Let me let you in on a secret about myself — I don’t really like people. Not everyone, of course. I have a solid circle of family and friends I enjoy spending time with. And, certainly, if you’re reading this and know me from industry functions, I’m not talking about you. You’re surely the exception to the rule.

I’m speaking about the plethora of strangers you run into each and every day. I wish I was one of those people who immediately likes people. Unfortunately, I’m not. I know there are a fair amount of people out there like me.

Now, the reality is, a good chunk of people calling your business today view you as a stranger. Their air conditioners recently died, and they connected with your business because of your impressive marketing or search engine optimization (SEO) skills. They don’t have a previous relationship with you. While they knew very little about you yesterday, your business is very important to them today. Shouldn’t you make it as easy as possible for them to start a relationship?

I’m talking about online scheduling options and wondering why every HVAC contractor in America is not offering that service. We’re a society that wants communication to take place at our convenience. A growing population does not want to call your office and talk to one of your employees to schedule a service or sales call. They want to go on your website via a computer or mobile device, quickly enter some information, and have a service call scheduled.

I know when I was trying to get quotes on a new furnace last winter, I greatly appreciated the ability to schedule an appointment without having to talk to a representative, leave a voicemail, or being placed on hold.

The business model has changed, and contractors need to change with it. It might be a sad reflection on our society, but if consumers don’t get interactions exactly the way they want them, every step of the way, they’ll quickly move on to Company B.

During a recent webinar with The NEWS, Marc Marchillo, corporate training manager at Aprilaire, was talking about a contractor in Houston who asks every customer how they would like to be contacted, giving them the option of email, phone call, or text. Surprisingly, 85 percent of those asked preferred text messages. That is communicating like your customers want you to.

Plenty of contractors are allowing their customers to book appointments online. Thornton & Grooms in Farmington Hills, Michigan, has been offering an online scheduling option for three years. About 10 percent of the contractor’s appointments are now made through the Web. Bruno Air in Bonita Springs, Florida, books approximately 60 percent of its appointments through Web forms.

The percentage of your customers seeking this option most certainly depends on the demographics in your area. Younger folks are more likely than seniors to want to go this route. But, the simple fact is, as the years go by, the number of people who want to communicate electronically will continue to increase.

There are cons to this arrangement. You, the contractor, are not going to receive as much information as you would if these runs were booked through a phone conversation, as you can’t control the conversation.

But, the positives grossly outweigh the negatives. You’ll have more satisfied customers, your peak call time of first thing in the morning will be reduced, and there will be fewer cancelled appointments and no-shows because customers are able to see your availability and schedule the appointment themselves.

Like anything, this change is an investment, but it’s one that will pay for itself. It’s time to introduce it to your future customers.

Publication date: 9/21/2015

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