Remember the good old days, when an HVAC business could control the narrative with a homeowner? A homeowner would notice his or her air conditioner or furnace was not working, and he or she would quickly open up the Yellow Pages, place a few phone calls, and wait for a technician to show up at the home, full of opinions and options.

Homeowners rarely knew anything about SEER ratings, air quality, or equipment size. Many had not purchased a system in years — if ever — which allowed a contractor a blank slate to begin informing the homeowner what’s available and affordable before offering up a recommendation.

Times they are a-changing, and the HVACR industry appears to have reached the tipping point. A recent American Home Comfort study from Decision Analyst showed for the first time in the study’s history that more homeowners are turning to the internet to gather information about their new HVAC system purchases than their contractors. In the 2013 version of this study, the internet and contractors were utilized equally, and prior to that, contractors were the unequivocal primary source for consumer HVAC information.

However, today, upon a contractor’s arrival, the homeowner has likely already researched efficiency ratings and IAQ and has probably already established a price range he or she believes the product could cost. At least they think they know the cost. Surely they are not taking into consideration the mark-up and installation costs that come with the territory.

The study offered up loads of additional interesting information. More than half — 58 percent — of consumers who used the internet to research their purchases visited an HVAC manufacturer’s website to obtain additional information. Manufacturer websites were cited as the most-often-used source of information for these consumers, followed by articles and information found via a search engine at 46 percent and free internet review boards at 32 percent. Contractors’ websites were viewed less often, as only 30 percent of homeowners included a local contractor site in their online searches.

As a contractor, perhaps the first takeaway is that your website should be a place where potential customers visit to gain valuable information instead of solely a sales pitch. Contractors should work hard on search engine optimization (SEO), so when locals are searching Google to find out more about the efficiency of a furnace, they are learning it directly from their local contractor’s website. This will translate to increased business.

Of course, any good contractor needs to spend some time worrying about those review sites — of which there are many. No contractor is going to only have positive reviews, but the negative ones should be somewhat few and far between. A simple explanation of “your side of the story” is certainly acceptable, although you do not want to come off as defensive or snarky.

All of this makes it tougher for a contractor to become a homeowner’s home comfort expert. But, just because it is tougher does not mean it shouldn’t be done. Technicians can’t be solely focused on quickly fixing what is broken to get onto the next call. They need to be educators in the home. They must be the experts on when a system should be replaced and when one needs to be repaired. Ask pointed questions to discover what is important to the homeowner. This is a must.

Another interesting aspect of the survey was that homeowners are frequently choosing the HVAC equipment’s brand before selecting a contractor. This is showcased in the survey, as this number has increased from 25 percent in 2013 to 29 percent in 2016.

More than three-quarters — 77 percent — of consumers who decided on the brand they wanted to purchase before choosing the installing contractor used the internet to research their purchases.

These are the buying habits of your customers. It is important that you know this information and, more importantly, that you know how to use it to your advantage.

Publication date: 9/5/2016 

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