The internet is an essential marketing tool for the modern contractor, no doubt about it. But when it comes to sealing the deal, the phone is still reigning king. You have to get telephone customer service right in order to grow your business.

Despite its importance, many HVAC companies neglect how they come across on the phone. It’s easy to advertise, but what happens when a lead places a call? The smallest hiccup can send them on to the next company.

Let’s review some tips for making the phone an ally, not a threat to your business.

First, Answer the Thing
This may seem obvious, but you would be shocked by the number of contractors who simply fail to answer the phone. Before you can even think of landing new customers, you have to be there when they try to reach you.

Make the phone your business ally.

Solo contractors and small operations are more prone to lapses in phone coverage, but it happens everywhere, especially firms offering 24 hour emergency service. If you claim to be available, answer the phone.

Voicemail Doesn’t Count
Having a professional voicemail recording doesn’t count as answering the phone. It’s an improvement over letting your business line ring continuously, but it doesn’t score you any points in the customer service department.

If a human being picks up the phone to call your company, they want to speak to another human being. Not a recording, not a machine, a real person. Forward calls to your cell phone, hire a receptionist, use a service, rent a Grandma - whatever it takes to give your business a real voice.

Answer Like a Business
Nothing says “I’m a small-time contractor and you should hire someone else” more than a casual approach to talking on the phone.

Think about some of the bigger companies that you call on a regular basis. They may fail at actually helping you, but they sure sound good. Emulate them and answer in the name of your business. You don’t have to lose your charm or fail to be helpful, just greet callers in a consistent, professional manner.

Be the Person You Would Invite Into Your Home
This is the most important tip. Hiring an HVAC contractor isn’t like hiring someone to powerwash your siding. Both involve your home, but only one individual may have to step foot inside. This requires far more trust than many technicians realize.

From the moment you pick up the phone, the customer is asking themselves, “Do I trust this person?” Forget your fancy truck, slick advertising, special offer, reputation, or whatever else got them to call you. This is what counts.

To gain trust over the phone, you need to be warm, patient, polite, and knowledgeable. Pick up the phone like you’re happy to speak with them. Don’t be short or rush them, even if you’re in a hurry. Say please and thank you. Ask specific questions about their situation to show that you’re listening and that you know what you’re talking about.

Take the Phone Seriously
The bottom line is this: the phone still matters. Don’t let new technology get in the way of treating phone calls with the proper respect. Follow these tips and you’re on your way to making telephone customer service your competitive advantage.

How do you handle calls? Share your advice, successes, and horror stories with us in the comments section.

Gere Jordan writes for Continental Message Solution (CMS), a leading HVAC call center provider. They help contractors grow their operations by taking calls after hours, dispatching service requests, and providing a polished customer service presence. Learn more about CMS at continentalmessage.com.