A service technician makes a routine repair call to a house to fix the surface ignitor on a furnace. While there, he notices the house lacks a humidifier. This creates an opportunity for an upsell. Upselling, when done right, creates an increased income opportunity for contractors.
Consumers today are better informed than ever, said Jim Patterson. He operates as both a contractor and a manufacturer, so he already knows most of his products well. Patterson owns Orchard Valley Heating and Cooling in Southhampton, Massachusetts, as well as JB Solutions Inc. He said a company trying to sell an extra product needs to know how it really works and how it benefits the homeowner.
“You have to know more than how a furnace works,” Patterson said. “You have to know how a house works.”
WHAT A PRODUCT CAN DO
What most interests consumers can vary by their age. Older consumers may want comfort, while younger consumers may want the latest technology. All groups have one goal in common: protecting the investment in their homes. Customers can often be unaware of all the products available for today’s home HVAC system.
“For a lot of consumers, the HVAC industry is a mystery,” said Jeffrey Chapman, president of Chapman Heating and Air Conditioning in Indianapolis. “You really need to explain what a product can do for them.”
Chapman supplies his workers with free samples of the equipment they sell. Speaking from personal experience can help make the customers more confident in the purchase.
Upselling isn’t for everyone, Patterson said. It doesn’t work if a contractor’s goal is being the lowest bidder.
“A lot of contractors just want to install a furnace or a boiler,” Patterson said. “It’s more about positioning yourself in the industry.”
A LEVEL OF TRUST
Upselling brings the opportunity for increased income, but it carries the risk of turning off customers. As with most matters, timing proves crucial. In the case of the house without a humidifier, the technician presents the recommendation after the repair. At this point, the tech has solved the owner’s immediate problem, so the customer is satisfied with the job and is likely to trust the company, said Steve Coscia of Coscia Communications Inc.
“You want to make sure you have the right level of trust established with the customer,” Coscia said. “If the customer likes me, the customer will want to hear a recommendation or two.”
Presenting those options in the form of a recommendation can help make the sale. In this example, that might mean saying “You could benefit from a humidifier” rather than “You need a humidifier,” then giving the customer several options on humidifiers in a range of prices. The customer can then choose which option without being pressured into the most expensive one, which can turn them off.
“If the only goal is to make more money, it’s a misplaced goal,” Coscia said.
At the same time, many techs assume customers want to pay as little as possible.
“Customers want to know where the value is,” Coscia said. “Your customers won’t mind paying more if you can convey where the value is.”
Backing up those suggestions with evidence can help. Patterson uses tools such as laser particle counters, hydrometers, and thermal cameras to show owners what they need to improve their HVAC performance. He said photos also help to make the case for a product.
REWARDS AND RISKS
Consumers are really looking for somebody to guide them to the best options, Chapman said.
“You really have to explain what it can do for them.”
The case for something like a humidifier might be fairly clear-cut. Something like Patterson’s Humidicycle system, which aims to waste less water but comes at a higher cost, takes more explaining.
Patterson said techs need to observe the home environment and ask questions of the homeowner. They can then “make suggestions based on the symptoms.” Patterson presents a menu of options to the consumers. He then allows the homeowner to control the conversation.
This creates an opportunity for sales. Unfortunately, it also creates “a terrible temptation,” Chapman said, to take advantage of the ignorance. That’s why he limits what his techs sell on calls to small-ticket items, such as humidifiers. Otherwise, he said, there’s too much of a temptation to oversell. The techs make these small sales realizing it helps them in the long run, Chapman said.
“It doesn’t sound like a lot until you do the multiplication,” he said. “That’s somebody’s raise.”
CALLS AFTER THE SERVICE CALL
Not all techs feel comfortable upselling customers, even with a fairly simple item such as a humidifier. Additionally, some contractors might feel their techs lack the savvy to sell extra products while on a call. Coscia said that while not all techs have the skills or comfort needed, many just need training. He recommends a weekly meeting to review techniques, products, and follow-through strategies.
Follow-through is crucial. Many consumers don’t want to make a decision right after they’ve spent money on something else, such as a furnace repair.
“You know right away if they aren’t interested — and you don’t push,” Patterson said. “You’re going in as somebody on their side. You want what’s best for them.”
If the customer declines the sale at the time, the tech finishes the paperwork and asks if a company representative can contact the customer at a later time. Notes now become essential.
“So many sales are lost to incomplete paperwork,” Coscia said.
The tech who made the furnace repair needs to include detailed notes about the humidifier discussion so the sales staff knows the customer’s level of interest and the brands under consideration. The office staff then needs to contact the customer within 48 hours.
“Every product has its opportunity,” Patterson said.
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