Eric Knaak

What’s your perfect service call? There are a lot of elements to it. It’s more difficult than describing your perfect vacation, or your perfect meal; responses could range from the very elaborate (Duck a l’Orange) to the very simple (PB&J).

Eric Knaak, vice president of service with Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning, Rochester, N.Y., gave his interpretation of “The Perfect Service Call” at a recent Webinar sponsored by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA).


“The initial phone call to your company sets the tone,” Knaak said. This encompasses the person who answers, what they say, and the tone of their voice.

“We started concentrating on the phone three or four years ago,” he said. “It’s part of the sales approach.” The real test was having an outside review of the company’s progress. In short, it was humbling. “We thought we had done a good job, but then we listened to recorded phone calls. We were quite disappointed with what we were doing.

“Folks who answer the phone really need a lot of training.”

Knaak pointed out that the person who answers the phone needs to be well spoken, smiling, well informed on your product and services, and having all pricing and information at their fingertips.

“Take the time to train the people who are answering the phones,” said Knaak. “Give them scripts for consistency of the message.” If you are dealing with temporary people during a busy season, run quality checks to make sure they are getting basic information correct, like the company’s name.

“It definitely helps your customer,” he said. “Smiling adds to the attitude of the person answering the phone. That person is your ambassador for goodwill, even though that person on the other end of the line is calling for a $500 repair.”

Make sure your phone person is educated on products and services. “Our folks in residential service are familiar with that service cost information, but they might not know the price of a new installed furnace or a/c system.” Also, make sure they know which services you provide. “Do you do duct cleaning or vent cleaning? Do you install continuous-flow hot water heaters?”

Make sure pricing and information is kept readily visible near the phone. “There’s nothing worse than calling to ask for pricing, say for maintenance, and you hear the papers moving as the person answering the phone is looking up the price.”

When a customer call comes in, make sure that the person on the phone uses a company-approved greeting. Knaak’s greeting has a few key elements: good afternoon (morning, evening); get the customer’s name (this starts building a bond) and use it. Get on a more personal basis; this will help open the doors of opportunity.

If a customer’s name is difficult to pronounce, ask them how to spell it correctly. “You don’t want to butcher it. Ask them to pronounce it for you. Most people are fine with that. You’re much more professional by asking how to pronounce it.”

When a customer asks for prices, start by presenting the value of what is being provided. “If they have a maintenance plan, tell them the specific amount of money that is being covered by their maintenance or extended service agreement. It adds value to it.”

Explain features and benefits before quoting a price. In the early season, “a lot more people are calling to gather price information. Giving that customer the price doesn’t help us out very much. When a customer calls in for a price, we want to tell them some of the features and benefits first, then we give them a price. You will have a lot less people that hang up and call somebody else.”

Finally, thank the client for calling. If we make a mistake, we say we’re sorry,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with thanking them too.”


The contractor’s phone skills’ training covers what to say, how to answer it, and special words to use and to avoid. Regular training should include how to handle a complaint on the phone instead of handing it to somebody else.

“The more empowerment we give them to handle it on the phone, the more capable they will be with calming down a customer and giving them solutions,” Knaak said. “But we also have something in place so they know the next person to go to.”

Regular office meetings also should be used to provide customer satisfaction training. “Try to think of the things that will help you go that extra step, set you apart from your competitors.”

Customer loyalty training provides more than satisfaction, he said. “It creates a situation so that the customer will call Isaac back, no question about it. Customer loyalty is satisfaction on one of those high-caffeine drinks.”

In a recent poll, Knaak said contractors who responded to the question, how many hours/year do employees spend in customer service training, 41 percent (the majority) said employees spend one to five hours a year. “This shows me it’s an afterthought,” he said.

These skills need honing for people on the phone as well as people dealing with customers face-to-face in the field.

Employees handling phone calls need information to confidently make decisions, he said. That goes for techs at the client’s building too.

“There’s been a strong belief that the customer is always right, but we also want to be careful that we don’t make our techs or office people sacrificial lambs,” he said. “Don’t let them be treated in such a way that they should not be treated.”

“If a client is upset and using foul language, but it’s not directed at anybody, just cussing in general, it’s not personal; but once they start saying, ‘You are an [expletive],’ that’s when management needs to step in.”

“We have terminated clients,” he said. “We suggest that they call another company in the phone book. It gives our employees a sense of worth.”


The handoff from the office to the tech gets that service football down the field. Continuing the metaphor, Knaak said the handoff “can be clean, it can’t be fumbled. We don’t want to give it to the other team.”

“Make sure the technicians have what they need, and they aren’t blindsided by information they could have gotten from the office.”

How are techs given their calls, one at a time or all at once? “We do them one at a time,” said Knaak. “Our technicians do know that they will all be done at around the same time. Our service dispatcher can move those pieces around like they are a puzzle. It helps give the technicians an understanding of their schedule.”

Does the tech or office call the client before the tech goes out to the home? If so, what happens when the client is not home?

“Our technicians, when they finish up with a service call but before they leave, they ask if they can call the next customer from their home. It’s always better to make that call ahead of time.” In addition to scheduling benefits, it provides even stronger communication with the client.


When parking, Knaak advises that the service vehicle back into the driveway. “Our thought is that we find it to be helpful and safer. Backing up onto a road is never safe.”

After pulling up to the house, be out of the truck within 30 seconds. “Even though we’re flat rate, if you pull into the driveway and the customer is watching you sit there, it doesn’t put the customer at ease.”

Walk to the door within one minute. “The customer is watching.” A customer’s time is valuable.

Knock on the door with the business card in hand, then step away from the door when it’s opened, to give the client their personal space. Greet the client with your card in hand.

Verify why you are there. Clarify what it is the customer wants you to do.

Bring tools when you come up to the door. At Isaac, those are tool bags and a vacuum cleaner. Step in and put on your boot covers, which shows respect for the customer’s property and builds rapport.

Ask to see the thermostat if appropriate. “It allows us to get a look at it first. In that two or three seconds, you can see if they need a programmable thermostat. Turn on the furnace or air conditioner for diagnostics.”

Now you can ask a call-appropriate question. “Are there any areas of the home that are too warm” might be asked in a Colonial, for example, which are prone to this type of problem. “Do you have any comfort issues,” is a more generic question; “it’s kind of broad, but it gets the customer thinking about it.”

Ask the client to show you to the system. “You get them involved a little bit more. I learned to invite them and get them involved,” Knaak said.

“A customer who is involved is a much better customer. They have a stronger appreciation of the knowledge of service that is needed for their equipment.”

“Sometimes technicians invite their customers to leave,” he said, “but you should invite customers to stay and observe. At times, you may need to ask a customer to step back for a few minutes so you can concentrate on something more involved, like wiring. They will appreciate that.”

If a customer doesn’t want to stick around, give them updates to keep them involved in the process. “It’s a good opportunity to offer a maintenance agreement, discuss your findings, and discuss other possible services. It could tie it back to what they told you at first about comfort issues.”


Fill out the service sticker. In addition to keeping your information handy for the current homeowners, it can be helpful in the home’s resale, keeping your continued service at that residence.

Apply any tags or markers that might be required.

Cycle the equipment at the thermostat. “When our technician goes in that home, he turns the system on at the thermostat. When it’s done, we make sure it cycles off properly.”

Ask what to do with used parts. Give them the option to keep them or have you dispose of them.

Before leaving the house, review features, benefits, and what you did. This tells customers that “By having this done, I am saving money, helping the environment, protecting my family, etc.”

Check with the client again about the maintenance agreement, and ask again about comfort issues (now that they’ve had time to think about it).

Fill out paperwork so that if someone else were to see it, they would understand what was done. “It is very, very important for the customer to have a legible service ticket,” said Knaak.

“They want to know what they paid for. If they can’t, there is a level of frustration or anxiety. They want to know your recommendations for the future, and to know what was done.”

Collect for the job right then and there.

Finally, “Make sure you thank the client for their business. Maybe write something on their paperwork, personalize it a little bit. Ask if a friend or relative could use your services. It may not happen then or there, but something might come up later and they can refer you.”

Ask them if they have any questions, whether there was anything they didn’t understand or were unsure of. “You never know what will come out of it. Be prepared and make sure you follow up.”

Clean up everything you leave, but leave the pen. “If you did some repairs, make sure all those little pieces get picked up and taken out with you.”

If you accidentally break something, let the customer know. “Don’t try to cover it up.”

If you’re doing a repair, quote the price before the repair is made and have the customer sign and initial it before the repair is made. This protects your business as well as making sure the customer is aware of what the work entails.

Publication Date:06/09/2008