2014 and the Tech-Focused Customer

I’m not a fortune teller and I have no tea leaves to read. That said, some HVAC trends are worth noting. To start, tech-savvy consumers are paying much more attention to their heating and cooling. They are looking for innovations that can help them save money and energy. Their love of smartphones and smart TVs gives them incredibly high expectations. Everything should be connected. Everything should just work. And consumers aren’t the only ones paying more attention. The home-automation opportunity is so big, new tech players are jumping into the market. So, consumers will look to the HVAC professionals for guidance while also having their own well-researched ideas. And in 2014, we believe the HVAC community needs to embrace innovation like never before.

In recent years, the economy has been unkind to wholesalers, contractors and the industry at large. It’s been some of the most challenging times that I’ve ever seen. This is clearly changing. Equipment orders are up, particularly for high-efficiency systems and controls. These high-efficiency systems also tend to be more advanced. In addition, there is a trend toward adding advanced controls to existing systems to try to pull extra efficiency and savings out of them. Both trends are good for our industry. And both trends are the result of smarter, savvier customers.

Innovations such as apps, smartphones and tablets have combined powerful functionality with powerful simplicity. It’s now easier to do more. And consumers’ desire for powerful yet simple technology will require the industry to be just as up-to-date as our customers. This presents new challenges for wholesalers and contractors. We have to create the energy efficient systems that match their demand for simplicity, convenience and instant connectivity.

All of this technology also leads to an expectation of integration. Customers expect their phone to talk to their car. They expect their tablet to talk to their TV. Consumers expect everything to just work regardless of who made each device. And those expectations are impacting HVAC. Quickly. This is one of the reasons Nest announced the opening of our application program interface in September. We’re already working with home automation companies like Control4 and numerous other manufacturers that make other devices for the home. We believe the customer experience comes first and we’re actively working with companies to create a seamless interaction between their products and ours. 

Thankfully, these growing expectations also represent an incredible opportunity. The cable, telecommunications and home security industries are all innovating new ways to connect the home. And they’re all marketing their solutions to customers. They all have their own point of view and their own way of incorporating our HVAC business. This will likely lead to some fragmentation. But the HVAC pros who talk directly with consumers have an advantage. They have a one-to-one relationship and a better understanding of what customers really want in their systems. And what they don’t. I’m predicting this one-on-one relationship will become increasingly important as people look for help with the flood of options.

As industry leaders, we have to match the pace of change. Your customers are more informed than they’ve ever been. Innovation is pushing the expansion of the HVAC industry, and more and more companies want to participate in it. By embracing the latest technology and matching the right systems with customer needs, our businesses can expand right along with the industry. Integrating new technology and products that match well with core competencies will be one of the biggest challenges of 2014 and beyond. It will require new ways of thinking. New approaches to installation and system design. New cooperation between wholesalers and installers. And listening to customers who are researching more than ever. The faster we can embrace the innovation that consumers are demanding, the better we will be able to serve them. In some cases, we’ll have to leave behind old ways of thinking and see the opportunity for doing more than we did yesterday. This will lead to more profitability and the happiest, most loyal customers we’ve ever had. If we aren’t willing to embrace our customers’ changing needs, others will.

Gene LaNois is general manager/Pro Channel, Nest Labs Inc. Visit www.nest.com.