We’ve been navigating through a challenging economic landscape for the past several years. As a result, many building owners, managers, and businesses have been looking to reduce their costs. As a commercial HVAC service provider, it’s crucial to stay in close contact with your clients to reaffirm the value of your service and the cost-saving benefits of your maintenance programs. You must stay in the forefront of your commercial clients’ minds or run the risk of being the victim of cutbacks.

Most clients don’t leave a service provider based on price alone. Often it is a combination of customer service concerns, a feeling that they aren’t important or their needs aren’t being met, and a lack of communication. Many warranty calls, callbacks, and customer complaints can be traced back to miscommunication. When in doubt, always over-communicate.

Crucial Points of Contact

A review of your service delivery process can help you ensure that the highest level of service is provided, and that the service you’re providing is communicated to and understood by your clients. There are several points of contact in which your team can positively affect a customer’s perception of the level and quality of service provided. These points of contact include:

• Acquisition of a new client. This includes the initial meeting and early contacts to discuss the client’s specific building-user and service needs. First impressions count. Be early, be prepared, and look sharp and professional.

Complete a thorough site survey to develop a customized proposal. This demonstrates your comprehension of their situation.

Follow-through with a timely presentation of your program options based on the information gathered and the customer’s specific needs. Remember, your presentation and your solution will likely be made or approved by a non-technical person such as the owner, general manager, or CFO. Make the presentation relevant to them, but be prepared to present to their technical people, too.

• Dispatch. This includes timely scheduling of the first maintenance agreement (we do what we say), getting the correct technician scheduled based on the skill set needed (we have the right professional team to serve you), and quick response time to service calls, especially to critical areas of the client’s business (you’re important to us and we take you seriously).

In addition, revisit all open repair and replacement quotes routinely to show that you follow through and don’t let details fall through the cracks.

• Technicians. Ensure that your technicians are well-prepared for service calls. They should be on time, and have a clean uniform and truck and a good mental attitude. Arriving at the job site with customer contact information and a map of equipment location makes your company look professional.

Technicians should arrive with the correct materials needed to complete the job, quality assurance task lists to ensure maintenance is performed as sold, and a record of all open repair and replacement quotes. This shows that your company is  consistent, thorough, and communicates well internally.

• Account manager/service manager.  These individuals should be your customers’ consultants, providing timely follow-up on pending and recommended repairs. They must also provide timely response and resolution to any service concerns or complaints: these should be the first calls you make every day. In addition, they should follow up with clients to make sure any and all concerns and needs have been properly addressed. This can be in the form of a personal call or an email based on the client’s preference of communication. When in doubt, over-communicate.

• Billing. Your billing department should provide an invoice processed within a day and mailed out to the client immediately. It should include the correct purchase order numbers and correct billing amount per the agreement terms. No surprises!

How Are We Doing?

Performance reviews are also an excellent way to reach out to your clients, and are crucial to retention. These should be done a minimum of one time per year, at least 90 days prior to their anniversary/renewal date. Depending on the size of the agreement, they may need to be done more frequently. 

The review should be done by your commercial maintenance sales person and service manager; your lead service technician may also providing valuable input. Some of the key components of a performance review include the following:

• Open pending / recommended work. Maintaining an ongoing list of open items and communicating frequently will keep important, necessary repairs at the front of everyone’s minds.

• Planned replacement opportunities. You’re in a unique position to be able to help your clients with capital budgeting guidance. If you understand your clients’ needs, how their businesses operate, and how your company and service can support them, you have made yourself a valuable member of their support team.

• Financial performance of the agreement. The reality is that clients’ buildings, and the initial condition of its equipment, is their issue. But once you have signed on to service and maintain their building, you are taking on a degree of ownership. You now have a responsibility to your client to fully explain their situation, their options, how to cut their costs, and budgetary options and schedules for improvements.

• A review of your clients’ history of repairs. Should additional services, filter changes, coil cleanings, etc., be added to their existing agreements? Examine the frequency and types of emergency calls between maintenance visits to determine how to help our clients avoid breakdowns between service intervals.

In addition, look at opportunities for energy-cost reductions. Use the EPA’s Portfolio Manager System to help you track and improve energy efficiency usage for the buildings you service.

Check With Clients Regularly

Renewal time shouldn’t be the only time you thank clients for their business and check on their satisfaction. Create a list of your clients, set up a procedure and schedule to check in on the level of service, and spot check the account for any service issues. This can be done by picking up the phone and making a personal contact, sending a friendly email to let them know that you would like to meet for a few minutes to ensure that you’re meeting all of their expectations, or by using online surveys such as Survey Monkey. You may want to consider making a phone call or dropping your clients a personal email to let them know the survey is coming.

Don’t Fear the Spheres

When measuring the service experience, keep in mind that there could also be several “spheres of influence” with one account or building location. For example, a client’s receptionist may not have been involved in selecting your company, but treat that person with disrespect and he or she could influence your removal from the account.

“Green eye shade” personnel such as CFOs can easily derail your company if your maintenance and service plan isn’t fitting into their existing budget. It’s imperative that every action your company takes is to enhance value, share options, and communicate exactly how your team is the only solution to provide a customized level of comfort and support. Just because the checks arrive on time doesn’t mean that all is fine with this important constituency. Taking the time to fully explain the costs, options, and budget figures will go a long way toward gaining acceptance.

Finally, remember that a building’s tenants may not be paying the bill, but should they feel mistreated by one of your team members they have sway over the owner and this could mean the end of your maintenance agreement.

Commercial client relationships can be complex. There are multiple stakeholders you must work with to ensure tomorrow’s business. Review your service delivery process to address the various points of contact, develop a consistent follow-up procedure, and complete performance reviews. This will help you identify many areas in which you can measure your clients’ level of satisfaction. Don’t just keep ringing the cash register without thanking them for their business, regardless of the size of the building. You never know where your next referral will come from.   

Jennifer Shooshanian is senior service coach and service trainer at Business Development Resources Inc. (BDR), SeaTac, WA. She can be reached at Jennifers@bdrco.com. BDR is a coaching and training company focusing on the needs of dealers and contractors in the HVAC and plumbing
industries. For more information and a schedule of training opportunities, visit www.bdrco.com.