MANUFACTURER TO CONTRACTORWhen it comes to making communication valuable between manufacturers, suppliers, and contractors, the key is respect for each other’s time and priorities. For instance, Fred Kobie, president, Kobie Kooling, points to Lennox territory manager Ray Taylor as a good example.
“When Ray visits, he listens to what the market is doing to me and listens to what I need,” said Kobie. “If he can fill the need he does, and if he can’t, he points me in the right direction.”
Other manufacturers are participating in events that link key contractors directly to them. The difference between events such as HVACXchange™ (sponsored byThe NEWS) and other sales meetings is that the contractors are interviewed before the HVACXchange to pinpoint their key markets and concerns. The information is made available before the event to the manufacturer.
When the contractor gets to the event in Park City, Utah, he or she meets with top executives from manufacturers in markets in which the contractor has an interest. The contractor gets a one-on-one meeting with this top exec, and they focus on the contractor’s needs. David Allen, vice president of McKinstry Co., called HVACXchange “extremely efficient, extremely eye-opening, and the potential is incredible.”
CONTRACTOR/TECH TO CUSTOMER“I think developing an upfront contract with the consumer, and following a Sandler sales philosophy, allows for great communication between consumer and contractor,” said Kobie. David H. Sandler, founder of the Sandler Sales Institute, advocates continuous customer education as opposed to selling something.
“We also need to be more realistic in our projected results,” Kobie continued. “You can’t make a house 70°F in Florida in August. Customers need to be told the true parameters of the work and not be led into a false expectation. Customers should be taught by their contractors, not just sold. I believe the average consumer wants to know more about the equipment and its upkeep and they will listen, if we just learn to tell them.”
A new In Home Selling Tool (IHST) was created to help educate homeowners about the opportunities to improve comfort in their homes, said Andy Armstrong, director of marketing, Johnson Controls - Unitary Products. The tool is housed in a touch screen laptop, and it features “a series of questions to help homeowners better understand their comfort needs,” Armstrong said. “Many of the questions are accompanied by flash videos to better explain more complex solutions.
“When used in conjunction with a sales presentation by a trained comfort consultant, homeowners can achieve a better understanding of their options and of what they are buying and why,” he said. “By using a consumer-friendly, interactive communication tool, we are improving homeowner education - and that adds credibility to the sales call.”
HVAC contractors also are showing high interest in training from entities such as HVAC Learning Solutions. The program, which has been supported by North American Technician Excellence (NATE), bases its curriculum on real-life technical problems. Its ongoing feedback is said to get techs out in the field and productive quickly, and it keeps owners in the loop as far as student progress goes.
HVAC Learning Solution’s Build-A-Tech (BAT) program, based on the NATE Knowledge Areas of Technician Expertise (KATE), goes to the heart of the communications gap by helping technicians solve customers’ problems, and explain both the problem and the solution in ways the customer can understand and appreciate.
PERFORMANCE DATAJim Herritage, CEM and president of Energy Auditors Inc., Mount Pleasant, S.C., suggested that ARI, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and/or the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), “work together to develop an accepted and approved, industry-wide format or protocol for heating and air conditioning expanded performance data presentation. That would be a major step forward.”
In addition, contractors and industry associations “should do a better job of interfacing with the codes folks to emphasize this part of the code being enforced,” Herritage said. “Even if the building authority does not do residential plans review, it should still require that one be turned in and filed.”
ACCA’s Quality Installation (QI) standard “is an important tool to measure who will succeed and who falls short. My hope is that consumers will use the QI as a way to ‘relieve’ some contractors in the field today,” said Wesley R. Davis, manager of Technical Services, ACCA.
The QI Specification gathered a consensus of opinions on what is required for a quality HVAC installation, and spells out procedures for measuring or verifying that those requirements have been met. It also identifies what kind of documentation is needed to show compliance.
The QI Spec deals with core areas such as the equipment itself, installation, ductwork and air handling, system documentation, and owner education.
GOVERNMENT AND UTILITIESLocal government and utility bodies can act as real training and specifying partners, helping to bridge an information gap that can lead to quality problems.
Mike Lubliner is an energy specialist for the Building Standards and Science Department of Washington State University’s Energy Program. He has 25 years of building science research and new technology deployment experience in support of energy efficient site built and manufactured housing programs.
“The Northwest currently has over 1,000 HVAC technicians trained and certified to work in residential utility programs supported by incentives to promote sealed and tested duct systems and commissioned heat pump installations,” he said. “These programs are designed to help the consumer make better purchasing decisions in the marketplace, resulting in increased efficiency and improved satisfaction.
“Utility incentives, coupled with certified technicians and independent third-party verification of performance, helps bridge the gap between consumer understanding and the HVAC industry’s ability to deliver quality products.”
According to Lubliner, “The 640 technicians certified in duct sealing and testing have taken two- and three-day classes focused on testing procedures, diagnostic testing, and program standards and specifications. Over 920 heat pump technicians have taken a one-day class and are certified to perform heat pump commissioning on new systems that is required to receive incentives from utilities for high-efficiency heat pumps.”
LANGUAGE SKILLSPresenting information in a way that can be understood is a concern across all sectors of the industry. “I believe we need to focus more on finding employees with good communication skills, and developing and reinforcing those skills in existing employees. The primary benefit will be the results we see in increased retention of customers and customer referrals,” said Steve Vannoy, manager of Curriculum Development for the National Comfort Institute.
“Our industry needs to come up with better ways to bring needed technical information to the technicians, as well as that same information from the technicians to the customer,” said Robin Boyd, a territory sales manager with Goodman Manufacturing.
In the engineering sector, “ASHRAE is embarking upon working with other owner-oriented organizations to learn how to show our members the more effective way(s) of communicating with owners and consumers,” said Terry Townsend, ASHRAE president. “There isn’t a silver bullet that will solve communication challenges; it will be a continuous, constant upgrading process to determine what is working best at a particular point in time.
“Organizations, companies, and individuals must be willing to use different methods to get their information across to their audiences,” he said. “Otherwise, all of us risk becoming a thing of the past.”
The HVACXchange event will be take place Sept. 9-12, 2007, at The Lodges at Deer Valley, Park City, Utah. For more information, visit www.hvacexchange.com.