HVAC contractors often view what they do as a mechanical process. They visit a site to either repair or replace equipment. But for residential HVAC contractors, what they really do is perform a series of interpersonal actions. The coronavirus pandemic suddenly made that process much more complicated. The industry responded quickly, however, and moved ahead with contactless payments in a way it had avoided for years before.
Tom Howard, vice president of customer experience for ServiceTitan, also co-owns Lee’s Air Conditioning, Heating & Building Performance in Fresno, California. Until this spring, it seemed cutting edge to have his customers sign a tablet rather than a piece of paper. The pandemic changed the process for a simple transaction into a potential health threat: A tech would hand the device to customer, and that customer would then rub her exposed finger on a surface numerous other people had touched.
“When COVID broke out, we had never really thought about the fact that customers wouldn’t want to touch an iPad,” Howard said.
ServiceTitan pulled 250 engineers off other jobs in early March and told them to develop a contactless experience. This included the ability to present options, get approval, get a sign off that the work was completed, and take payments. From mid-March to mid-April, ServiceTitan did the build out, testing, and rollout that normally takes months. The company had never worked at that fast of a pace before, Howard said.
“This was, ‘You have this week to build it, next week to test it, and it better be released the following week,’” he said.
Residential HVAC Contractors Move Into Contactless Payments
The company had some tools used for commercial clients that it modified for residential use. Howard said commercial clients are often located away from a project, sometimes in another state. These clients receive and approve estimates electronically all the time. They then use the ServiceTitan portal to make a payment. ServiceTitan’s system then accepts the payment, enters it into the management system, and exports it to the contractor’s accounting software.
Residential HVAC contractors never saw the need for this kind of system. The customer was usually in the same room as the technician. Now those clients stay at least six feet away if they are that close. The new tool from ServiceTitan allows a contractor to send a link and that customer operating through the portal.
Consumer reaction has been pretty good, Howard said. ServiceTitan provides a video about contactless visits that the contractor can send to the customer before the tech arrives. The video includes information about contactless payments.
Contactless Tells Customers Contractors Care
An older form of payment has proved useful in the current situation. Mobile capture makes it possible for a customer to write a check, leave it out, and walk away. The tech takes a picture with a tablet and uploads the payment.
David Giannetto, CEO of WorkWave, said the next phase will be direct payments from a customer’s phone, something many traditional retailers already offer. Consumers had already been growing more comfortable with contactless payment prior to the pandemic, Giannetto said. He said WorkWave provides billing services for different field services, including HVAC.
Giannetto said offering contactless payment won’t make or break a sale, but it does tell the consumer the HVAC contractor takes health issues seriously, and that impresses people these days.
“If they’re able to use those buzz words in their sales and marketing processes, they get a check in the box that a competitor doesn’t get,” he said.
This can make a big difference, Giannetto said. While some customers report record sales this summer, he said others continue to struggle. The winners are often those who adapt, and that requires a buy-in from ownership.
“This kind of stress drives change in necessity in a way that leadership wasn’t thinking about without it,” Giannetto said.
The pandemic also pushed vendors such as ServiceTitan to accelerate their updates. Howard said release dates are now coming out faster, and the company changed the way it builds its infrastructure. The old method had everyone working on the same project. Now they work on segments. It’s a major investment, Howard said, costing up to $100 million, but ServiceTitan plans on having all its development working this way going forward.
“COVID really pushed us to up our game really quickly and see how fast we could iterate a product,” Howard said. “We knew we needed to get to that point, but it really showed us what we can get done.”