By SCOTT BERGER & PAT FAVA
Your company's name and a good referral can play a part in winning new business. However, lasting success is based on what you do afterwards to build relationships with, and service customers.
Kelnard Refrigeration's Friday barbecues boost morale, and provide opportunities for customer appreciation.
A refrigeration company's reputation does not guarantee success. It may help you obtain a referral to a substantial piece of new business, but it won't necessarily help you keep that business.
The customer service and relationship-building we've followed at Kelnard Refrigeration is rather unique, and has enabled the company to generate more than 1,200 refrigeration customers, 500 of whom are under service contracts.
Perseverance in challenging times. Whether you're dealing with a mechanical issue or an interpersonal issue, it's critical that you stick with it and see it through. Make a conscious effort to be moving to a win-win situation. This may require you to be flexible when dealing with customer demands, but do everything within reason to fulfill customer needs.
Nurture and retain your talented employees. Depth of talent is everywhere to be found at Kelnard, especially in our service supervisors, who have been here many years, have grown with the company, and have been promoted one step at a time along the way. They have outstanding technical expertise, and they've earned the respect of their peers.
Establish a talent search that works for your company culture. Kelnard relies primarily on wordof-mouth advertising to attract new talent. We don't run ads for field technicians, and instead rely on referrals to friends of employees, or people our technicians know from the supply house. We have good name recognition, and are well-thought-of in the industry, so people are often interested in working for us.
Sometimes, talented people will find us as a result of a career change. For example, we may meet a young auto mechanic who is looking to make a career change, and has a skill level that's easily transferred over to the HVACR industry. In the past, we've hired carpenters, plumbers, and electricians; they bring a core skill set, on which we build.
Training. The Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) calls itself "the education organization," and we consider Kelnard to be "the education company."
We hold weekly classes in our training room, which includes troubleshooting on old equipment. We're also able to attract manufacturers to conduct product-specific, in-house training for us. And, we typically send more people through trade school than any other contractor in the area. At Kelnard, continuing education is a top priority.
Focus on service. We also call this "focusing from within." If you focus on the quality of service you're providing your customers, everything else takes care of itself. Every now and then you have some back and forth between companies, and competitors are biting at our heels. But if you focus on providing the best service possible, nothing else matters.
Contract flexibility. Attention to unique customer needs transforms an ordinary service agreement into a superior one.
We are proponents of "contract flexibility," which means we listen to the customer as we draw up the contract, and pay attention to ‘critical-needs' hours. We could be working with a movie theater that needs working ice machines on evenings and weekends. Or, it could be a corporate cafeteria, which is used for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday. We personalize the service contracts to meet the customers' needs. This includes items such as overtime, type of contract (maintenance only/maintenance and labor/maintenance and parts), and the number of inspections we'll provide, based on location and equipment use. A small investment of time is all it takes.
Special attention to food-related issues. A manager at a company that receives regular inspections by health officials or food inspectors has three things on his mind: passing daily inspections, avoiding fines, and avoiding embarrasment.
Service contracts for those customers include attention to details that food inspectors look to find fault with: the condition of door gaskets and closers, box temperatures, sanitation of ice machines, and other similar items. It's in everyone's best interest that you pay attention to those items during a maintenance call.
Professionalism. Do your employees wear uniforms and identification badges? Are your trucks clean, washed, and undamaged? Is your work documentation always in order? Those simple things speak volumes about your company's professionalism.
Company morale. If you don't pay attention to company morale, and if your people aren't happy and excited about working for you, how do you stand a chance of providing a high level of service?
With that understanding, Kelnard sponsors a variety of morale boosting events, including an annual family picnic, a team leadership conference (often structured around recreation, such as a bowling outing), an annual Mets baseball game, and Friday barbecues during the summer on the company deck.
The barbecue has been a huge morale booster. Everyone pitches in $5, employees choose the menu, shop for the ingredients, and spend Friday morning preparing the meal.
We've also started inviting people in our value chain, such as vendors and clients. It's been tremendous. We lose four or five people for half a day, but it's been so positive, we can't see doing without it.
Semi-annual company meetings. In a business where two-thirds of our employees are out in the field, we feel it's important to get everyone together twice each year. This year, we'll be holding roundtable discussions. People who don't normally work together will meet at tables to address topics compiled by an in-house task force. The annual meetings help service personnel realize that they are involved.
Customer appreciation. We send out chocolate-covered almonds during the holidays. When we first started doing this 16 years ago, we had a list of 200 people. This past holiday season, 3,600 tins were sent out.
Don't lose site of the basics. Build up your staff; focus on service; respect the talent of your long-term employees; practice professionalism; and make sure your customers feel appreciated.
Then, you can enjoy the repeat business that follows.
Scott Berger is President of Kelnard Refrigeration, Long Island, NY, a division of Arista Air Conditioning Corporation. Pat Fava is Vice President of Service Sales. They can be reached at 718/937-1400.
Photo courtesy Kelnard Refrigeration