As far as I know, there was not an hvacr contractor in the bunch. However, what futurist Philip Lempert revealed to a room full of attentive members of the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Assoc-iation (GAMA) should not be kept under wraps. It was certainly not for GAMA ears only.

Lempert (“The Supermarket Guru”), keynote speaker at GAMA’s 2000 annual meeting last week, discussed service — or, rather, the downfall of it in this country. What Lempert told representatives of the gas appliance manufacturing world is applicable to the hvacr contracting world, too:

Listen to your customers, people. If you don’t, you may as well close shop now.

Listen While You Work

Lempert, who has an uncanny ability to identify and explain impending trends, is widely regarded as one of America’s leading consumer trend watchers and analysts, and for good reason: He usually hits the nail on the head. He pounded away last week, especially on the topic of service.

Here are two frightening statistics to gulp down:

1. If a person experiences bad service, that person will tell up to 32 people about it. And, according to Lempert, those 32 will each tell three people accordingly.

As you can see, this chain of events is not good for business. The best solution, per Lempert, is supplying good service from start to finish. Instead of saying bad things about your contracting firm, one customer could be telling 32 people how great your service and professionalism are. And, those 32 people could be passing along the good word, ad infinitum.

2. If you believe the number-one reason customers leave is because of pricing, you’re wrong. According to Lempert, 70% go elsewhere because of poor service. “People are not being served properly,” he stated.

The key here, of course, is listening. To prove his point, Lempert talked about his elderly mother who went shopping for a Chrysler LeBaron convertible. Dealer #1 tried to steer the 70-plus-year-old widow to a different car (as Lempert put it, “an old fart car”). Mrs. Lempert promptly went elsewhere.

Dealer #2 simply asked what color she was interested in. According to Lempert, his mom continues to purchase autos from Dealer #2. “He won her over just by listening,” said Lempert, who is also an interactive editor for “By listening, he had just won a customer — for life.”

How Old Are You?

Getting back to Mrs. Lempert and her car-shopping episode, the danger there is in making an assumption. One should not assume that an elderly woman wants “an old fart car.”

In the case of an hvacr contractor, one should not assume that a customer wants central air when ductless mini-splits might be on the customer’s wish list. Get the picture?

“Trends do change,” said Lempert, noting that understanding age, life stages, and other demographics are very important to a businessperson.

To prove his point, he asked several people in the crowd to first state their age and then how old they feel. More often than not, the first number was higher than the second. The obvious translation: Most people feel younger than their actual age. However, the more important translation: A contractor cannot guess what a customer wants strictly by their age. Again, this is where listening comes into play.

Red Roses? Are You Sure?

Charles Petty, Ph. D., the main speaker at GAMA’s noon luncheon, asked the men in the audience what color of roses they buy their wives or significant other for that special occasion or day: red, white, pink, or peach?

Most raised their hand for the color red. Petty scolded these fellows for automatically selecting that color, noting that women do not always favor it.

“Did you ever ask?” queried Petty.

(Take heart, though, men. Petty did scold the women for not necessarily informing their partners what color they wanted displayed in a vase on the dining room table.)

In truth, both Petty and Lempert had plenty more to say regarding service, the art of listening, the importance of branding, the four “Fs” (fast, focused, flexible, and franchised) in the new marketing mix, and how e-business is supplying (for many) the service customers so desperately want in today’s fast-paced world. (These particular observations will be addressed in this space next week.)

For now, contractors, follow through on these words of advice. Listen to your customers today, tomorrow, and hereafter. And, by providing excellent service, make them say good things to 32 people.

It’s a right start.