One of the pillars of our success in the hvacr industry is service. We help customers solve their heating and cooling woes by providing excellent service. Sometimes the service can be as simple as some friendly advice, given out over the phone for no extra charge.

I tend to believe that most contractors would opt for solving a “simple” problem by troubleshooting the fault with the customer before sending out a service tech to make an in-home visit. My thinking may not put extra money in the contractor’s pocket but it goes a long way toward establishing good customer relations and word-of-mouth advertising.

So it is no surprise that our closeness to homeowners and business owners is taking a “hit,” so to speak, from the friendly website chat rooms and forums.

If you’ve done any web surfing, you know what I’m talking about. People go online and throw out a subject or question for discussion. Other members of the chat room or forum give feedback and answers, often solving a problem with a brief volley of keystrokes or the touch of a mouse.

I was web surfing the other day and came upon a useful consumer website,, which, as the name implies, is for do-it-yourselfers who need tips on home repair and remodeling projects. The site also has a bank of contractors who can be reached for this type of work if homeowners can’t or don’t want to do their own repairs or remodeling projects.

I found the site very helpful for the homeowners and useful for the contractors/advisors as well. It brings together a number of professionals who are problem solvers and exposes them to an attentive audience of consumers.

But it also got me thinking about the downside, too.

If homeowners didn’t have forums like those found on this website, who would they call for help? They probably would call you, their neighborhood contractor. Except that it’s very easy and convenient to click on a website and get advice from several professionals. It’s the best of both worlds for them, and it could be for you.

An Upside for Contractors

I noticed that several advisors were from the hvacr trade, mainly service technicians that log on to the site when they have a chance and use their experience to advise homeowners who have a problem. It’s a great way for our people to spread around their wealth of knowledge. It’s also a great way for contractors to spread good PR by joining in the chat or signing up as a recommended (or preferred) contractor. There are many websites that give contractors that opportunity, such as Being an advisor in these types of forums is also eye opening, especially to some of the negative aspects of the contracting business. For example, one homeowner posted:“I am having a problem with my gas furnace. The pilot light stays on. However, when the flames kick on and the blower starts, they will only run for about 5 minutes, then off for 5 minutes, then back on, etc. I called a repairman and he replaced the thermostat but we are still having the same problem.”To which an experienced professional remarked:“Call them back and say thank you for the loaner t-stat. It did not work. Would you please come out, install my original t-stat and find out what is wrong! We now both know it is not the t-stat!”It makes you wonder what kind of first impression that homeowner had of the hvacr trade. If you’d prefer not to go the consumer website route, you could add a Q&A forum to your own website. I’ve seen this done on many hvacr contractor websites. It is usually done in the format of “e-mail your questions to so-and-so,” but this method still invites interaction between you and your potential customer. Contractors are very protective of their customer lists. They know that with the advent of instant information, customers are becoming more educated and informed. The Internet allows our “loyal” customers the opportunity to shop around and find out what your competition is doing. Consumer websites like doityour bring a melting pot of competitors to one location. You can’t beat ’em so you might as well join ’em. Fortunately you can still provide “good ol’ advice” to existing customers and visitors to your website (you do have one don’t you?) but now you can play to a larger audience.

Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; fax 734-542-6215; e-mail

Publication date: 01/15/2001