by Eric Knaak

The bases are loaded, it’s the bottom of the ninth, and the score is tied. The batter steps to the plate and digs in. The pitcher stands on the mound looking to the catcher for the sign. The batter closes his eyes for a moment and visualizes what he wants to see happen. He sees his swing — arms extended, shoulders square, weight back. He imagines the crack of the bat and visualizes watching the ball go over the center field wall.

All of this happens even before the pitch is thrown. Why would someone put so much emphasis on thinking about what they want to see happen? Because visualization is an important step in making something a reality. This same visualization can be used to direct every aspect of what happens at your company each and every day. It can guide how you answer the phones. How you handle service requests, sales calls, and over-the-counter sales can all be part of a vision.

At Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning, we apply the visualization process to everything we do. From the marketing and advertising programs that make the phone ring, to the way we process warranties and invoicing, we want our clients to feel comfortable and confident with every contact they have with our organization.

Lets look at the “perfect service call” as an example of how to create and use your vision. Although every company will have a different interpretation of the perfect service call — depending upon geographic location, clients’ wants and needs, and the company’s capabilities — a perfect service call exists for every company.

The first step in creating your company’s perfect service call is to think about what you want that call to be. This is where you need to sit down somewhere quiet, close your eyes, and use your imagination. It will involve a lot of work behind the scenes, but the audience only sees the actual performance.

ACT I: Imagine a client as he or she picks up the phone to call your company. The client dials your number, and someone answers on the other end. Who answers your phone? What should this person say? How should he or she say it? Is the person answering your phone dressed as a professional? When he or she is speaking on the phone, is there a smile on their face? A smiling employee is a happy employee, and a smile can be heard over the phone.

Is the call-taking area conducive with speaking to a client and answering their questions? A phone in a shop area or in a warehouse makes a bad impression when it comes to speaking with a client. When upset or anxious clients call, the person on the other end needs to be able to calm them down and reassure them that everything will be taken care of. At the end of the conversation, every client should be wished a pleasant day and given a sincere “thank you” for calling your company.

ACT II: Enter the Technician

Your technician has pulled up to the client’s home and the client is watching his every move through the living room window. How did the technician pull into the driveway? Did he park right behind the client’s car, or did he use the empty space? (Please note that for simplicity we’ll refer to this technician as “he,” even though we have female technicians here at Isaac.)

Once a technician is at a client’s home, it’s imperative that he gets out of the work vehicle as quickly as possible. When clients see a technician sitting in a work truck, the only thing they see is dollar signs, and the only thought they have is that they’re paying for that person to sit in their driveway.

The work vehicle the technician arrived in should be clean both inside and out. A dirty van relays a negative message to your clients. Have your vehicles routinely inspected to be sure they’re not leaking any fluids into your clients’ driveways.

Now the technician is approaching the door. Is the technician in a clean company uniform? His shirt should be tucked in, and his hands and arms clean. The message must be conveyed: I am a professional HVAC technician. You spend a lot of money on building a positive image for your company (or at least you should), and you don’t want this effort and cost jeopardized in any way.

ACT III: Enter the client

Once your technician rings the doorbell, he should step back from the door 3 to 4 feet. This gives clients some “personal space” and allows them to see who is at their door.

When the client answers the door, he or she should be greeted professionally with a business card, a smile, and an introduction.

Have your technicians tell the client what he’s there for, so that any misunderstandings can be cleared up immediately.

As soon as Isaac technicians step into a client’s home, the first thing they do is put on their boot covers. This simple gesture tells the client, “I am a professional and that I care about your home.” We have been using boot covers for almost 10 years. We seldom get a complaints about dirty carpets, but we get a lot of compliments about the boot covers. At this point, the technician should be engaging the client in conversation by now, creating a relationship and identifying the client’s comfort concerns.

Intermission

We’re halfway through the perfect service call, and we haven’t even picked up a screwdriver or wrench.

Your vision must include the procedures that will be followed on every maintenance or emergency call. What recommendations should be made to the client? Isaac technicians are required to hand every client literature on our maintenance agreements, duct abatement, and other services we offer.

Our technicians aren’t required to sell the maintenance agreements, but they are required to present them to every client with an understanding of how they work. Educated consumers will make their own decisions, and if they are given the correct information in the proper manner, we will leave with a new maintenance agreement.

ACT IV: Servicing the Equipment

When an Isaac technician performs an annual maintenance call, the first step in the actual check is to cycle the equipment being serviced.

It’s important that our technician knows if there’s a problem with the equipment before he begins taking things apart. On several occasions we have found bad gas valves, ignition boards and safeties that we would have been blamed for damaging if we had not made the client aware before removing and screws or panels.

Does your company have a set procedure for maintenance work? Is everyone following the same procedures? Does every vent pipe get pulled down and the chimney inspected, or do they just pull down the ones that look bad? When problems are found, are clients quoted a price, and do they sign the invoice authorizing the repairs before they are made?

Make sure your technicians examine the entire HVAC system, keeping in mind all the components that are associated with the furnace and air conditioner. For example, does the client have a humidifier? If so, was the importance of annual maintenance explained? Does the client have an air cleaner, media filter, or standard filter that needs to be cleaned or replaced? If the filter was plugged, how dirty was the blower wheel? If the blower wheel was dirty, how restricted was the indoor coil? If the indoor coil was dirty, should the client consider duct cleaning?

If the client has mentioned that he or she is always sneezing in the house, or that the children have allergies, the technician should automatically mention the availability of high efficiency filtration systems, or the option of providing an air-to-air exchanger or heat recovery ventilator to remove the volatile organic compounds and improve indoor air quality.

The bottom line here is that the days of going into a client’s home, cleaning the furnace and leaving are soon going to be behind us as an industry. At Isaac, those days are already history.

Act V: The Final Scene

When the repairs or maintenance have been completed, the system should be cycled one final time at the thermostat. By making the cycling of the unit through the thermostat the last technical step, you’ve removed any doubts as to whether all of the wires were connected and the power turned back on.

Before leaving the basement, your technician should place your company’s sticker on the furnace, and make sure it is filled out completely. He should also offer to dispose of the used parts for the client.

Did your technician place tags to mark the gas and electric shutoffs? At Isaac we use very noticeable bright orange tags to mark the gas and electric shutoffs, so that in an emergency they can be found quickly. With our name on the tags, there’s a good chance we’ll be the company called to make repairs.

If you service or install water heaters, does your company have a sticker that can be placed on the water heater? Most people don’t know who to call when their water heater fails, and they’re standing in the basement staring at the water on the floor. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they looked up at the water heater and saw your company’s sticker?

Finally, the technician should make sure he has answered all of the client’s questions, has dropped off a comment card, and thanked the client for using your company.

Create and Share the Vision

The five acts we’ve outlined here contain the elements we want included in our perfect service call.

Begin to create your vision of a perfect service call and share it with the decision makers at your organization. Brainstorm ideas and come up with a vision that meets your goals. Share the vision you create with everyone at your organization, and make it part of every day business life. Although adjustments will need to be made from time to time, the basic principles will remain the same.

Remember, the perfect service call is like a great play. It takes a clear vision, a good script, practice, great performers, and great performances. n

Eric Knaak is the service manager at Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc., Rochester, NY. The company is Contracting Business magazine’s 2002 Residential Contractor of the Year. To reach Eric, call 585/546-1400.