“The customer journey has become digital.”
This was the assessment of a recent home services survey by Silverback Strategies, conducted August 2020 over 1,066 U.S. adults who had purchased a service within the last 12 months.
Home service demand has increased significantly during the pandemic’s stay at-home and work-from-home mandates. Consumers are increasingly using their smartphones to shop for HVAC service providers, interacting with digital ads and reading reviews — meaning contractors should work to generate more reviews through digital channels like email and mobile text messages. However, customer behavior varies by age group, and a significant chunk of buyers still prefer to call a contractor who they’ve worked with before.
According to the survey, buyers of HVAC/plumbing services were most likely to go online as a first step toward selecting a provider.
Figure 1 shows the first action taken when buyers realized the need for home services, grouped by industry. While 42% of HVAC/plumbing customers started by going online, it’s worth noting that another 40% started by contacting a contractor they’d worked with in the past — a significant jump over other home services industries, where typically less than 25% went back to a past provider.
Figure 1 (Click each diagram to enlarge)
The study also showed significant differences between generations. For buyers under age 55, nearly 60% started their search for a provider by searching the internet. They were also much more likely to respond directly to a digital ad (see Figure 2) and were most likely to use a search engine on their mobile device.
“This is good news for home services companies,” the survey noted. “While traditional TV and radio advertisements may have some effect, analytics and reporting from digital marketing investments make it easy for home services companies to measure clear return on their investments.”
Boomers, on the other hand, were 50% less likely to go online and twice as likely to contact a past provider when they need a home service, citing “trust” as their top reason.
Of home services buyers who started their search online, most turned to search engines like Google. Others used included rating and review sites and various social media platforms, or they went directly to a service provider’s website — a form of brand recall.
Figure 3 shows the channels home services buyers in the survey first used when they realized a need. Despite the popularity of online searches, traditional referrals do remain a viable lead generator. More than 20% of buyers reported talking to a trusted friend or colleague as the first step toward making a purchase.
While only 10% of home services buyers reported turning to social media to actively seek out a service provider, social media platforms can be a good place for contractors to build brand awareness. Figure 4 shows social media platforms used actively (multiple times per week) by buyers, grouped by industry.
Contractors who invest in brand awareness may have a sales advantage. More than one-third of HVAC/plumbing buyers only spoke to one service provider, whom they ultimately hired (see Figure 5).
For HVAC contractors, 71% of buyers are active on Facebook and 50% on YouTube, suggesting that brand awareness campaigns on these channels could be an effective alternative to traditional TV and radio advertising.
Outside of cost, “customer ratings and reviews” and “examples of past performance” were top criteria buyers used to evaluate plumbing and HVAC providers (see Figure 6).
It was even more common in industries like HVAC/plumbing and pest control.
“These ratings and reviews are critical to building trust with modern buyers,” the survey said. “Home services companies can take advantage of these insights by generating positive reviews on select platforms and showcasing images and stories of past work.”
That being said, only 36% of HVAC/plumbing customers reported leaving ratings and reviews (see Figure 7).
“Customer ratings and reviews have an incredible impact on the customer journey, but generating them can be challenging for home services companies,” the survey noted. “However, there are ways to prompt customers to leave online ratings and reviews. For example, field contractors could ask customers directly to leave a rating or review on a specific platform, like Google My Business or Facebook. Emails or text messages can be sent to follow up with customers, asking for a rating or review.”
Facebook and Google were the top platforms used by home services buyers to leave ratings or reviews (see Figure 8).
“Having a complete Google My Business profile along with recent, positive customer engagements can have an incredible impact,” according to the survey. “Not only will this provide a reference for buyers to evaluate service providers, but it directly impacts local search optimization for queries like “plumbers near me.’”