Communication is a wonderful thing when in the hands of a good wordsmith, but it can be devastating in the hands of someone not up to the challenge. We hire technicians for their ability to service and repair the mechanical issues when called upon for our customers. We arm them with training in offering service agreements and spiff them for replacement leads, but do we educate them on the two most harmful words in their customer relations dictionary?

They are the words just and only.

"It's only a run capacitor"

How many times have our beloved technicians brought our customers to a boil simply because they used the word just or only?

“Mr. Smith, you don’t have anything to fret over. It’s only a run capacitor. I’ll run to the truck and have it changed in a second,” your technician, John, says. He completes the repair in no time. He does every part of the rest of the call like he should. All his paperwork is in great order, he offers them a chance to sign up for a preventative maintenance service agreement, and presents them with a $320 repair bill.

Now Mr. Smith flips out, “I thought you said it was just a capacitor! How do you expect me to pay that bill? For what little and how long it took you to do the repair, you are trying to rob me.” We now have a technician who is uncomfortable and wants to disappear. It’s not his customer and he’s not the one who set the prices, so all he has left at his disposal is to make it more comfortable for himself and throw the boss under the bus.

Our technician pours out his heart with, “I know we are expensive Mr. Smith, but this is what the boss makes me charge. And besides that, if I don’t collect today, I won’t make my full commission for the repair.”

John the technician took it from bad to worse. When Mr. Smith heard the word commission, he realized that this technician will get paid by the amount of work he performs. He is now wondering if he even needed that capacitor thing. He doesn’t want this boy to get hurt so he pays the bill but has every intention of calling the owner and demanding a refund. Those conversations usually don’t turn out well for either party.

"They just needed new batteries"

But at least the technician did get paid. The other scenario is when the technicians use the just, and only words, and don’t feel the need to charge a customer. I can’t count the times a technician would turn in paperwork with a zero charge (if it was a service agreement customer), or our basic diagnostic fee for any non-service agreement customer. Their reasoning: “I only had to change their filter and they supplied the filter.” Another common answer was: “They just needed new batteries in their thermostat.” The list went on and on. There were the disconnects that somehow got shut off, the little ole lady that we had to go out to each season to move the thermostat from heating to cooling, the snow that was blocking the intake, the liquid propane tank that had run out, and the power company’s brown out device that shut their air conditioner off in peak demands.

 My daughter became my general manager during some of this time. She knew how to motivate the techs. She would always ask them, “If you came to the home and the system was not working, but it was working when you left, why would you not have charged something? Should we just pay you less? Should you only get part of your check this week?”

Explaining pricing to customers

For the first example though, you need to be ready when that customer calls. You must know why you charge what you charge and be able to defend it. Once I finally realized that I had to charge what I did and doing so would be the only way for me to stay in business, it became much easier to defend my pricing. I would get calls from those same Mr. Smiths and they would always begin with, “I googled that part, and I know that you didn’t pay any more than $5 for it.”

I know I had to shock them when I would answer with, “What does that part have to do with it?”

They would begin trying to teach me how to build my price, that even if I tripled the part cost and tripled what I paid my technician, and after adding tax, the price would be half of what I charged them.

I would always agree with them and tell them they were correct. If I calculated my repair pricing in that way, it would be half the price. But then I would go into a little soliloquy of how my costs of operating a service department will always outweigh the cost of parts and labor.

I would ask them, “Did you have trouble leaving a message on our answering machine?”

“No,” they would answer. “We talked to Brenda at your front desk.”

I would tell them they are correct because we never use an answering machine, and we’ve put a lot of money into getting Brenda trained. The phone system she uses cost us an arm and a leg. The building we lease is expensive, along with the utilities and upkeep. We pride ourselves on our nice-looking trucks that cost a lot to purchase, wrap, and stock with the parts we do to perform 80 percent of all repairs needed in one trip.

I would always speak of our professionals that deserve a decent living, with health benefits for their families. They too deserve to have vacations and paid holidays. “Well, you see Mr. Smith, my costs are a lot more than a $5 part.”

If you don’t have Mr. Smith by that time you can then offer him the discount. This will be the litmus test of having a customer or a forever price shopper. After your description of your cost breakdown, if Mr. Smith still wants a discount, tell him, “I will give you the price concession you are asking, but I will have to put you on our Do Not Service list.”

At this point you will get one of two reactions, “No, I want you to still service my equipment. You’ve always serviced my equipment.”

Then you tell Mr. Smith, “Well, to be able to stay in business and be here to service your equipment, I must charge what I do. So, can we get past this?”

He will either agree or say he still wants the discount and doesn’t care if he ever calls you again. Either way you win. If someone can’t be open to hearing how you are only trying to maintain and grow a healthy business, you don’t need that weight. Twenty percent of your customers will cause that proverbial 80 percent of your headaches. You will find that the more you help your technicians with how they speak to customers, the more you can come very close to removing these hard conversations. I would say it’s just that simple, but that would be a four-letter word.

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