Written on: May 8, 2013 by Tim Quinn
Tired of customer attrition? Worried about lost volume, record high prices and pressure from discounters? Experiencing increased natural gas conversions? Your technicians are an integral part of addressing all of these issues facing you today. But here is the dilemma: you have trained them to fix equipment and resolve problems, not interact with the customer and sell, sell, sell.
Has this happened to you? Mrs. Jones, a long time loyal customer, calls in one day to close her account. You get on the phone and ask Mrs. Jones why she is leaving you. She relates that she had an A/C problem this past summer and has replaced her system. The HVAC Company that she called to fix her A/C recommended gas; she replaced the furnace and A/C at the same time. The kicker is she never knew you worked on A/C; your technicians never recommended new equipment or even mentioned your A/C services to her.
Then there’s Mr. Smith, another longtime customer who had a problem with his boiler. He called the local plumber (instead of you, possibly because your technician didn’t want to do the work), who recommended a new gas boiler because Mr. Smith’s unit was 30+ years old and inefficient. Your technicians never recommended new equipment or informed Mr. Smith that you offer plumbing services.
As I travel and meet with marketers today, I hear an increasing frustration with the utilization of their work force. Their businesses are under pressure, they are losing sales and customers, and when the issue is addressed, the technicians say, “What you want from me? I’m doing my job. I’m answering service calls and doing tune-ups.” When Marketers challenge them to recommend repair vs. replace, provide indoor air quality options and drive billable work, the technician’s rebuttal is, “It’s not my job; you didn’t hire me to be a salesman.” Yet it is their job and will be going forward. You have to recruit, hire and train technicians with sales skills to compete and thrive in today’s environment.
Change your hiring practices
Stop hiring the “other guy’s” technician. Unless the business went under, why would you hire his cast-off? Get off the treadmill of swapping technicians with your competitor and start hiring with new skill sets in mind. Interpersonal skills, selling skills and a desire to provide superior customer service should come before training and certifications. Interview and reference questions should focus around these important skills and abilities. Ask the candidate how much he sold in the previous 12 months. How much time does he spend during a service call speaking with the customer? What does he think about the new equipment available today and of making recommendations when appropriate?
When I meet with technicians, I hear these typical objections: “I wasn’t hired to sell; I fix things,” “we charge too much for our equipment and services,” “if we replace a lot of older equipment, they won’t need me anymore,” “there’s nothing wrong with the older equipment, you’re asking me to sell customers things they don’t need or want.”
It is essential that you break down these objections. In actuality, you charge fair market value for your equipment and services—in some cases, you aren’t charging enough. The fundamental fact is, if you aren’t selling, someone else will, and you will lose both the customer and the sale. Technicians have to sell (only when appropriate, honestly and ethically), and if you have some that won’t, you need to replace them.
May I make a suggestion? Next time you need to hire a technician, recruit an experienced HVAC technician from one of the local HVAC companies. You typically have some recruiting advantages: you guarantee a 40 hour work week (a lot of HVAC companies do not), fair wage and benefits, and the opportunity to sell, sell, sell. It is easier to teach the oil side of the business and a good HVAC technician is not only competent technically on A/C, gas and heat pumps (all your oil burner guys are too, right?), he already knows how to sell or he wouldn’t have lasted at an HVAC company! I’ve done this successfully a number of times and the best part is, once on board, they start influencing their peers. The HVAC technician gets it; he is trained to sell and has good interpersonal skills to delight the customer. Some of your oil burner technicians will never get this and you have some hard choices to make in order for your business to compete and thrive. Start now, after the next technician quits or retires; hire an HVAC technician and watch what happens.
Sales training for the technicians is very important. Lead tracking is a must and leads need to be tracked, assigned to a technician and an outcome achieved. Incentive plans are critical to the success of the program. Incentives also need to be tracked and paid in a timely, accurate manner; nothing kills morale more with your technicians than if they think they aren’t getting paid. The beauty of the incentive plan is the technicians give themselves a raise! How many times have you had a conversation about a raise based on the technician’s hourly rate? Do you base it on time with the company, performance or licenses held? Times are tough and giving raises isn’t easy. Use the incentive plan and let the technicians give themselves a raise with no limits!
Profitability in your service department has never been more important. Keeping the competition out of the basement is critical and involving your technicians in the selling process is an integral component. Full service dealers must treat their service departments as stand-alone profit centers much like an HVAC company does. Your technicians must sell and you need to train them and set expectations. Remember, if you don’t, someone else will.
Tim Quinn is a Regional VP for ServicEdge™, which specializes in the oil heat and propane industry and helps full service marketers improve profitability in their HVAC businesses.
Tim can be reached at:
Tim_Quinn@bostonenv.com, or (443) 510-2613.