As the HVAC industry continues its slow but steady recovery, customers are starting to spend money again on products and services they had previously put off, including investing in IAQ solutions in their homes and buildings.

“[Improved IAQ] adds to comfort and saves money in the long run, and correct humidity levels in the home can allow you to set your thermostat a degree or two lower and feel just as warm,” explained Matt Bergstrom, president at Thornton & Grooms, Farmington Hills, Mich. “It adds to healthy living and leads to fewer doctor’s visits.”

And while few will argue that clean air is a bad thing, explaining IAQ to customers and helping them understand its importance isn’t always easy.

Learn to Listen

A common piece of advice offered by several contractors is this: If you listen to your customer and ask the right questions, it will often create the opportunity to discuss IAQ.

Butch Welsch, owner of Welsch Heating & Cooling, St. Louis, said the most common complaints he and his technicians hear from homeowners is that their homes are dusty, dirty, and stuffy.

“The customer will often point out dust and/or dirt around return air grille openings,” Welsch said. “To find out more, our people inquire if anyone in the home has allergies, asthma, health disorders, or other conditions that might affect their breathing. Responses to these questions then lead our person to recommend the best solution.”

Travis Smith, general manager, Sky Heating & Air Conditioning, Portland, Ore., also said allergies are a common complaint that can lead to a conversation on IAQ options and solutions. He added that customers are also becoming increasingly concerned with ventilation.

“As homes are getting tighter and more customers are choosing spray foam and air sealing, it is more important than ever to remove the VOCs [volatile organic compounds] from a tight home,” Smith said.

Asking questions is the best way to segue into IAQ, said Bergstrom, who suggested proposing questions such as: How do you like your system? If you could change one thing about your system, what would it be? Does anyone have allergies or asthma in the home?

“Our team feels it is our duty to ask questions and talk about it,” he said. “If we find a need or want through asking questions, we present the options and let them make the decisions.”

On the commercial end, Ken Misiewicz, president and CEO of Pleune Service, Grand Rapids, Mich., said his technicians don’t typically bring up IAQ issues “because the significant majority of buildings the company services are healthy.”

However, he added, “When our guys do recognize a problem, we apply the solution ourselves through different or better filtration, or by improving fresh air management. In particularly difficult situations, we bring an outside expert, such as an industrial hygienist or mechanical engineer, in to assist with diagnosis and/or delivering solutions.”

No Pressure

After an IAQ issue has been identified, contractors agree that a no-pressure approach is the best way to keep the customer from becoming overwhelmed.

“After hearing the issues expressed by the customer, our people make a recommendation of what level of filter we would recommend — anything from a simple media filter to a HEPA filter,” Welsch said. “We then give them our suggested model numbers and recommend they go online at their leisure to review the features, characteristics, and benefits of the unit(s) we are recommending. This is in line with our overall sales practice, which is not high pressure. This way, the customer becomes comfortable with a particular product, and they are actually ‘buying’ it from us rather than us ‘selling’ it to them.”

Smith said honesty is his policy when it comes to offering add-ons.

“Our guys try not to push our accessory sales too hard because we want to be honest and upfront and only take care of real issues,” Smith said. “The fact is, almost no homes in our area need dehumidification, and rarely do we need steam humidifiers, so we don’t talk about them unless the customer has an issue. However, we are located 70 miles north of the ‘grass seed capital’ of the world, so we have a lot of people who suffer from allergies, and we often do recommend air filtration options and include a 4-inch media filter on all new furnace and a/c installations.”

For some contractors, including Steve Moon, president of Moon Air Inc., Elkton, Md., putting the ball in the homeowner’s court from the beginning ensures that he or she does not feel pressured to buy anything.

“When we walk into a home, we ask the homeowner if they would like to be informed if we find any issues,” Moon said, adding that his technicians “are trained on the causes and effects of IAQ conditions.”

Technology and Training

Of course, technicians cannot, or at least should not, sell a product or offer a solution they do not understand, which is why training is so important to successful contractors.

“We hold training sessions regarding the various IAQ units that we handle,” Welsch said. “But, again, we don’t push the customer to buy, but rather let them know what is available, allowing them to adequate themselves with the products so they feel comfortable with what they are buying.”

Moon said his company “has a chart for [technicians] on what solves what,” adding that his workers train regularly to keep up on the latest technology.

“We have videos on our website of all the products we offer and customer testimonials for certain products like HRVs [heat recovery ventilators] and electronic air purifiers,” Smith said, adding that his sales people generally offer IAQ products to customers, especially if the customer has a specific need.

Bergstrom said his employees attend training regularly and also use technology to help explain and sell IAQ solutions to customers. “We use the Evergreen motor app to help customers understand savings,” he said.

In the end, contractors agree that a well-informed, well-trained, considerate technician is the best tool in their arsenal when it comes to selling IAQ solutions.

“Service technicians will discuss the various options available if the customer indicates any sort of issue with the air quality,” Welsch said. “Their job is to simply offer solutions to a homeowner’s indoor air issues.”

Publication date: 3/10/2014 

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