Locking in a residential service and replacement customer can be easier said than done. The phone book or media advertising are typically the sources that customers use to schedule HVAC service or replacement - until recently.

Thanks to the Talking Thermostat, which "talks" to customers and reminds them who to call for equipment service, contractors are finding a new way to retain profitable service and replacement business and keep customers happy without expensive advertising.

The product was introduced to News readers in the Sept. 16, 2002 issue. When it first came out, the Talking Thermostat was only available through AirTime 500 contractors. Today, any contractor can sell it.

As its name implies, the Talking Thermostat provides audible instructions about programming and reminds owners when to call contractors for service.

Now You're Talking

As its name implies, the Talking Thermostat provides audible programming instructions for homeowners. The advantage for contractors is that they can preprogram it to include instructions on who and when to call for service.

Russ Puckett, vice president and general manager of residential services for Atlas-Butler Heating & Cooling, Columbus, Ohio, said, "The thermostat can be programmed to come on at a certain interval, telling the homeowner that it is time to service [the equipment]. It is kind of like a car engine, which sends a signal when it needs servicing.

"It's good for the client because he or she forgets about service, and people are too busy to read cards or return phone calls, reminding them that it is time for service."

Some of the features of the Talking Thermostat include:

  • Easy-to-read display - The illuminated display features an oversized LCD.

  • Easy-to-talk-through programming instructions - Verbal setup help for every situation and change a customer wants to make.

  • Dirty filter alert - Warning given and displayed when operating hours suggest checking the air filter.

  • Low battery alert - Warning given and displayed when the batteries need to be replaced.

  • Temperature and setting report - Announces current indoor temperature and settings when the user presses the report key.

    "This is the only thermostat we sell because it is programmable and is an energy-saving device for customers; and the talking feature is something people find useful, such as pushing a button to hear the temperature instead of having to turn on a light to see the temperature," said Richie Drew, general manager of Myrtle Beach's One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

    Customers Come Back

    Drew has no doubt that his customers will keep calling One Hour if they use the Talking Thermostat. "It's a customer retention tool," he said. "All they have to do is push the button and get our company name and telephone number. They don't even need to use the Yellow Pages anymore. The more thermostats I put in homes, the fewer times customers are going to the phone book or calling a competitor for service."

    Puckett added, "It's a billboard - people talk about it. When someone needs service, all they have to do is press the button. The customer wins and we win."

    Puckett believes that with so much emphasis on indoor air quality (IAQ), customers are more aware of the need to properly maintain their HVAC equipment, including regular filter changes. "It is an IAQ tool because it can be programmed at any interval to remind homeowners to have the filters changed or maintenance performed," he said.

    Doubting customers are assured by Drew that the Talking Thermostat works because all of the One Hour employees have the thermostat installed in their homes and offices. "We have three different systems in our own home with three Talking Thermostats, which gives us the ability to control each zone based on how we are using the house," Drew said.

    "If a customer were to ask me if I had one of these in my home and I said no, that would indicate that I don't trust the product. I use the product and believe in it."

    He added that the No. 1 objection to the Talking Thermostat is that it may sound too complicated to customers. "When we are on a call, we put it in the customer's hands and tell them to go ahead and play with it and get comfortable with it," Drew said. "If they are interested at all in it, they don't want us to leave without installing it."

    Drew said, "The employees like to sell the product because they know that it is helping the company and creating future business for them - job security."

    The Talking Thermostat is available through BuyMax, an online buying group of VenVest Inc. Contractors can call 866-936-6622 or visit www.4buymax.com to join or learn more about it. To learn more about the features of the Talking Thermostat, visit www.talkingthermostat.com.

    Publication date: 05/30/2005