I remember my very first, high-tech load calculation software.  It was an apparatus that sat on a table and had two rubber cups.  You would dial the phone, wait until you heard the digital handshake on the other end, and then shove the two ends of the receiver into the respective cups.  Your little Texas Instrument Keyboard would now be ready to input all the information that you recorded while measuring the rooms.

The year was 1983, and this little setup wowed the customer.  Right before their eyes, they saw history in the making.  A computer that connected over the phone to Tyler Texas and not only was cool but was giving them the exact system design for their home.

This customer’s name was Clem.  One of the nicest clients I ever had the opportunity to work with.  He loved the service, and he enjoyed his comfortable home — until we had one of the coldest winters ever recorded.

As HVAC sales personnel get more savvy, as they learn to accurately size equipment for the true load of the home, a couple of things happen.  The equipment operates more efficiently, but it is truly limited by the parameters that the design affords.  In the example above, I plugged in the design temperatures for a typical central Indiana winter.  At that time, it was a minus 3°F design.  So, what happens when your load hits that 42,500 needed Btus and you have a 55,000 Btu furnace to cover it?  Today, we have more and more companies doing it right.  More companies are sizing to what the true load is.  In 1983, that was not the case.  I had a lot of competitors who still believed that bigger was better.

We were experiencing a minus 20° cold snap, and it didn’t seem to want to go away.  Clem called very upset.  His house was cold.  He could not get his thermostat above 62°.  It was 17° colder than what I designed for, so I thought the furnace was performing amazingly well.  Clem did not care about design or Btus or anything else, except for the fact he was cold and wanted it resolved.  Besides all that, he called three other contractors that told him there was no way that size furnace could heat his house.  “Why, that wouldn’t even heat a chicken coup,” one contractor told him.

I made a dash to Clem’s home to see if I could salvage the relationship.  We sat down and went over my load calculations.  To this day, I don’t know what I saw, but I caught something I saw on the printout that made me say “uh oh.”  I think it was either the amount of floor space or window area, but the uh oh totally changed Clem’s demeanor.  He heard in my voice that I found an honest mistake, and it cleared my good name of trying to dupe him into buying something that he shouldn’t have.  I knew what I found really wouldn’t have made the difference, but I also new that the only remedy for an ongoing relationship was to furnish Clem with a larger furnace for his home. 

The truth was, I made a small input error that didn’t amount to even an additional 400 Btus, but the uh oh and admitting to an error made all the difference in the world.  I not only installed a larger furnace, I installed a higher-efficiency furnace.  I replaced the 1-inch filter rack that was there with a new MERV-10 high-efficiency one.

I was young in my career, and I wanted my business to be marked by integrity, not by fighting for what might have been OK.  I’ve learned over the years that you can prove yourself to be right, or you can prove yourself to be honorable, forthright, and congenial.  The latter has worked well for me, even though, at times, I really, really want to be right instead.

Clem was ecstatic. I hadn’t advertised a 100 percent money back guarantee, but he saw that he had made the right choice.  I was that stand-up guy who would not leave him holding the bag.  Clem started recommending his neighbors to me.  His daughter grew up and bought her first home, and I installed a very nice system for her.  As I tracked through the years, the number of referrals I received from Clem outpaced 2:1 over any other client I had ever had the opportunity to work with.   I never thought doing something wrong and then making it better than it was would produce such results.

Fast forward several years.  As I was continuing to grow my business and, from time to time, work with differing consultants, I was challenged to this very point.  Why not advertise a 100 percent money back guarantee.  Just the sound of that scared me.  Not everyone out there are Clems!  What if I advertise and people just use it to take advantage of me?  The more I thought about it, the more I realized: Who has time to have a system installed and then yanked out, just to take advantage of someone.

I begin putting the guarantee right on our proposals.  Ask us about our two-year 100 percent money back guarantee.  We talked about it to our potential clients.  Especially if someone was on the fence about a buying decision. 

“What is your other contractor offering for a warranty?” we would ask them, and then go into detail of ours.

Anytime you can reverse the risk for a customer — that is, put it back on yourself — they at least know that they won’t have to be trapped into a bad decision.

The truth is, we gave even more than two years of warranty.  We had a run of wonderfully designed furnaces that just failed in the field.  It was so bad that we switched brands.  In only a handful of cases, we couldn’t get the furnaces to a point of trust.  People who would usually spend their winters in warmer climates felt they had to stay home for the winter.  Some of the furnaces were only five years old but could never make it through a winter without at least one service call.  There were a couple we replaced with our new brand for free, and there were three or four we replaced for a little less than our cost.

Even installing a top-of-the-line furnace at a little less than our cost gave the customer so much peace of mind that, once again, we were looked at as heroes.

As far as the 100 percent guarantee, there were only two times that I actually had to write a check.  The first was an 1,800-square-foot manufactured home.  It was of solid construction, but it did have some roof-ceiling combination, making the load on that portion of the home a little higher than normal.

In this situation, we had a summer that was off the chart.  The temperatures hung above 95° for days, even touching into the low 100s.  The customer was uncomfortable to say the least.  We had put a new furnace and complete air conditioning system in, as well as a complete duct system.

We checked everything.  Was the charge correct?  Where were we on the static pressure?  We sent tech after tech to try and figure out what was going on.  We bumped the system and took out the 3-ton system to replace with a 4-ton system. They were still uncomfortable.

They called in my hand.  They asked me to please remove the equipment and ducting so they could get someone else who could figure out their issue.  The check was a little north of $10,000.

It was an expensive lesson.  While taking out the system, which had flexible lateral runs, we discovered the lead installer had completely sealed one side of the trunk.  On the other side of the trunk, air was dumping like it was moving through a strainer.  The new helper who had done the other side of the trunk didn’t grasp the whole sealing thing.  What was worse was the lead installer did not bother to check the new guy’s work.  The seasoned technicians, returning to get to the bottom of the issues, did not venture into the crawl space, which would have clued them in to a crawlspace that was frigid. It was the perfect storm.

I wrote the check, but because I kept my word, I maintained a good relationship with the homeowner.  There were no hard feelings, just a business transaction that allowed us to learn a hard lesson and prove to the customer that we would keep our word.

The only other time I had to write a check was for a small amount. I refer to this customer as crazy lady.  She wore us out.  She could smell gas.  We could not pick up anything.  The gas company could not pick up anything.  But she new she had gas lingering in her house.  She wanted to know what we could do.  We told her we could introduce fresh air to help with whatever smell was offending her.  She agreed and we added a fresh air vent to her system.  A week later she called to complain she could smell her neighbors grilling.  I couldn’t write that check fast enough.

Only having to write two checks over a 10-year stretch is not a bad cost for the benefit of being able to tout a 100 percent money back guarantee.  If you have a Clem, you are going to do what’s right anyhow.  Why not advertise it to your advantage?

Publication date: 4/22/2019

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