Everybody Sells

Jim adjourned the weekly service meeting and watched as his technicians gathered in the parking lot for the unofficial service meeting.  This is where the grumblers grumbled, the gripers griped, the gossipers gossiped, and the no-drama guys pushed through it to focus on getting their jobs done.

Mountain Air, Jim’s company had recently embraced a “connected home” strategy, where customers could buy thermostats, water alarms, water shut off valves, cameras, light switches, door and window sensors, door locks, and garage door openers that were all integrated through an app the company white labeled.  By integrating the connected home monitoring with the company’s standard air conditioning service agreement, Mountain Air could offer an integrated service to its customers that would prevent breakdowns, stop some home disasters like floods, and increase peace of mind.  For Mountain Air, it securely tied customers to the company, added to the product offering, differentiated the company from competitors, and created a recurring revenue stream that would give the company a secure future against the private equity owned contractors.  The problem was his techs were simply not offering it.

All he wanted was for the guys to hand the homeowner some literature and answer questions, but he wasn’t getting any traction.  Was it a problem of understanding the products and the consumer benefits?  He didn’t think so.

Bennie, the service manager walked into Jim’s office.  Jim looked at him, “Any idea what the buzz is?”

“I think it’s a couple of things,” said Bennie.

“Like what?”

“First, they just aren’t comfortable talking about it, so they don’t.  If one of them took the lead, the others might follow.”

“And?”

“And you’re asking them to sell.  That’s a four-letter word for technicians.”

“Damn it,” said Jim.  “I’m not asking them to sell.  I’m just asking them to talk about it.”

“They see it as selling.  They like the kits you gave them for their homes, but they’re still reluctant to talk about it.”

“Who do you think I’ve got the best chance of breaking through to?”

“Believe it or not, I think Tony’s your best shot.”

“Tony?  He’s the hardest case of all of them.”

“And if we can get Tony to come around, the rest of them will too.”

“Alright.  Tell him to come see me tomorrow morning.”

***

Near the end of the day after his last service call, Tony stuck his head in Jim’s office.  “You wanted to see me, Boss?” he asked.

Jim waved him in.  Tony was a good-looking young man.  He was clean cut and presented himself well.   He usually wore a smile and was the type of person other people warmed up to.  Jim wished the rest of his techs looked as good as Tony.  He realized Bennie was right to pick Tony for multiple reasons.  If Tony only tried halfway to talk about the connected home products, people would enroll in the program left and right.

“Have a seat, Tony.”

“Did I do something wrong?”

“No, it’s not that you’ve done anything wrong.  It’s what you aren’t doing.  Why don’t you talk to customers about the connected home products.”

Tony shifted uncomfortably and broke eye contact.  “Boss, I’m a technician.  I don’t sell stuff.  It doesn’t feel right.”

“You never sell?”

“Never!”

Jim thought for a second.  “Tony, you just got married a couple of years ago, right?”

“Yessir.”

“And you’ve got a new baby?”

“Maddie’s just turned six months,” said Tony with pride.

“Your wife’s Susan, right?  How did you ever get her to go out on a date with you?”

Tony laughed.  “Well, it wasn’t easy.  She’s a manager at a convenience store.  I started buying coffee there every morning.  I had to persuade her to go to a Zac Brown concert with me.”

“Persuade her?”

“She didn’t want to go out with a customer.  It wasn’t easy.  Zac Brown tickets helped.”

“So you persuaded her, huh.”

“Yeah.”

“You mean, you sold her on the benefits of a date with you.  I thought you said you never sell.”

“Aw Boss, that’s not the same thing.”

“It’s not?  Sounds like selling to me.  Look, Tony, everyone sells.  You just wait until your little girl grows up and y’all are standing in the line of a store and she sees something she wants and tries to get you to buy it for her.  I’ll bet she’ll be a really good salesperson.”

“Probably,” conceded Tony, thinking about how hard it would be for him to say no to his little girl.

“The problem, Tony, is you think sales is something you do ‘to people.’  It’s not.  It’s something you do ‘for people.’  Did you know that Tom McCart, the first salesperson in our industry to sell a million dollars a year, way back in the 70s, had ‘Assistant Buyer’ printed on his business cards?  When someone asked him about it, he said his job was to help his customers buy the best comfort system for their circumstances.”

“Okay, but I’m not a salesperson.  I don’t want to be one.  I’m a technician.  If a system is really old and the repair is really expensive, I turn it over to Chuck or Todd, just like I’m supposed to.”

“I know.  And Chuck and Todd appreciate the leads.  But that’s beside the point.  I want you to help people.”

“I do help people,” said Tony a little defensively.  “I like helping people.”

“I know you do.  That’s why I’d like you to let people know about our connected home products.  Heck, all you have to do is hand them the literature we give you at the start of a service call and answer questions if they ask.  You can even say, ‘They make me give you this’ when you hand them the literature.”

“It doesn’t feel right.  It’s like we’re trying to trick them of something.”

Jim leaned back and thought for a second.  He felt his phone buzz and touched a button on the side to silence it, then looked up at Tony.  “Man, I love this phone.  I remember when it was time to get a new one.  I went online and read all of these reviews on tech sites.  I asked people about their phones.  I knew that whatever I got, I would probably be stuck with it for a few years, and I didn’t want to make a mistake.”

“Yeah,” said Tony.  “I know what you mean.  It gets really confusing.”

“You know what I finally did?”

“Asked Barb?”

Jim laughed out loud.  Barb was his wife and it was well known around the company that Jim pretty much did whatever she wanted.  “I did actually.  She wasn’t any help.  I ended up going to the phone store.”

“Ugh.”

“I walked in and asked for the guy who’d been there the longest.  Turned out the ‘guy’ was a young woman named Jill.  I asked her to explain the pros and cons of each phone.  Do you know what she did?”

“No.  What?”

“She started asking me questions.”

“Like what?”

“She asked me what I did for a living.  Then, she asked how I used my phone, where I used it, and how much I used it.  She asked me what type of computer I used.  She asked me what apps I used.  She asked me about my budget.  Only then, she started showing me the phones.”

“She was selling you.”

“Yes, in a way.  I asked for the most experienced person because I wanted the person with the most knowledge.  Jill knew her stuff.  What she was really doing was helping me find the right phone for me, for my circumstances.  I didn’t really think of her selling me as much as helping me.”

“Okay, but you walked into that.  You were asking for it.  Nobody is asking us about the connected home crap.”

Crap, thought Jim to himself.  Man, this kid has an attitude.  He said, “Well you know why no one asks about it?”

“No.”

“Because no one knows we offer it.”

“Because we’re a heating and air company, not a connected home company.”

“Actually, we’re both.  And who is better than us to talk with our customers about connected home products?  Do you think some kid with a few hours of training, going door-to-door cold calling, knows anything about the comfort system?  Thermostats are part of almost every connected home solution.  How many times have you run into a screwed-up system because one of the connected home yahoos didn’t understand HVAC controls?”

“A few,” admitted Tony.

“That’s one of the reasons we should be letting our customers know about what we can do.”

“I’m just putting myself in the customer’s shoes, Boss.  I wouldn’t want someone pushing these things on me, so I’m not pushing them on anyone else.  You know, the Golden Rule.  Do unto others and all of that stuff.”

“The Golden Rule works great until you run into a masochist,” quipped Jim.

“A maso-what?”

“Masochist.  Someone who seems to enjoy pain and suffering.  You know, a Lions fan.”

Tony chuckled, thinking about Bennie, the company service manager and a major Lions fan who went through agony every football season.

Jim said, “The Golden Rule is to treat people like you want to be treated.  The problem is everyone’s not you.”

“The world would be a better place if they were,” answered Tony deadpan.

Jim laughed.  “Oh yeah.  I can just imagine a world of Tonys.”

Tony couldn’t hold it and chuckled with Jim.  “Okay, maybe the world’s not ready for that much Tony-ness.”

“So instead of the Golden Rule, why not practice the Platinum rule” asked Jim.

“What’s the Platinum Rule?”

“Treat people the way they want to be treated.”

“Well, just how do I know how people want to be treated?”

“Ask them.  Why do you think I ask everyone in the company to make a vision board,” asked Jim, referring to the individual vision boards along one hall of the company.  Each vision board contains images of things or experiences the employee wants.

Jim could see Tony was thinking.  “The vision boards help me know how to help everyone achieve the things they want through the company.”

Jim paused before continuing.  “I want to add something else, but I don’t think you’re going to like it.”

“What?” asked Tony a little defensively.

“Remember Francis, the tech I fired?”

“What about him?”

“What did he do?”

“He sold people stuff they didn’t need, like when he talked that old woman into replacing a two-year-old heat pump.  This is exactly what I’m talking about.  This is why techs should never sell.”

“Are you saying all techs are like Francis?”

“No.  I’m not anything like that SOB.”

“I agree.  You aren’t like him, which is why he’s not here and you are.  The old woman just wanted to be comfortable.  The problem was inadequate return air.  Francis knew that.  I know he knew that, yet he never discussed it with her.  The only choice he gave her was a new heat pump or nothing.  What do you call that?”

“Dishonest.  Unethical.  Crooked,” said Tony.

“How about arrogant?”

“Yeah, that too.”

Jim took a deep breath.  “You know, you’re just as arrogant.”

“Me?  What are you talking about?”

“Are you sure you can take it?”

“Yeah!  I want to know how I’m arrogant.”

“You’re just as arrogant as Francis, but in a different way.  You act like you know better than our customers what they will want or don’t want and what they need or don’t need, so you never let them know what their options are, and what’s available.  That’s making a decision for them.  That’s arrogance.”

Jim watched Tony fume.  This was touchy.  If he handled this the wrong way, Tony would quit.  That might not be a bad thing if Tony was influencing other techs the wrong way.  Still, it was hard to find techs.  Jim much preferred keeping Tony.

After letting Tony stew for a minute, Jim said, “I know you’re mad.  I just want you to think about it.  And, have I ever asked you to do something unethical?”

“No, Boss.”

“So go home and think about what we talked about. Okay?”

“Okay, Boss.”

***

Tony was mad.  He wasn’t quite steaming mad, but he was close.  He thought about quitting.  It would be easy to get a job with another company.  But, he wondered, would it be any better?

Rudy left a year ago, telling everyone about all of the money he was going to make.  Reality differed.  He didn’t make much more than he did at Mountain Air.  Plus, he worked his butt off.  Rudy complained about the constant pressure to boost his average ticket.  To a point, Tony understood the need.  It cost a lot of money to position a fully stocked truck with a highly trained technician at a customer’s house.  Every extra dollar generated on a service call was important.  But pressuring people wasn’t something most techs wanted to do or were any good at.

When he got home, Tony greeted Susan, his wife, and went to check on his daughter, Maddie.  She was in her playpen, batting at a mobile.  Tony felt himself calm a little after watching his daughter.  She was so cute!

Apparently, he didn’t calm enough for Susan.  At dinner, she asked, “So what’s up?  Is something going on at work?”

Wives, he thought.  It was like she could read his mind.  “They’re just pissing me off,” he said.

“How?”

“Jim wants me to push the connected home crap on customers?”

“What do you mean, ‘push?’”

Tony sighed.  “They want us to hand out literature and talk to customers about it.”

“Why not?  It’s awesome.  At least, the stuff Jim had installed here is.  Whenever someone rings the doorbell and I’m at work, I can talk with the person through my phone.  The thermostat automatically turns up when we both leave the geofence and turns down when one of us returns.  That’s saving us a lot of money on the power bill.  Plus, I love the extra indoor camera because it helps me keep an eye on Maddie after I pick her up from daycare.”

Tony just stared at his wife.  When Jim unveiled the connected home program, he had a rep work with every tech to install a basic package on another employee’s home.  The guys in apartments or rentals got a more limited package.  Jim did the same thing with service agreements.  Everyone in the company who owned a home had a service agreement, but techs weren’t allowed to maintain their own systems because, as Jim says, they would never do it.  Left to themselves, techs have the most poorly maintained comfort systems in town.

“Hello,” said Susan, snapping Tony out of his thoughts.  “Earth to Tony.”

“We had setback thermostats before.  I don’t see how that saves us money.”

“Pffft,” said Susan.  “We may have had them.  We sure didn’t use them.  I don’t think they were ever programmed.”

Susan cocked her head at her husband.  “Hey, wait a second.  You haven’t even opened the app, have you?”

“Sure I have.”

“Hand me your phone.”

“I’m not going to hand you my phone,” said Tony, reaching for it.

Susan was too fast.  She grabbed his phone and knowing his password, unlocked it.  She looked up after fiddling with it for a few minutes and handed it back.  “There, I’ve set it up so you get notifications on the app.  You’ll know when the doors opens, when the doorbell rings, and when there’s activity on the cameras.”

***

The next day Tony heard a click on his phone when he was at a stoplight.  He thumbed down the notice.  The door to the garage had opened.  Apparently, Susan was on the day to daycare with Maddie.  About a half hour later he checked the app again and saw that after Susan left the geofence, the setpoint changed 82 degrees.

Throughout the day, Tony watched the app as a package was delivered.  When Susan returned home with Maddie, he was able to watch his daughter crawl around on the floor.  Grudgingly, he had to admit it was cool.

The next morning, Tony gathered his paperwork before approaching a home on his first service call.  He stopped for a second and as an afterthought, grabbed the connected home flyer, which he handed to the homeowner.

After the work was complete and Tony was collecting payment, his customer, Mrs. Teal asked him about the connected home.  “Can you tell me about this?”

“It’s some new stuff the company is offering.  You know, cameras and sensors and switches and stuff.  So, you can follow what’s going on in your home.”

“Does it work?”

“Yeah.  I’ve got it at my home.  Here, you can see where a guy dropped off a package yesterday,” said Tony, showing Mrs. Teal the recorded video on his phone.

“What else can it do?”

“Well, we can put a sensor on your doors, so that you get a notification whenever they’re opened.”

“Any door?”

“Sure.”

“My liquor cabinet door?  I mean, I have a teenage son and believe in ‘trust but verify’ when it comes to teenagers.”

Tony laughed, “Sure.  We can do that.”

***

Despite himself, three of Tony’s customers bought connected home packages that week.  Mrs. Teal was already a service agreement customer and it was just added to her existing service agreement.  The other two bought the connected home/service agreement bundle.

When Jim saw Tony at the shop on Friday, he could hardly contain himself.  “Tony!,” he shouted, “My man.  Getting some connected home spiffs this week.  Tell me what happened.”

Tony knew this was coming.  “Aw Boss.  It was like this.  I hadn’t really used the stuff, but Susan had and she loves it.  She kinda sold me on using it and the product sort of sold itself after that.  So I admit, it is pretty cool and pretty useful.”

“Susan, huh,” said Jim.  “Well, I guess it is true.  Everybody sells.”

“Whatever you say, Boss.”

***

Jim went back to his office.  He tried to recall the conversation he had with Tony that seemed to go better than he thought.  He wrote…

  • Sales are not something you do to people.  It’s something you do for people.
  • Everybody sells.
  • Fundamentally sales are helping people.
  • The platinum rule is to treat people the way they want to be treated.
  • Withholding information and options from customers is arrogant.
  • Ultimately, sales is the transference of belief and you must own a product to believe in it.

___________________________________________

If you enjoy Comanche Marketing and would like to see it continue, drop a note to Matt Michel. 

Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at mmichel@servicenation.com or by mobile at 214.995.8889.

Why

Willie McGarn looked forward to the monthly local association meeting of his fellow contractors. He thought the programs could use a little spicing up, but they were just icing on the cake for him. This was a chance to discern how other contractors in the area were doing. For himself, Willie wasn’t doing well. He was close to hanging it up and shutting the doors.

When he arrived at the hotel where the meeting was held, he headed to the bar. Sure enough, other contractors had already arrived. As he approached the bar he heard the unmistakable drawl of big Sam Henderson. “Well if it ain’t Willie McGarn! How you doing, Willie?”

“Hi Sam,” said Willie, purposefully dodging Sam’s question. “How are you?”

“Why if I was doing any better, it would be illegal,” said Sam jovially.

“I certainly see enough of your trucks around town. If you don’t mind my asking, how do you do it? No matter what the weather or economy, you seem to truck along.”

“Well,” said Sam, “Why don’t you drop by one day and I’ll show you my operation.”

Willie couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Sam Henderson was one of the most successful contractors in the area, heck, in the state! And he was willing to let one of his competitors see his operation from the inside? No way. Willie decided to call him on his bluff. “I’d love to see your shop.”

Sam pulled out his phone and began scrolling on it. “How about Friday morning? I usually head out to the deer lease on Thursday, but Wilma’s got me going to some performing arts thing Friday night and threatened me good if I tried to skip out.”

“Uh, sure,” gasped Willie. “How about 9:00 a.m.?”

“See you then, brother. Now, what kind of program are they having tonight? I hope it’s something more interesting than that guy from the city permitting office we had last month.”

***

Sam pulled into the Comfort Commander lot and parked in one of the spaces marked for visitors. He wondered what people would think seeing his gleaming white McGarn Air truck in front of half a dozen of Sam’s green and black Comfort Commander trucks. Probably think I’m getting purchased, he thought to himself.

He entered a small foyer and pressed a button next to an intercom. “I’m here for an appointment with Sam Henderson,” he said to no one he could see.

“Well come on in,” a woman’s voice answered through the intercom and the door buzzed.

Willie pulled it open and walked through. What he saw was amazing. The large, open office was buzzing with activity. Lots of people with headsets were facing large computer screens, talking with customers. The screens danced with schedules and time blocks. Others were looking at different data entry or accounting screens. Willie wasn’t sure which. Large LCD screens on the walls displayed company key performance indicators, salesperson rankings, technician rankings, and so on. One screen cycled through customer reviews.

A woman rose from one of the desks to greet him. “Hi. You must be Willie McGarn. I’m Patty, the office manager. I was told to expect you.”

“I am,” said Willie. “Thanks.”

“Follow me and I’ll take you to Sam.”

Sam was seated in a glassed-in office at the very end of the hall. The office was paneled in Oak, boasting a well-appointed bar, conference table, and battleship desk where Sam sat. Several hunting and fishing trophies were mounted on the walls.

“Hello Willie,” said Sam coming around his desk and motioning to the conference table. “Have a seat. Want coffee?”

“No thank you. I’m fine.”

“Let’s chat for a few minutes, then I’ll take you on a tour.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Willie.

While they were talking, Sam essentially told Willie everything about his company. He shared his sales, margins, profitability, average service ticket, average installation, and on and on. Sam couldn’t believe he was being so open. On the tour, he showed Willie his training room, technician lounge, meeting rooms, warehouse, including his stocking system, and let him listen to a call between one of his service managers and a technician who was on the job. Willie was fascinated with all of it.

As they headed back to the office, Sam stopped at a large printer and said, “Hey, look at this. This is my new toy. It prints vehicle wraps.”

“You mean, you print your own wraps?” asked Willie, in awe.

“Yeah, why not? Buying the printer is easy to cost justify and we’ve got enough trucks. I switched to our wrap design a few years ago. It was hard to swallow the cost at the time. I realize now it wasn’t a cost at all, but one of the best investments I’ve made. Comfort Commander trucks pop. They are distinctive. Because of our trucks, we’ve got the best brand awareness of any HVAC company in the area. You should wrap your trucks. No offense, but one white truck pretty much looks like another white truck. It’ll make a big difference in your business, I promise.”

“I’ll think about it,” remarked Willie, who hadn’t really thought about it before.

“Heck,” said Sam. “With this thing, I’m thinking about wrapping furnaces and maybe even condensing unit caps. I can make mine look different and maybe even charge more. If I ever get into plumbing, I’m sure as heck going to wrap water heaters and disposers.”

***

“So what do you think?” asked Sam when they returned to his office. “What are your questions?”

“Wow, well I’m a little overwhelmed. I mean, you’ve opened up some possibilities I never considered. You know they don’t teach this at the trade school.”

“Don’t I know it. Too many guys in the trade know more about turning a wrench than turning a profit. It’s why they price so stinking low. And ‘cause they price so stinking low, they can only afford to provide a stinking level of service.”

“I might be one of those stinking guys.”

“Well heck, son. Change. It ain’t hard. What are you charging? Wait, no, don’t tell me. For some reason, it’s illegal for us to compare prices. But we can talk in generalities. I can give you my pricing calculator. Punch in your numbers and it’ll tell you what you should charge. Low pricing is the single most common problem in the trade. It’s also the easiest to fix.”

“I don’t get it,” blurted Willie. “Why are you sharing all of this with me?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’m your competitor,” said Willie, before stopping as he saw a blank look on Sam’s face.

Sam stared at Willie for a second, then burst into laughter. “Son, you’re not my competition.”

“I’m not?”

“For starters, which one of my satisfied customers are you going to take from me? None of them. The only way one of my customers would ever consider your company was if I screwed up. If I did a crappy job and then blew the service recovery, I might piss ‘em off so bad that they would look for someone else, at which point they would no longer be my customer.”

“I guess that makes sense.”

“And take someone who’s a prospect-at-large. Do you know who my competition is for that guy?”

“Other air conditioning contractors.”

“Nope. Given the price of a new system these days, my competition is anyone who offers something more compelling in the same general price range. My customer is the spa guy or the 4-wheeler guy or the river cruise vacation guy. They all want the same $15 to $25 thousand I want and their offering is a heckuva lot sexier than mine.”

Willie had never thought of it that way before, but he could see that Sam was right. “But,” he interjected, “No one can live without air conditioning, right?”

Sam grinned. “Right. So, while my competition might win this year or the next, there’s a finite limit to how long we can keep an old system working. Sooner or later the customer will be mine and I’ll make his life better, not for a few months a year or for a week, but for years and years.”

“Makes sense.”

“But let’s get back to you. How are you doing?”

“Not well,” Willie confessed. “Maybe it’s me. It just all seems so hard.”

“Then do something else.”

“What?” asked Willie. Of all of the things Sam could say, this was the last thing he expected.

“You spend most of your waking hours at work. Life’s too short to spend most of the time doing something you hate. Do something else.”

“I don’t know anything else.”

“Why did you get into air conditioning.”

“Dad was a refrigeration mechanic. He told me air conditioning was where it is at and I should go to trade school, so I did.”

“That’s why you started. Why are you still in it?”

“Like I said, I don’t know anything else,” said Willie. He was feeling a little defensive. Was this why Sam asked him here, so he could talk him out of the business and reduce the number of contractors?

“Let me tell you why I’m in it,” said Sam. “I’m older than you are. I grew up in the south in a big old, historic house that was constructed in the twenties. It didn’t have air conditioning. My parents were proud of the house, but either didn’t have the money to retrofit it or weren’t willing to spend it. Three rooms had window units. One was my parents’ room. I shared a room with my brother. When he got asthma, we got a window unit for our room but were only allowed to use it at night. The third was in our TV room. Guess where we spent all of the time?”

“The TV room,” Willie answered.

“Right. The TV room. In this big old house, we spent all of our time crammed into one of the smallest rooms because it was cool. The rest of the house was hot and muggy most of the year. The smell of mildew was everywhere.”

Sam continued, “You see for me, this business is more than a way to make money, though I do that. It’s like a calling. People are miserable when a Comfort Commander truck shows up at their house and comfortable when we leave. We keep people cool in the summer and warm in the winter. We represent a good night’s sleep. We contribute to home safety because air conditioning makes it possible for people to close their windows and lock their doors. Most people literally could not live in this town without air conditioning. What we do is important and we’re darn good at it.”

Hearing Sam describe the industry, Willie felt better about himself and what he did. He could hear the passion in Sam’s voice and see it in his eyes.

Sam paused and said to Willie, “Sorry, I get a little carried away. But that’s only part of it for me. I’m also here because of my team. I love to see people develop and grow. Now, how about you?”

“I… I don’t know.”

“Son, that’s your problem. It’s your biggest problem. Figure out why you’re in business and other things will start to fall into place.”

Willie thanked Sam and left. He had a lot to think about.

***

Willie asked himself, why was he in business? And why HVAC? The easy answer was to make money, but that seemed insufficient. He could make money in lots of ways besides HVAC. Given his total take-home, he could probably make the same or more working for someone else. Plus, he wouldn’t have the hassles of all of the government paperwork. So why was he doing what he was doing?

His train of thought was interrupted by the phone. “McGarn Air, Willie here.”

It was Sheila, his wife, dispatcher, and CSR. “Willie, we’ve got a no cool and Jim and Dave are both tied up. The customer sounds like she’s up there in years. Can you take it?”

“Sure,” said Willie. “Text me the address.”

***

Willie rang the doorbell, stepped back, and put on his game face smile. A short woman with gray hair pulled back into a tight bun answered the door. Perspiration was dripping off her face as she fanned herself with a hand fan. “Oh, thank the Lord you’re here. I think I’m going to die of a heat stroke. Come on in. Come in.”

“Yes ma’am. Can you tell me what the problem is?”

“Lord, I don’t know. It just won’t get cool. I think I’m going to die of heat stroke.”

“Okay, let me take a look. Don’t worry,” reassured Willie. “One way or the other, I’ll get you cool today.”

Willie started down his diagnostic process. It didn’t take him long to zero in on the problem. Ants in the contactor. He told the old woman what the problem was and recommended replacing the contactor.

“Do whatever you have to do,” said the woman. “My son and grandson will be here for a visit this afternoon. I don’t know what I would have done if I couldn’t get the house cool. Thank you so much.”

When Willie gave the woman the invoice after he finished, she looked sort of startled. “Is something wrong,” he asked, certain that she was going to complain about the price. They all complained about the price.

“No, there’s nothing wrong,” she said, handing him a credit card. “Why don’t you add $20 to the bill as a tip.”

“You don’t have to do that ma’am.”

“No, I want to. You’ve saved my family’s visit and made such a difference.”

***

At dinner that night, Willie said to Sheila, “You know, I went by Comfort Commander today.”

“So you told me.”

“Well, I’ve been thinking.”

“Uh huh,” said his wife, eyeing him skeptically.

“Yeah, I know. It’s dangerous for me to think too much. But I’ve been thinking that maybe we need a price increase.”

“We’ve raised prices every time the manufacturers jacked up equipment pricing.”

“I’m not talking about that. Well, maybe I am. But, I was really thinking about raising the labor component of our service pricing. I guess I’d do the same for replacement prices.”

“How much are we talking about?” asked Sheila.

Willie told her and watched while she made mental calculations. “Do you really think we could get that?”

“Yeah, I think we’re probably underpriced. I mean, what we do is important. We make people’s homes cool in the summer. We ought to get rewarded for it.”

Sheila smiled. “Do you know what a difference this could make?” She opened the calculator app on her phone and punched in a few numbers. My gosh, Willie, “We could pay down our credit cards. By the end of the summer, we might even have enough to take a real vacation. It would be a short one, but it would be a start.”

***

The rest of the week was busy. In between running service calls and babysitting his techs, Willie didn’t have time to think about Sam Henderson’s challenge to him. Saturday morning, Willie woke around 4:00 a.m. with a start. He sat straight up in bed. That was it. The old woman said it. His wife said it.

He got out of bed, grabbed a notebook, and started writing. When he finished, he leaned back and smiled. He read the page…

The reason why I’m in business is to make a positive difference in people’s lives. I will make a positive difference in my customers’ lives through the work the company performs by improving the comfort and air quality of the buildings where people work and live. I will make a positive difference in my employees’ lives by giving them meaningful work, fair pay, and opportunities to grow and advance according to their desires. I will make a positive difference in my family’s lives through the profits the business generates so they can enjoy an elevated lifestyle with tangible rewards and rich, intangible experiences that help us enjoy fulfilling lives. I will make a positive difference to the best of my ability.

Yes, he thought to himself. This is why I do what I do. I can make a difference.

___________________________________________

Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at mmichel@servicenation.com or by mobile at 214.995.8889.

The Trust Cascade

Do you know about the trust cascade? Think of a series of pools where water spills from one down to the next. Each pool gets a little larger. This is the way trust cascades from source to source. If you can get to the top of the trust cascade, you can pick up customers where there’s less noise, less competition, and less effort overall.

Let’s look at the trust cascade in action. Last fall, after searching for the better part of the year, my wife and I bought a small ranch with a 140-year-old log cabin. The cabin has been expanded and renovated more than once, but it is still an old structure and there’s work needed.

Driving away from the closing my wife turned to me and said, “Do we know what we’re doing?” The answer, of course, was no. No clue. But I figured we could hire people who had a clue. We just needed to find them. This would prove harder than I expected.

Our ranch is located a little less than an hour from our house. It is close enough that we can run up there to take care of something and if necessary, return with only half a day gone. But it is too far to expect any of our service companies to make the trip. We need new ones.

Fortunately, the prior owners left us with a binder of the people they used. People in the binder had proven themselves reliable to the prior owner. They were at the top of the trust cascade. We called Tony for mowing. We called Lupe for cleaning. When there was a leak with the sprinkler, we called Clint. We never even considered calling anyone else.

There are other things we need repaired or replaced that aren’t covered by the binder. We need a new roof. We need some fence work. We need on-site small engine repair. There’s more. Who do we call? How do we find a good service provider?

Without question, there are people who can provide the services we need and who are looking for customers as desperately as we are looking for service providers. How do we find them? How do they find us?

If you were in our shoes, what would you do? Ask someone you trust for a referral? Other than the binder, referrals from a friend or neighbor would be at the top of the trust cascade. Unfortunately, we don’t really know anyone. I’ve never even seen a neighbor. It’s hard to even introduce yourself when every piece of property is gated.

I could search online, but that’s about like throwing a dart at a dartboard. Maybe I’ll get a good company. Maybe not. There is simply no trust present. This is the bottom of the trust cascade. If all else fails, search online.

You might point out that there are reviews. True. I’ll trust reviews when I’m looking for a restaurant but would rather not for major work on my house. The greater the expense, the greater the need for trust.

So, if the choice is between two companies I know nothing about and one has better reviews, that one might get the nod. It’s still further down the trust cascade than I want to travel.

I want a referral from someone I trust. Since I don’t know anyone, I’m planning on attending the community’s Rotary Club. I’ll ask for referrals from Rotarians.

In my own Rotary Club, I’ve found attorneys, bankers, realtors, commercial insurance brokers, a property tax challenge service, remodelers, and employees. I trust someone in the club or someone referred by a club member more than someone found at random. This is near the top of the trust cascade.

If there is a roofer in the Rotary Club, I’ll ask him to take a look at our cabin and probably give him the work. His competitor may do a lot of advertising, have a great website, and get a ton of good reviews. It won’t matter. Those are farther down the trust cascade.

If you want to operate higher up the trust cascade than your competitors, you must get involved in the community. Join a service club. Join a leads club. Get involved with the chamber of commerce. Participate in community events.

My Rotary Club has 60 members. Empirical research by Columbia University’s Tian Zheng suggested the average American knows 600 people. This means that my Rotary Club has a network of up to 36,000 people (i.e., 60 X 600). Some will know fewer than 600 and some more. Some will know some of the same people. Regardless, the people in the club collectively know a LOT of people. Service club members are connected and are community centers of influence. They are the people others call to find a good roofer, air conditioning contractor, plumber, and so on.

Larry Taylor, a legendary air conditioning contractor likes to say it’s easier to sell from the board room than the equipment room. He got involved in as many local organizations as he could.

That might not be your thing. Perhaps you would rather eat lunch by yourself than sit with community centers of influence who others call when looking for a service provider.

If you won’t do it, delegate it to someone else in your company. If no one will do it, hire someone with an outgoing personality to work as your company ambassador.  Put your business at the top of the trust cascade to get more business with less competition.

___________________________________________

Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at mmichel@servicenation.com or by mobile at 214.995.8889.

Technician Accountability and Your Bottom Line

How To Utilize Technology To Improve Employee Engagement and Move Your Business Forward

No matter the industry, perhaps the most common trait of great leaders and employees is accountability. Why? Accountable workers can truly make a difference to a company by directly driving positive results.

The value add of accountable individuals can’t be denied. They take responsibility and pride in their actions and behaviors, providing full transparency into their work, strategies, successes, and any changes, challenges, or roadblocks they may encounter along the way. This openness and effective communication help create healthy team dynamics, increase collaboration, and build trust internally and externally.

In a nutshell, accountability is a key component of successful teams and businesses.

Technology Adoption in Field Service

For many field service providers, increasing technician accountability may not be the leading factor for adopting a new technology platform. The most common goals and reasons we’ve heard from service providers looking to incorporate a modern technology solution into their day-to-day service often include:

● Streamlining and improving business operations

● Improving transparency and communication with customers

● Improving technician training and troubleshooting

● Increasing customer satisfaction and trust

● Achieving market differentiation

By enabling process standardization through streamlined on-the-job checklists, modern technology solutions like XOi’s Vision app can help commercial and residential service providers achieve the goals listed above. 

The Vision app allows techs to easily and safely capture critical job site information, launch on-the-job remote support, access relevant equipment documentation, and provide customers and managers photo and video documentation of all recommended and completed work.

The result – improved and guaranteed quality of service and complete transparency into each step a technician completes while on site.

Why is improving technician accountability important?

Studies show that 82% of employees feel their leadership team had “limited to no” ability to hold employees accountable. That same study found that 91% of respondents believed “improving the ability to hold others accountable in an effective way” was one of their business’s top leadership development needs.

In addition, research has found that improved accountability not only bolsters individual employee engagement but also positively impacts your overall bottom line. According to Gallup, highly engaged workforces significantly outperform competitors, resulting in 21% higher profitability.

Instilling a sense of accountability into your business’s culture gives employees a sense of autonomy and ownership over their work. For field service providers, it’s important for technicians to feel trusted by their employers. A system of accountability, transparency, and documentation will also help give you and your customers peace of mind that their work meets certain quality standards.

 

Cydney Myers is the Marketing Manager for XOi Technologies.

Service Roundtable is dedicated to growing your bottom line and helping your business maximize its full potential. These groups of contractors work together to assist you with marketing, sales, business, and so much more. Twice a month, seminars around the United States and Canada are held to network and further assist your business. Visit Service Roundtable.com to see if there are Success Days in your area.

Did You Find Everything You Wanted?

Within a four-mile radius of our house, there are 17 grocery stores. Of those, I frequent three. Not because I want to, and not because I like shopping, but because none of them carry everything I want. The three I go to most are Sprouts, Tom Thumb, and Trader Joe’s. All of them have the plusses and minuses, each has their idiosyncrasies, but there’s one thing all have in common: when I check out, the checker always asks, “did you find everything you wanted?” or some variation of that question.

When I was young, I don’t remember anyone asking me, “did you find everything you wanted?” I think they were more concerned with getting me the hell out of there before I broke anything. But at some point, some retail consultant must have figured out that to maximize the dollar purchases for each visit, you need to ask people, “did you find everything you wanted?” It’s a good way to increase sales, keep in touch with the customer, and take care of the customer. Every checker in every one of the 17 grocery stores in my area knows to ask every customer that question.

Have you ever had the experience in a long line at the grocery store where the person in front of you with a million groceries in her cart suddenly pauses and says to the checker, “oh, I forgot peanut butter. I’ll be right back.”? The 30 people in line behind her all roll their eyes as she meanders off to find the peanut butter and maybe pick up a few other items. You don’t want to be THAT person, right?

So I had this really interesting experience at Trader Joe’s. I’m in line, checking out, busy time, several people in line behind me, and the checker asks the question, “Did you find everything you wanted?” I said I did, and then, with a painful flash of memory, realized that I hadn’t. “Argh,” I slapped my forehead, “I forgot flour – my wife asked me to get flour.” I looked at the line behind me – I don’t want to be THAT person – “But, I can get it next time,” I told her.   

“It’s no problem,” the checker said, “we’ll get it fast.” She rang a little bell. Instantly a young man appeared. “John,” the checker said, “this gentleman needs flour.”

“What kind of flour, and what size,” John asked me. I told him, and he jogged off. (Not exaggerating here – he jogged!)

He returned with the flour even before the checker finished ringing up the rest of my groceries. No rolling of the eyes behind me, Trader Joe’s got at extra seven bucks, and I made my wife happy (priceless).

An Interesting Fact

One of the key performance indicators (KPI’s) of grocery stores is sales per square foot. Guess what, in that measure, Trader Joe’s is number one. In fact, they’re number 1 every year. Number two is so far behind that Trader Joe’s should win the number one place, the number two place, and the number three place.   

A Funny Story

Again, I’m at the grocery store. This time it’s Tom Thumb. I cannot find graham cracker crumbs. I’m going to make a Key Lime Pie for my mother-in-law, who loves my Key Lime Pie, and I need graham cracker crumbs for the crust. I can’t find them, and there’s no employee to ask. I give up, grab a box of graham crackers, gonna pound the crackers, and make my own damn crumbs. While I’m in the checkout line, it occurs to me: the checkout clerk is going to ask THE QUESTION, and I’ll find out where the graham cracker crumbs are. Furthermore, there is no one in line behind me, so I don’t have to worry about being THAT guy. Sure enough, the cashier asks, “Did you find everything you wanted?” I beam. “I did not,” I reply, “I couldn’t find graham cracker crumbs.” 

The clerk looks thoughtful and then says, “Yeah, I don’t know if we carry that.” I wait expectantly. I arch my eyebrows and cock my head, waiting for some kind of resolution. Waiting for the follow up that never happens. Nothing. Nada. Zero. He continues ringing up my groceries, reads me the total. I pay and leave…

The Interesting Fact Corollary

Tom Thumb does not lead the grocery industry in sales per square foot.

The Lessons 

There are so many lessons from this story. Here are two that I got:

  1. Incremental sales are important. There are many reasons why Trader Joe’s leads the industry in sales per square foot, but one of them is incremental sales. They make it easy for their customers to buy more. If you want incremental sales, then make it easy for your customers to buy more.
  2. Training and Processes. Training is important. Processes are important. Training to processes is REALLY important. Tom Thumb has training. The cashier knew to ask the question. He didn’t know what to do if the answer was “no” and probably had no supporting process if the customer answers “no”. Trader Joe’s has training. They have the processes. They train to those processes. If you answer the question “no”, the cashier knows to ring the bell. If stock runner hears the bell, he knows to drop everything and get to the customer, and get his product quickly, so the customer doesn’t feel awkward, and the people in line don’t roll their eyes. Result: increased sales, happy customers, and industry-leading KPI’s.
How About You?

What’s your takeaway from the story? What did you learn? What will you do differently? I’d like to know. Email me and let me know… David.Heimer@ServiceNation.com

 

Service Roundtable is dedicated to growing your bottom line and helping your business maximize its full potential. These groups of contractors work together to assist you with marketing, sales, business, and so much more. Twice a month, seminars around the United States and Canada are held to network and further assist your business. Visit Service Roundtable.com to see if there are Success Days in your area!