Sticker shock is nothing new for the service tech who needs to tell his customer that either the old air conditioning unit is beyond repair, or whose repair may cost more than this customer has budgeted for.

Either scenario could be more likely now that the minimum efficiency of unitary systems produced in the United States is 13 SEER.

What you want to do is use the experience to gain your customer's trust; become an adviser. And one of the best ways to do that is by educating the customer.

Consumer Education

First of all, have plenty of handout materials that explain the 13 SEER minimum efficiency and the date it went into effect. Make sure that all employees who interact with customers, whether in person or on the phone, have access to this material.

  • Put it on your Website.

  • Give field employees copies of newspaper articles that explain the situation.

  • Make sure all employees are knowledgeable about the minimum efficiency requirement. Hold company training for everyone who interacts with customers. Everyone needs to be on the same page. Consider providing an information sheet employees can keep on hand, to answer customer questions.

  • Provide links to third-party sources for more information. Include the Department of Energy (, the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (, The NEWS (, and any professional contracting organization you may belong to.

  • Let your entire customer base know about the increased minimum efficiency. An eye-catching postcard can contain a few pieces of information customers can reference: This affects all HVAC companies; your replacement air conditioner will be more efficient; and well-maintained systems live longer. Also, include Websites and your phone number.

  • You could offer a coupon incentive so that the card serves a dual purpose. However, trying to immediately turn this into a sale could generate some customer distrust. You may want to keep it purely informational.

    During a heat wave, it's hard to find time to sit down with customers. That's why it's so important to have printed materials to leave at the house. You may want to have temporary cooling equipment available for rental while the customer decides what to do, repair or replace.

    Make sure your invoice indicates that the customer requires a follow-up call.

    Presenting the Options

    When you present the options of repairing vs. replacing the old equipment, don't assume that the customer wants the lowest cost option. When presented with all the facts, the customer may in fact choose a higher cost option if they see the benefits.

    Remember the customer worksheet we discussed last month? Its use will help customers reach their best financial decision by weighing the variables. Again, let them fill out some of the information, while you fill in the rest (i.e., estimate, accommodation, and labor information):

    Age of the system: _____
    Frequency of past maintenance: _____
    Potential repair: _____
    Estimate for repair: _____
    Location of indoor coil: _____
    Planning to move in near future: _____
    Monthly utility bill: _____

    Your salesperson can then sit down with the customer to discuss their options. When the customer fills out the worksheet, it gives him or her a sense of control. It also shows them that there may be definite benefits to replacing their old system instead of repairing it, based on these variables.

    In short, you want to present the facts, give them the information they need to make the decision, and gain their trust by helping them make the best decision for themselves. You will be an advisor.

    Of course, you can still install lower-efficiency unitary products if you can get them. However, due to last year's hurricane repair efforts, stocks of those products may be hard to come by. Your customers need to realize this, and know that it's a problem that affects your competitors, too.

    Finally, make sure you are prepared to discuss financing, as you would in any replacement scenario.

    For more information, click on the Emerson Climate Technologies logo above.