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Control the Air Conditioner, Control the Customer

Since I’ve been working with oil dealers across the country, I’ve been really impressed at how the industry handles customers. When it comes to dealing with emergencies like a no-heat call, I can’t think of any other group of professionals, other than EMTs and first responders, who do their jobs as expertly as the people in this industry. And that’s something you should all be really proud of.

But here’s my question to you. How many of you treat no-cooling calls with the same dedication? My guess is not many of you. And on the surface that makes sense. No-heat calls are much more dangerous to the homeowner and could result in real health issues for your customer. But the reality is, your customers are much more agitated over a no-cooling problem than a no-heat one. With a no-heat issue, they can put on a sweater or a blanket. No cooling? They’re pushing the panic button.

Why does this matter? If you really want to keep more customers from switching fuels, you need to be the one they call with no-cooling problems, not just no-heat problems.

Some of you have heard me discuss the notion of “protecting the condenser.” This is critical to your success because as soon as your customer looks to an HVAC shark for their cooling needs, their AC unit and heating system—and ultimately the customer—is at risk of being converted. You’ve got to put protective measures in place to defend the customer from these sharks. And you also need a high-powered offense. 

Defend your waters

The first part of your strategy to “protect the condenser” is to build a strong defense around your customers. You need to greatly reduce—even eliminate—the opportunity for customers to jump ship. Here are some suggestions:

• Stop treating spring and summer as your off-season. Your competition is targeting your customers now, and you can’t afford to go on autopilot. You should be developing on-call schedules and staffing schedules to support these peak periods for cooling calls. If you’re unprepared, your customer base is left wide open for oil-to-gas conversion.
• Develop an AC service agreement to complement your heating plan. Just as heating service plans keep your oil customers from switching dealers, an AC service plan can keep your customers from switching fuels. When developing your AC plan, look at the strengths of your heating plan and the benefits that are especially attractive to your customers. Then build those same benefits into your cooling plan.

Be an aggressive “shark”

There are those that say the best defense is a good offense. In this case, there’s a lot of truth to that. When trying to “protect the condenser” and keep the sharks out of your customers’ basements, the most effective approach is to get as many people on AC maintenance programs as possible. Otherwise, you will remain extremely vulnerable to HVAC contractors who have compelling incentives to switch your customers to gas or heat pump.

Here are some components of a strong offense:

• Market your AC services aggressively. You must communicate regularly about your AC services, especially if this is a relatively new part of your business. This doesn’t mean a newspaper ad or a couple postcards. It means a longer-term commitment to promoting your AC work and leveraging all of your communication vehicles to tell your a/c story.

• Align your web strategy with your AC capabilities and expertise. Your site needs to “speak” to customers and prospects who are looking online for a/c providers. You need to optimize your site for air conditioning and other cooling search terms through proper keyword research.

• Get your technicians up to speed on AC. As we know, your technicians are the most trusted and credible source of information for your customers. When they speak, your customers listen. Get them up to speed about the value of your AC maintenance plans, along with the benefits of heating with fuel oil. This will give you the best chance of adding cooling plans to existing heating plans.

• Arm your technicians. Your technicians need fresh, up-to-date leave-behind materials that promote your AC service plan. They should also promote heating and cooling upgrades, and inform customers about available rebates, tax credits and financing. These materials act as “silent salespeople.” They leave a lasting impression and drive home the message that you are the all-season comfort expert.

In closing, it is wise to consider a culture shift for your service division. If you start to treat your air conditioning calls with the same sense of urgency you do with your heating work, you’ll find a great increase in both the number of oil-heated homes you save from conversion and the amount of revenue you gain from your AC business. 

Blaine Fox is Vice President of business development at Warm Thoughts Communications, Inc. and a nationally recognized HVAC “Shark.” Blaine is a LEED-accredited professional and has served on the editorial advisory board of Contracting Business magazine. Email him with questions at asktheshark@warmthoughts.com.

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