Barb Checket-Hanks

With the recent eruption of warmer temperatures here in the Midwest, and the continuation of more molten temps in the South and Southwest - coupled with the joys of social networking like Facebook - I’ve been hearing a lot from friends and family about how uncomfortable they are.

I feel badly for some of them. Money is tight, other things are breaking down, and the family in Georgia is sleeping in the single bedroom with a window unit. For other folks, I have to wonder how they got to the point where all of a sudden they need the a/c and it’s not working. A couple of things seem self evident from the second scenario:

• There were no super-obvious warning signs last season that the unit might need repair.

• Nobody was performing maintenance on the system, so if there were subtler warning signs, this year’s problems might have been prevented.

EMERGENCIES

The way that the weather has been warming up leads to a lot of emergency calls for a lot of contractors, and they may see the increased workload as a good thing. At least the ring of the phones is comforting. So is the overtime. But that nonstop ringing could also mean that the customer is in need of regular maintenance, and could well welcome such a discussion.

Contractors are probably dealing with a lot of price-shopping too - I know you always do, but this year it must certainly be higher than usual. (Maybe that’s just my perception of the world from the POV of a Detroiter.) Price shopping always requires a high degree of skill from the person answering the phones; it needs to be something more than quoting the cost of the call, something that includes a hopefully satisfying explanation of why the cost is worth it.

Just this past weekend, I heard a family member explain that they also needed to call “the a/c guy.” They were relieved that the work would only involve replacing the compressor; that’s what they called the outdoor unit. All of the indoor components had been changed with the furnace a couple of years ago. I decided not to ask whether the coils matched.

These family members were pleased that now they could get onto their utility’s maintenance plan, since now both the indoor and outdoor sections would be new.

(Feel free to count the errors of logic in this section and send them to me; let’s see if we come up with the same answers.)

AWARENESS

I was left wondering, why does this first heat wave seem to be such a surprise? Why are people so ill informed about their a/c systems? Why are they ignored until they break down? And why aren’t contractors perceived as being the maintenance providers?

For the last question, maybe it’s a matter of contact frequency. I don’t know how this particular utility company bills for its maintenance; I don’t think they are allowed to use the customer’s utility statement. Perhaps there’s a level of trust because they send us a bill every month anyway. We don’t like that bill, but at least we recognize their name.

Maybe contractors need to have more regular, in-your-face marketing, something that makes their name come to mind when things break down. At least ask whether the customer is interested in regular maintenance after you’ve installed something, or have a piece of literature on a maintenance program that you can leave behind. Anything less is just handing another customer over to the big energy company.

Publication date: 06/29/2009