Conservation + Comfort: Conservation, Comfort, and Smarter Customers
February 25, 2008
If you ask Mike Graham of Mike Graham Air Conditioning & Heating why he likes to talk to his customers about true system performance, he’ll tell you, “Because they deserve it.” Graham, who has owned and operated his HVAC company in Burkburnett, Texas, for over 14 years, believes that today’s customer is more informed and better-educated about energy savings, efficiency, and green technology than ever before. He believes that to survive and prosper in the HVAC industry, his company must be responsive to today’s customers and consistently offer them more - more service, more value, and more information about their home comfort options.
Starting out as a one-man operation, Graham has built a growing company with a solid reputation for quality and integrity in north central Texas. In fact, they have such a solid reputation that 100 percent of their work is generated by tech leads and referrals. Graham said his formula for success is a simple one: “Tell the customer exactly what you’re going to do, then deliver what you promised. If my customer buys a 5-ton cooling system, I’m going to make sure they get 5 tons of effective cooling.”
One key way the company makes sure the customer gets the most value from a Mike Graham installation is the “Verify and Confirm” policy. On every sales call the comfort consultant does a load calculation, measures system static pressure, and checks air distribution with a flow hood. Graham believes that central to their success is measuring the performance of the complete HVAC system. He compares the testing they do on the system to a doctor taking an X-ray to confirm a diagnosis. The emphasis is on determining the true performance and efficiency of the entire system, beyond just the equipment itself.
“No one else is talking about this with the customers,” said Graham. He said that most, if not all, of his competitors are still just selling boxes, with little or no analysis of the rest of the system. “Air distribution must be addressed,” he continued, “and customers are blown away when you talk to them about all of the other factors that impact their comfort and their energy consumption.”
TESTING THE SYSTEMOnce the installation has been performed, technicians return to the job and confirm that the complete system is working properly and delivering the promised comfort and efficiency.
System static pressure is taken, airflow measured, and the system balanced to ensure proper air distribution to each room. Only when system performance has been verified and confirmed is the installation considered complete. As a standard part of Graham’s guarantee to the customer, he tells each one that if they are ever dissatisfied with the system performance, he’ll bring in a third party to test and evaluate it at his own expense.
Graham finds that more customers do their homework before they call an HVAC company. They have researched equipment brands, efficiency ratings, typical costs, environmental issues, and information on what to expect from a contractor. While some contractors can be intimidated by that, Graham said this is the type of customer he welcomes.
He believes that customers who are interested enough to do the research are ones who will be interested in learning more about how they can get more comfort and efficiency from their systems. They are also more concerned about how they can incorporate green technology into their homes. Graham’s experience is that a better-educated and informed customer is an advantage for his company.
“With the innovative diagnostics, products, and services we have to offer, combined with our reputation for delivering what we promise, we find more and more customers opt for a higher-priced, but better, solution for their needs,” he explains. “If we lose a job, it’s because we didn’t communicate the value properly. We failed that customer.”
And what about those customers who do decide to go with another contractor? “I tell them we’ll come out and test the system at no charge after they’re done, and let you know how they did,” Graham said with a smile.
EMPLOYEE COMMITMENT“This is just the way it has to be to stay competitive,” Graham said. His employees feel the same way.
The company offers extensive training for all employees. Weekly sessions include training on equipment, new technology, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, safety, and system testing and diagnostics. “We want everybody in the company to be on the same page,” Graham emphasized. “Our techs talk the same language as our comfort consultants and our installers. And that can reassure the customer that they are dealing with a competent and professional company.”
Doing the right thing for the customer is an integral part of the culture at Graham Air Conditioning. And Graham believes this also helps with employee retention. Most employees there are long-term and have really bought into the company’s philosophy of delivering the best possible service and solutions to their customers. “Once in a while an employee leaves us for one reason or another,” said Graham. “But more often than not, they want to come back before long. They really miss our commitment to taking care of the customer.”
EXTRA VALUEAnother way Graham offers added value to his customers is by performing carbon monoxide (CO) and combustion testing as a standard part of any service call on gas equipment. All technicians are CO and Combustion-certified by National Comfort Institute.
“It’s part of every call. Period,” he stated. “The safety of our customers is our top priority.” Graham also offers insulation to complement his other comfort and energy-saving options. Recently Graham became a certified Home Energy Rating System (HERS) rater and offers a full range of home energy and efficiency rating and diagnostic services.
The one thing that stands out the most when listening to Mike Graham speak about his company and the HVAC industry is his enthusiasm and passion. He truly enjoys being on the cutting edge of developments in the industry and staying a step or two ahead of the competition.
So what does the future hold for this dedicated and innovative contractor?
Graham said he already offers the company’s expertise as a consultant to his customers. But in the future he plans to make even greater efforts in that arena. “The environment of the whole house is so important that we should be a part of all aspects of construction - windows, doors, thermal bypasses, insulation, etc.,” Graham said. “We want to set the standard.”
He wants his customers to have the assurance that Graham will be with them every step of the way, from the time the slab is poured to the completion of the final punch list item. He is emphatic when he says, “I believe in order to ensure comfort and efficiency, and to truly have a green home, the HVAC contractor must play an integral role throughout the project.” Graham has done the research on the issues, taken the training on products and technology, and positioned his company to do just that.
Graham concluded, “If anybody reads this article and still isn’t sure they want to commit the time and energy to do full-system performance testing for their customers, I’d say to them ‘If you want to be around in a few years, you’re going to have to do it.’ Consumers see value in it and they deserve it. Because customers are smarter and better informed today, a contractor that isn’t on that page is going to have a hard time. Its all about what value you can offer them that the next contractor can’t or won’t.”
Publication date: 02/25/2008