Our prior discussions about building relationships concentrated on how you as an HVACR equipment and parts distributor can gain market share by partnering with your dealers and educating them on the benefits of professional systems to deliver retail pricing for equipment installation and service. Our purpose in those discussions was to bring back into focus those concepts and products that improve your customers' businesses, which should dovetail into improved sales and better business relationships for you.

Our attention now turns to the benefits of improved customer relations between your dealers and their customers, and the role you play in educating your dealers.

Customer Relations Management

In years past, the adage, “The customer is always right!” was an easy way for business owners and managers to keep their employees focused on taking care of customer needs. The saying suggests one should think before reacting negatively to a customer's request. However, just saying what to do doesn't get it done!

Today, businesses must manage customer relations. Indeed, good customer relations demand that employees are educated as to the needs of their customers and provided systems so that good customer service can and will take place easily and effectively.

Encourage Your Dealers to Always Be Professional

Consumers today are interested in having their needs met when they want or need them met. Truly professional dealers understand the importance of catering to the customer and delivering exceptional service. Here are a few areas where you can educate your dealers to help them deliver top-notch service to their customers.

Answering the Phone. Real Customers Want to Talk to Real People.

More dealers lose the telephone battle before war is declared! Service and installation sales begin with a phone call to your dealer's office. When that call occurs, encourage your dealers to put their best foot forward.

Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than getting voicemail or an answering machine when that customer has a heating or cooling emergency. The best advice you can give your dealers is to avoid using voicemail, especially on incoming emergency calls. If a dealer is not in a position to hire staff to answer phones, forward calls to the contractor's cell phone or to a phone-answering service. Contractors should be very careful that the answering service is competent! Return calls to a customer within 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, customers get edgy. After an hour without a return phone call on an extremely cold or hot day, your dealer probably will lose the service work to another company.

Training the Office Staff

Encourage dealers to train their staff to answer incoming calls promptly and politely regardless of how busy they are. Customers want to feel respected and to know that their requests are important to company personnel. Customers not only want contractors to “do it right the first time,” they want them to “get it right (the information) the first time.” They should gather all necessary information from the customer to allow the contractor to satisfy all the customer's needs. Failure to ask appropriate questions when the customer is on the phone will result in a return phone call to get all the details that were overlooked on the first call. Lack of professionalism by the contractor may cause a customer to shop around.

Identification and Visibility

Customers need to know the company they hired is responding to their request and that starts with dealer trucks lettered with the company name and phone number. Technicians should be in neat, freshly laundered uniforms. Personnel should wear identification badges and show them to the customer. If identification badges are unavailable, print business cards so the customer can verify technician information. Imagine how careful each technician would be if his face and name were associated with every service call he performed each day.

Friendly Technicians Make Everything Better!

The stress level associated with a broken-down HVACR system ranks right up there with a broken-down vehicle on a road trip. When a customer's comfort or convenience is in jeopardy, they get grumpy. A friendly technician with empathy for the customer's compromised situation will go a long way to making the service experience a positive one.

A competent technician informing the customer upfront as to the problem with their system and letting them know the price for repair won't necessarily make the customer happy, but it will make them realize their service company is professional.

Giving the customer choices as to repair or replacement in a friendly, empathetic way is also a more professional approach and brings the customer to the reality of their situation. When handled properly and professionally, a customer is unlikely to turn his or her angst on the technician and service company.

Will That Be Cash, Check or Credit Card?

We don't have to tell you that credit and collection can be the toughest part of running any business. You should counsel your dealers about how to ask for payment and help them understand the value of asking the customer what the intended method of payment will be on completion of the service or installation work. We believe asking for payment on job completion tells the customer, “We have the knowledge and trained craftsmen to satisfy your needs, we take pride in our workmanship, we stand behind our work and back it up with a guarantee, we have taken the needed time to correct your problem, and we are worthy of the fees we charge.”

Encourage your dealers to accept credit cards. Much of our economy runs on plastic today, and HVACR dealers should position their company to receive payment as easily as possible. Dealers that express concern over the bank discount rates on credit card charges should be reminded just how costly it is waiting for the payment after the job has been completed.

Staying in Touch

Dealers should make follow-up calls to be certain that their work met with complete customer satisfaction. Newsletters and direct mail cards issued quarterly keep the customer reminded that the company is still available to take care of any needs that arise. Holiday greetings and birthday cards provide a nice touch that many companies use to stay in touch.

Considering all the businesses vying for customer dollars, good customer relations is of utmost importance in today's market. Your role in educating your dealers as to the importance of customer relations management and helping them implement systems will set your company apart from other distributors in your market and may be the key ingredients to your dealers' success.

Jim D'Amico and Ken Cederquist are partners in Profit Strategies, a provider of retail pricing systems for service and installation for the HVACR and plumbing trades. Jim is a former HVACR contractor and is available at JimD@ProfitStrategies.net or 800/353-4393. Ken is a former distributor and is available at KenC@ProfitStrategies.net or 800/808-4586. Their main office line is 888/229-4100. www.ProfitStrategies.net.