In a time when many techs show up at a customer’s home wielding an iPad, the guys at The Comfort Authority LLC come in with notepad and pen in hand. Granted, it’s a spiffy notepad, adorned with the company logo. Before they leave, they hand the homeowner a paper receipt.
This may sound like a scene from 1999, but Eric Clauss, operations leader of this Tampa-based residential retrofit HVAC contractor, doesn’t see his company as behind the times. After all, they do use ServiceTitan, and they import all the data after the call is done. What Clauss is doing with handwritten receipts is a deliberate marketing strategy. Now that so much correspondence is digital, he said, good-old-fashioned pen and paper stands out.
“It's going to work a whole lot better, having that piece of paper, than some other random email that you probably already deleted and you'll never even think about again,” he explained. “We're back out there a year later, versus the email getting lost under 200 other emails somewhere.”
Pros and Cons of Pen and Paper
Pen and paper started as prevailing best practice for The Comfort Authority; 10 years ago, everyone wrote on a yellow notepad, said Steve Cox, owner/managing partner of The Comfort Authority.
“The response was good because it was something that you custom-wrote for that customer — it wasn't a prefilled-out form, it wasn't something where you enter data into a worksheet and then it spits out something on a tablet. We got a lot of good response,” he explained. “But the downside was, if you don't have good handwriting and good organization skills, it ends up looking bad.”
So Clauss created a simple preprinted form in Microsoft Word. It's pretty much the company logo at the very top of the form, and then several different blank spaces that technicians can use to fill out the customer’s options.
The company has been using the handwritten option sheets for about 10 years. It might not have been such an issue a decade ago, but the big benefit of this system today is that a physical paper receipt cuts through the digital clutter, Clauss said.
“I know how much junk email we get every day,” he said. “If you send someone an email version of the receipt on ServiceTitan, it's just another piece of email that ends up in their inbox, and it may end up in their spam folder.
“The great benefit of having a handwritten or a piece of paper, whether it's handwritten or printed out from an onboard printer in your truck, is that when you hand it to the customer, they could read it directly in front of you,” he continued. “It's in their hand.”
While they have it in their hand, the service tech can go through it and explain every option. The customer could agree to it. Or they might say, “Let me talk to my husband” or “Let me talk to my wife” — and that’s when the paper copy comes in handy.
“What they do at that point is they put it down,” Clauss said. “They might put us down in a place where they have other bills, or on top of a magazine. Maybe they forget about it — things came up, the kids are crying, someone has to get dinner ready, the laundry needs to be done. Then they pick this physical piece of paper up again in two weeks to a month and say ‘Oh, I forgot. Here’s this option sheet that The Comfort Authority left us — I really want to get one of these Remi Halo systems installed for indoor air quality.’ Just by having that piece of paper, it's like someone staring you in the face. It’s right there.”
Cox said the results have been a huge success.
“It is personalized, and it leads to customers feeling more like you're there for them and not to sell them something,” he said.
Make no mistake: It’s not old-school as far as the back office is concerned. All the information that’s gathered gets loaded into ServiceTitan later on. But the customer doesn’t see that part — during the service call, the technology stays in the background.
The one issue that persists is sloppy handwriting. Going forward, Clauss is looking at combining digital and print to give homeowners one more reason to follow up. Technicians already have an onboard printer in their vehicles. So once the option sheet is filled out using ServiceTitan (something they already do for company records), “all we have to do is hit print and they will have that piece of paper,” Clauss said. Once this system is up and running, The Comfort Authority will be able to provide customers with both an email and a paper form — and one that’s clearly legible, at that.
My Printer’s Freezing Up
It’s not an issue for a company in Florida, but up in Minnesota, contractors like Rochester-based Tonna Mechanical run into a different problem: the onboard printers freezing up — literally.
“We have not found anything that works reliably in the cold,” said service manager Michael Plank. “Obviously we can take them home at night, but after a long day, the last thing a technician thinks about is what they’ve got to take out of their van.”
So right now, all the paperwork is run through ServiceTitan and emailed to the customer. The company also sends a paper copy to the customer after the call is complete. Plank said a paper copy just feels more personal than an email.
“I still believe the handwritten option is more effective, but times are changing,” he wrote on a Nexstar discussion forum. “If the tech is handwriting, it is surely going to get to the customer, and I think that sometimes in the digital world, it is just easier to type it in and move on without fully discussing the options.”
Plank said a lot of his technicians would rather fill out forms by hand; their generation is very much old-school in that regard, and they prefer to handwrite everything. But some of the company’s newer technicians would much rather do the email version.
“It’s tough to find that balance, and we've just chosen to move with technology,” he said. “But you know the old adage: ‘My pen/paper is never locked up.’”