You know how it is — you look back at a marketing idea that worked really well, and, all of a sudden, success seems so obvious. “No wonder that worked,” you say. “It was a great idea.” Often it seems like one idea, but it really has a few moving parts. Successful ad slogans and “unique selling propositions” (USP) are like that. They answer a customer’s needs concisely, cutting through the marketing clutter with their deceptively simple solution.

Domino’s entered an overcrowded pizza market with “Fresh hot pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less.” Aside from the fact that they crashed into lots of things while doing that, hundreds of millions in early run-up sales helped pay for the damage. (We’ll assume they were “In good hands with Allstate.”) Also playing on the speed element, Fed-Ex sympathized with business pressures with, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”

Yet, a great USP means nothing if the customer experience isn’t congruent with the claim. In helping HVAC contractors create USPs, many fail to zero in on why customers choose them over others, mistakenly thinking it’s their product, prices, or proximity. Don’t sell yourself short; all that stuff is replaceable, yet one thing isn’t.

Your Product is Your Service

It’s easy to think your business is limited to products: thermostats, furnaces, air filters, or other HVAC equipment. I mean, that’s what you install, and that’s why they get the invoice, right? None of those differentiate you from your competitors, and, in a customer’s mind, they don’t even differentiate from the big boxes.

Your product is your service and relationship. You sell customers your confidence and competence in exchange for making their pain disappear. That doesn’t come in a box and it’s not on Aisle 7 (I already checked). It comes from the way you listen, how you understand their problems, and how you present the solution and package it with guarantees. Your follow-up cements the relationship and jogs referrals. No follow up? No relationship.

Market Differentiation

Superior customer service is a differentiating marketing benefit. Many of our USPs relate to the “pain reducers” of convenience, experience, and solutions. Lots of contractors either hide their uniqueness or fail to remind customers of their value. Bad idea. We also critique a few thousand ads a year here, and it’s amazing how many contractors offer 24-hour service, repair guarantees, appointment guarantees, and a ton of braggable differentiators, but say very little about them.

People want a low-risk, high-reward service experience (don’t we all?), but how are they to know you offer it if you don’t tell them?

Your marketing can give reassurances to potential customers about your commitment to service, so the customer knows from your ad, “It’s okay to call them.” When resistance is lowered, the call is placed.

Is the Phone Ringing?

Customer service starts with the first contact, usually during the incoming call. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the phone trafficker is unimportant. You’d be horribly wrong. The timeliness, friendliness, courtesy, and professionalism displayed there can be the difference between a hang up and never call back or a tell lots of friends and the beginning of a long-term customer relationship.

As an example, we make about 6,000 calls to contractors annually — none of which are cold calls. They are invited or requested from the owner/president, and, yet, we are often astonished at the lack of professionalism and sheer rudeness we encounter. Would we have stuck around, as a prospect, to welcome this company into our home? (Make a staged call to your own company sometime. It can be an eye-opener.)

Leads are too costly to get, more costly to lose, and — if they do leave — they almost never come back. How much of that can you afford to lose?

However, good customer service doesn’t end when the CSR hangs up the phone. Follow the scheduling with an email or phoned appointment reminder and another to say the tech’s on the way. More helpful still, if the tech had to reschedule, be willing to call the customer at another number to keep them updated.

Marketing on the Service Call

You may think marketing is getting the service call, but that’s not the only part. Each service call can be used to differentiate and gain upselling advantages.

Techs have a lot to do at the home and are compelled to get right to the job; however, the customer needs to gain a comfort level with the tech, the company, and the procedure. For that reason, we recommend the Green Sheet.

First, there is no magic that it’s green, it just stands out (part of the point), is memorable, and an easy name to remember. The Green Sheet is a summary of what the tech is there to do on the call. Your tech simply hands this to the customer upon arrival or after a little introduction saying: “This is a little summary about how our company is different, plus answers to some frequent questions. But, if you have any questions about my work today, I’ll be happy to answer them when I’m finished.”

Include testimonials from satisfied customers on the back, and you’re raising credibility, trust, professionalism, and image, all in about 90 seconds for 4 cents. Not bad.

Yard signs, safety cones, truck signage, and uniforms shout a professional image but can be amazingly inexpensive. Once you’ve got them, the per-impression costs go down every time they’re used and they make a huge visual impact for passers-by. The more impressions, the greater the company’s notoriety and credibility.

Have some extra customer-retention newsletters printed and let techs hand them to new customers on each service call. They cost pennies to hand out, require no postage, and make a great first impression.

Referrals are by far your best marketing opportunity on a service call. Satisfied customers do your marketing for you. After a visit, the customer should receive a series of letters, each designed to keep them tied to you:

• Handwritten Thank-You Notes: This step begins the referral process with huge impact. Every tech should always have a stock of thank-you cards and pre-stamped (not metered) envelopes either in the truck or available at the office for him or her to fill out with a brief personal note of thanks. You couldn’t afford to buy the goodwill this simple act will produce. It is even more impressive when coupled with…

• The Thank-You Postcard: This is a simple note from the owner or service manager that goes out the day of the service. Like the thank-you card from the tech, this is so unusual that it’ll knock them off their feet. Thank them for their business and tell customers how valuable they are to you and your company. It warms the relationship even further.

• The Referral Request Letter: Send this out seven to 10 days later. This note — in a now kiddingly warm fashion — still thanks them for their business, yet lets them in on a secret. It reveals that advertising costs the business owner and the customer. They’ve never been so openly spoken to by a contractor — one who would make this admission for all to see — thus the sheer honesty is striking. It also allows for your referral request to hit home. This letter gets read.

• Online Reviews: These can be the life or death of your company’s image. If you receive a negative review for poor customer service, it casts a shadow over your business that’s nearly impossible to remove. Don’t think it’s a big deal? How many people do you know that still use the yellow pages? Not many. Most people search for contractors online, and if there is a customer service complaint, you can kiss that business goodbye.

Please and Thank You

Remember to respond to any issues/complaints online in a polite and respectful way. This will make you look better and allow you to share your side of the story.

Make yourself unique and memorable, helping customers separate you from everyone else who just blends in. When you put these tools in place, customer acceptance and appreciation will seem very obvious, and, soon enough, you’ll be looking back and saying, “No wonder that worked. It was a great idea.”

Publication date: 3/9/2015

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