One of the most important concepts to get across to your building owner clients is that while they don't want to pay too much for preventive maintenance, they definitely don't want to pay too little. Customers must be taught to not just look at the cost per hour, but the total cost (and savings) of working with a quality service company.

Planned maintenance isn't an expense for building owners — it's actually the single biggest way for them to save money. The key is that the maintenance must be real planned maintenance performed by qualified technicians. If your company can provide that, you can charge what you're worth and still save your customers money.

Building owners have many choices available to them when it comes to choosing a service company. The temptation will always be there to choose based on the lowest price. What constitutes a low price? I've heard of labor rates ranging from $25/hr. to $150/hr. The vast majority of companies fall somewhere in the middle of that range.

To earn customers' business at a rate that makes sense for your company (I'm assuming nobody wants to be the $25/hr. guy), you must build relationships based on trust. This is done through education.

We must teach our customers to look at the big picture instead of falling into a "fix it as cheaply as possible" mentality. Many problems can be avoided by maintaining systems and addressing small concerns before they grow into larger problems that shut down a system and require an emergency call.

Communication with customers is important. Although no one has time for idle chit-chat, there are meaningful discussions that can take place between your technicians and customers. A quality service technician can explain to a customer about items that need service, the potential for future repairs, and ways to save energy dollars.

At Seaman's Heating & Air Conditioning, we're proud of our field personnel and the quality of work they provide.

We spend large amounts of money every year to keep our people up-to-date on the latest equipment and controls. But that's just the start. We also train our technicians on subjects such as:

  • How to efficiently diagnose and repair systems
  • How to provide good service to both building owners and their tenants
  • How to repair an old unit when parts are no longer available
  • How to determine how long a part or piece of equipment will last
  • How energy costs will affect the decision to repair or replace.

When we send a technician into a building, he or she can see, hear, smell, and even feel when trouble might be brewing in a unit. Building owners must understand that getting that quality of person doesn't come cheaply. Anyone can walk in, change filters, and walk away.

We are sometimes asked, "How much will that maintenance (or repair) cost me, and what will happen if I don't take care of it right now?"

The real questions that building owners should be concerning themselves with are, "How can I make sure my building functions as trouble-free and efficiently as possible," and, most importantly, "How can I keep my tenants happy?" A quality HVAC service company can help owners answer those questions.

If your technicians know the building, the equipment, and how both are being used, they can look beyond immediate symptoms, and identify any real problems. What caused it? Will it happen again? How can it be prevented?

Customers can be tough to understand. They may want to beat you up over your labor rate, but then they have no idea how long a maintenance or repair call should take. Educate them to look at the true cost of maintenance and service, and risks they face if they try to do it cheaply. It comes down to establishing a bond of trust between your company and the building owner.

Develop relationships with your building owner customers. Let them know who you are, how you train your people, and what you can offer them. Then, don't be afraid to charge them what you're worth.

From a building owner's perspective, concern over the cost of your services should read like a MasterCard commercial:

Price of two hours of service technician time: $150

Price of a correct diagnosis and replacement of a faulty temperature control device: $237

Keeping your tenants happy: Priceless!

Randy Seaman is president of Seaman's Heating/Air Conditioning/Refrigeration, Grand Rapids, MI. He can be reached at 616/458-1544, or randy@seamansac.com