Holiday Fun Can Build HVAC Customer Relationships
Gifts, parties, and the art of balancing business and celebrations
The Hallmark list of holidays and occasions could have HVAC contractors celebrating something every week. Approximately 50 such special events or ceremonies occur every year, and that doesn’t include the more obscure festivities (National Dog Day, anyone?) that some enjoy. With all the opportunities to party and give gifts, finding a balance between social norms and good business can be a challenge. Add to that the idea of observing holidays with a diverse customer base, and contractors could be navigating some sticky situations. Handling the holidays successfully comes down to managing employees and customers effectively and with class.
KEEPING TRADITIONS DURING WORK HOURS
Dressing up in Halloween costumes and chowing down on a turkey dinner is something that Chris Hunter and his employees do every year.
“We like to have fun,” said the founder of Hunter Super Techs, Ardmore, Oklahoma. “This includes dressing up for Halloween and giving out candy to kids. We also have a chili cook-off for all employees to participate in, with a gift card given to the winner.”
The company just finished the final course of its company-wide, family-style Thanksgiving dinner. Hunter wants his team and his customers to know how much they are appreciated, and he makes sure that they are thanked.
With just 23 days until Christmas, Hunter and his team are not only running the business but also preparing a special Christmas celebration.
“We have a dinner with employees and their spouses,” he said. “At the Christmas party, we usually have games, giveaways, and distribute any earned year-end bonuses.”
Instead of dinner, Oliver Heating, Cooling, Plumbing, Electrical in Morton, Pennsylvania, hosts a Christmas breakfast that has become a standing tradition at the company.
“All the managers and owners cook breakfast for our technicians, installers, office staff, vendors, and their families who can attend,” said Ashley Dennon, executive marketing assistant at Oliver. “This event has grown tremendously over the years. Last year, we served between 250 and 300 people. Of course, we have Santa here for all the children who come.”
Although Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Halloween are some of the larger holidays celebrated by contractors, there are other times throughout the year when companies will find a way to give back to their employees.
Infinity Texas Air in Forney, Texas, had its first annual Easter egg hunt with its staff members this year and intends to repeat the event.
“We had hundreds of eggs with candy, gift cards, and cash throughout our warehouse,” said Trapper Barnes, general manager. “We had three big eggs that were hidden the best. The staff fought until the end to find these special prizes. They had a blast, like they were little kids again.”
Similarly, Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day inspire Barnes and Hunter to host picnics and find a way to give their employees some time off.
TAKING TIME OFF
Despite the importance of having fun during holidays, there are still companies to be run and customers to be served. Infinity Texas Air closes for the day on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas, and New Year’s and has one on-call technician on each of those days. Oliver closes on all national holidays as well, allowing its employees to spend time with their loved ones. The company has an on-call crew to handle emergencies if its customers should need help during the holiday season.
Hunter Super Techs takes a different approach with its on-call schedule for technicians and call-center agents. According to Hunter, if the holidays fall on an employee’s on-call schedule, it is up to them to either work or have someone cover that day.
“Many times, we will allow employees to take another day off so they can celebrate the holidays with their families — like the Friday following Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, or New Year’s Eve,” he said. “It has always seemed to work out with the awesome group of employees that work at Hunter. This is a benefit of investing in your team and growing the business. There are more team members to rotate for the on-call duty.”
There were plenty of holidays where Hunter or another manager would respond to calls so the technicians could spend time with their family.
“That always meant a lot to them,” he said. “I believe it makes them want to go the extra mile for the company.”
CELEBRATING WITH CUSTOMERS
Giving gifts, saying thank you, and celebrating moments with customers can be more of a challenge than it is with employees. There are questions to answer and protocols to consider, each impacted by regions and factors beyond contractors’ control. Derek LoVerde, vice president of business development at To Your Success Inc., Kennesaw, Georgia, explained that contractors’ concerns shouldn’t focus so closely on the actual gift, but on the relationship being built with their customers.
“We are in the business of helping contractors build stronger customer relationships, and that’s the whole reason we exist,” he said. “We are there to help these contractors be more successful in doing that by nurturing the relationship with customers, especially through food.”
The company provides fresh-baked cookies made on-demand and delivered to customers for any occasion. Customization is available, and the company has the ability to create custom cards, in-house for any order. According to LoVerde, big shipping days can have the company sending out 1,000 packages of homemade cookies that were made starting at 4:00 that morning.
“There are a lot of different kinds of gifts that you can give somebody, and some customers ask us, ‘What about sending flowers, little trinkets, or promotional items?’” he said. “We really feel strongly that a gift of food is the best gift. As humans, we connect over food. If you want to build a strong connection or bond, especially an emotional connection with your customers, then food is the way to go.”
Summers & Zim’s Inc. is a heating, cooling, and plumbing contractor in Atglen, Pennsylvania.
“Last year, we sent out cookies in tins that said ‘Merry Christmas’ to every customer that received a new HVAC system or boiler installation,” said Ethann Zimmerman, dispatcher. “It was a successful gift.”
Oliver Heating, Cooling, Plumbing, Electrical also uses the service, but not just for Christmas. In 2010, the company started using To Your Success’ four-part strategy — delight every customer, listen to customer feedback, understand the customer experience, and showcase positive reviews.
“We’re always looking for special ways to differentiate ourselves from our competition,” said Bernie Sweeney, vice president of sales for Oliver. “The unexpected gift does that for us.”
The service can be automated as well as integrated with ServiceTitan®. It provides feedback as well and has helped increase Oliver’s Google reviews exponentially.
“Holidays are just a really good catalyst or good excuse to dote on your customers or your employees, and so really any opportunity that you have to wow somebody, you should go for it,” said LoVerde.
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