Don't Forget the Customer Relationship

May 30, 2011
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Thom Brazel

“It’s only a new building once, but an existing building forever.”

For 75 years, new construction has been our primary focus at Hill York, and like many companies, this portion of our business has been greatly impacted over recent years. Add the entrance of desperate, unqualified contractors bidding on and winning jobs traditionally captured by the more qualified firms and it’s clear that to survive our company had to shift gears.


In response to the sharp decline in new construction work, Hill York has not only increased its service, maintenance, and retrofit business, but also sharpened its focus to include creating safer, healthier buildings that are serviced from a holistic viewpoint. The company’s hyGreen division, dedicated to providing strategic, energy-saving solutions to new and existing buildings has been at the forefront of this service shift and differentiates Hill York from many of its competitors.

Since 2008 when hyGreen was launched, something interesting has happened. No longer does an energy-driven retrofit solely reside within our hyGreen department. Almost every retrofit project we do has an energy component. It’s now ingrained in our corporate culture, and we automatically ask ourselves going in, “What is the hyGreen component of this job?”

Hill York sells its Energy Solutions Agreements (ESAs) to provide the added value building and facilities managers are demanding, and we have found there are potential energy savings to be found in virtually every facility we survey. The findings are real and tangible. But that’s only half the battle to winning business. You also need a customer to know and trust you.


There’s no question that offering energy solutions to your customers responds to a need for many cash-strapped building and facilities managers. I can extol the virtues of measuring, optimizing, and sustaining energy performance far beyond the space allotted for this editorial. But I fly the high-tech, energy-efficiency flag armed with one serious caveat. All the bells and whistles of new technology will not win you customers if you don’t establish and nurture business relationships rooted in genuine commitment and integrity.

HVAC contractors working with an ESA model must realize that the buyers of these services are initially driven by cost savings, but at the end of the day, they also place an equally high value on the relationship you have built with them. There’s no sense in dazzling your audience with technology and state-of-the-art analysis only to fall short in the customer relations department. Show you are reliable, get to know your customer’s business needs, anticipate their needs, and be willing and flexible to meet these needs. Developing a level of trust and rapport is crucial to winning contracts and maintaining a long-term business partnership.

How do I know this? We learned the hard way. Recently we spent countless hours to develop and present a proposal to a potential customer. We used the finest technologies available to gather energy-saving data, showing we were smarter than the other guys. It all looked very impressive, but we did not win the contract because we missed a critical piece - the customer relationship. We won’t be making that mistake again.

New technology is only as good as the customer service with which you back it. To survive in this economy, harnessing the information that can be obtained from the technology is only part of the package. Continuously look for ways to understand your customers’ and potential customers’ needs and help them operate their facilities better. Become a true solutions partner. So go ahead and inject the “wow” factor into your business with new technology but don’t lose sight of this fact: If you want customers to sign on and stay with you, there’s no substitute for outstanding people skills.

Publication date: 05/30/2011
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