elimination of dryness in the winter, etc.); listen actively; and observe the home for opportunities to improve the customer’s life with better comfort (i.e., better humidity control to protect their hardwood cabinets and floors).

They crave individual treatment.

Today we want to customize everything, from the vehicles we drive to the fast food meals we pick up on the way home.

How to act on it: After you and the customer discover what they really need, design a customized solution to give them what they really want.

The home is now the office.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that more than 15% of the workforce worked full time at home in 1997. The number of people working at least part time from their homes could easily be more than 40 million. These trends will continue.

These commercial customers in a residential environment have special needs that for the most part have gone unrecognized and unmet.

Two things that can kill home office electronic equipment are static electricity and dust. If electronic equipment doesn’t receive the proper cooling, humidity, and dust control, its longevity and reliability will suffer.

How to act on it: Offer to run a heat load calculation and test for proper airflow in the home office. Show how better indoor air quality and correct temperature and moisture levels affect equipment life, business downtime, and employee productivity.

Your Web site is your resume.

Today’s consumers use computers to help them make wise buying decisions, and this use is skyrocketing. The number of online accounts at Charles Schwab & Company increased from 300,000 to more than 2 million in two years.

Bureau of Labor statistics estimate that computer sales will grow from $61 billion in 1996 to $666 billion in 2006. A vast number of consumers will silently “interview” you on the web before they call for service or a replacement equipment proposal.

How to act on it: Make sure your Web site is easy to find when your future customers are surfing the Net for the best firm to solve their hvac problems.

Your customers are much better informed.

Have your heard the story about the hvac contractor who went to a consumer’s home to sell a new air conditioner, and when he got there, the consumer could discuss more of the benefits of the product than the contractor? With reams of information available to consumers at the click of a mouse, this could very well happen to you.

How to act on it: Download and read everything from the Web sites of all the hvacr companies you do business with. You’ll be glad you did.

They have more ways to spend money than money to spend.

Along with the old standards, you are competing against an alphabet soup of new products — HDTVs, DVDs, and SWs — for your customer’s limited financial resources. To succeed, you must have the answers to the following two questions down pat:

1. “Why should people buy from us instead of other hvac dealers in our area?”

2. “Why should they invest in better comfort instead of new windows, vinyl siding, kitchen remodeling, upgraded computer, and so on?”

How to act on it: Start collecting everything from Web sites from anyone you’d consider a “competitor.” What are the top three or four benefits they detail? What types of financing do they provide? How long are the warranties and what don’t they cover?

Next, be prepared to explain how your systems and service provide more benefits or have the best solutions to their perceived problems.

The more you know about your 21st century customers, the better. The key to your success depends on putting this knowledge into immediate action.