It seemed so innocent at first. Occasionally, when giving a seminar, people don’t actually throw thorny or rotted vegetables at me, though they’re likely thinking about it.

During a contractor marketing seminar, I posed a question that applies to you if you ever deal with customers. It was more a question about positioning and persuasion, and not about maintenance agreements. Do not misread the implications for your HVAC company, regardless of your product or service offering.

I had asked a customer service representative (CSR) in the crowd who also helped run the marketing for her company, “When you get a service call from an existing customer who’s not on your maintenance agreement program, what do you say?”

This angel of a CSR responded, “I’d get them to tell me their problem, get their information, and schedule the appointment.”

My turn. This was the question that launched the probe: “Would you introduce the benefits of an agreement while the problem was prominent with them?”

“No, probably not,” she replied, after thinking for a moment.

“And, why not?” I asked,

That’s when she said it. “Because then I’d be selling.” She said the word “selling,” but her lips curled like she’d meant “smelling.” I could feel my neck hairs rising.

She seemed like a perfect CSR — a pleasant smile that you could hear as she spoke. Her patience was obvious as I struggled with the response she probably did not want to hear.

But, she’d uttered a word, a single word that was expressed fearfully, as if the very sound of it was either beneath her (and she was in no way snobby) or would be distasteful to her customers.

I asked the crowd: “Is this pretty much the way you handle it, too?” Most of those in attendance nodded, and one spoke up, “After all, her job is really just to handle that customer’s needs, not to sell them anything.”

My blood pressure inched up slightly.


I realized — just in this room alone — that this was an opportunity that is blown hundreds or thousands of times a year. Even the most caring can dismiss a cry for help that advances both parties, for fear of “selling.” How’d we get to this spot?

So, I took a deep breath and asked her, “Would this caller go to the front of the line or the back of the line?”

“Well, I guess the back of the line, whatever order they came in.” Smart girl. An agreement customer (as we advise) moves to the front, along with warranty customers.

I pressed slightly, “And, would they pay full price or a reduced price for the repair?”

She was right again by responding, “Full price. I mean, they’re not an agreement customer, but the tech can offer that to them when they finish the job.”

I asked, “Does everybody pretty much agree?” More nods. Back to her, “Although your techs aren’t in this room, who’s more comfortable talking with customers, them or you?” A few chuckles ensued since she was a friend to virtually every customer.

She smiled. She didn’t need to answer any further.

My last question to her, “Clearly, you care for your customers, don’t you?”

“More than anything; it’s why we’re in business.”

Well said, and all agreed. The point of reckoning was here.

I asked the crowd what percent of demand service calls are non-maintenance-related. I got answers ranging from 75-100 percent, with customer problems ranging from the air conditioner and the furnace/boiler are dirty to a low-pressure air conditioner hose replacement.

So, I asked them to shout out an average repair ticket, which ranged from $200 to just under $600. I asked for their agreement prices, which ranged from $150 a year (too cheap) to $500.

“Well, let’s review.” I took a breath. “This caller is a customer. You do have faster service, but they won’t get it, nor will they get the option to choose it until they’ve waited their turn. You do have a discount for repairs, but they won’t be offered that option until the wait and the repairs are completed. You do believe that regular maintenance could’ve greatly reduced or prevented them from having the problem altogether. And you’ve just told me prevention was considerably less costly than the cure.”

And for once, I shut up. The silence was their answer.

“Who in here is in the service business?” All hands raised. “Who believes the better service — when you know it to be the right choice — is to sell?” All hands remained up.

There are those who back down from the opportunity to sell because they feel it’s somehow at odds with service. There are those who turn from the sale because they don’t want to be “pushy.” There are those who believe selling is someone else’s job, even when they know the problem and the solution just as well, or better. They may even have the better opportunity, but they cast a downward glance and change the subject.

To those, I offer a whiff of the selling salts.

As much as I’d like to tell you that our marketing will greatly benefit you as it has others, I have a confession. It will only increase the number of sales opportunities you get … not the percentage you capitalize upon.

And, it certainly won’t change the mindset that somehow you’re not worthy of boldly offering your services beyond the customer’s assessment when you know better.

Einstein, who was not exactly known for marketing and sales advice, uttered a statement that is distinctly appropriate, “We can’t solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

If you believe in your service, your products, the talent you have to solve problems for customers, and in your people to do the right thing, you have an obligation to serve your customers to the fullest. And, sometimes, selling is the service. On those occasions, it’s a disservice to do otherwise.

Publication date: 7/27/2015

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