Are you looking for ways to attract new customers? Are customers coming in the door, but you have trouble keeping them as long-term clients? These are fairly common dilemmas for HVAC contractors — and almost everyone else in the services industry.

Many companies and contractors try to solve these issues with advertising, direct mail, or other elaborate marketing tools. While marketing is essential for long-term success, HVAC contractors can use more personal and direct tactics to even out the peaks and valleys of business.

As a national franchisor of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) solutions providers, AdvantaClean franchisees work closely in many markets with HVAC contractors. We share the need to keep business flowing and the desire to provide top-notch service to our customers. We often hear of solid relationships between HVAC and IAQ specialists that have resulted in lucrative business and, most importantly, happy customers.

Here are a few simple, but effective, examples of how successful HVAC contractors are teaming up with subcontractors to generate new business and provide customers with more comprehensive service offerings like duct cleaning, air sterilization, and mold remediation.

Long-Term Customer Service

The goal of long-term customer service is to provide all HVAC-related services so customers don’t go elsewhere. Steven Long, owner of GSM Heating & Air Services (Gastonia, N.C.) said his company made a decision years ago to focus on the core HVAC business — installation, replacement, and maintenance — and to sub out specialty jobs.

“Customer retention is our No. 1 priority. The more services we offer our clients, the longer the relationships will last,” Long said. “We would have figured out a way to do the work ourselves if we couldn’t find professionals who provide top-notch service. Anyone you recommend is a reflection of you and your company. It’s important
to vet your partners — you don’t want to just pick someone out of the phone book.”

GSM has such a strong relationship with its subcontractors that Long said his salespeople and customer service staff are able to quote clients on specialty jobs, like duct cleaning and roofing. These seamless relationships didn’t happen overnight. It took time to develop trust and requires an ongoing conversation among both parties. GSM and AdvantaClean meet regularly.

“You can’t just put these arrangements on autopilot and forget about them,” Long said. “We have periodic meetings with AdvantaClean to make sure both sides are comfortable with the arrangement, and we talk about ways we can improve referrals and service.”

Rewarding Referrals

Another way HVAC contractors can maintain and strengthen affiliations with subcontractors (and existing customers, too) is providing referral fees for new customers.

“It may be a gift card or a $50 to $100 restaurant gift certificate. It’s not a big part of our business, but if we can identify the referring source of a new customer, then we want to make sure we appropriately thank those who recommend us,” Long said.

Derik Newton of AdvantaClean of Charlotte, N.C., said his connection with GSM encourages him to find the right solution for clients needing more than duct cleaning.

“If a customer calls complaining about mold around their ventilation system, and I determine the source to be a broken condensation pump, my first instinct is to get GSM on the scene,” Newton said. “That way the problem gets solved, and the customer can be reassured they will not have a similar issue anytime in the foreseeable future.”

Tips for Great Relationships

HVAC contractors can improve customer acquisition and retention by establishing a mutually beneficial referral network. Here are a few final tips you can use to build your network and develop great business relationships.

• Keep the communication lines open. Make sure to stay in touch with the professionals in your resource network — and not just when you’re looking for business.

• Return the favor. To make the arrangements mutually beneficial, do everything you can to steer business to your network.

• Kill them with kindness. Say thank you. Have a stack of thank-you cards and stamps ready to go. If your source refers a potential customer, send a thank-you card — even if that referral doesn’t result in a sale. If it does turn into business, sweeten the deal with a referral fee.

• Share your marketing materials. If you offer coupons, make sure they always have a stack handy. Give them some business cards to hand out. And make sure to do the same in return.

•Be social. Link to their websites, Facebook pages, or LinkedIn profiles. Let everyone know you’re proud to be connected to another reliable business.

• Introduce your referral sources to each other. By creating referral relationships, you create a more powerful referral network.

• Do quality work. Go the extra mile to exceed expectations of quality and service.

Publication date: 01/23/2012