As seen in the October 2007 edition of HVACR Business magazine.

Strive to make every customer more than satisfied.

In an effort to emphasize the importance of understanding and practicing the marketing principle of added value, I’ve decided to revisit and elaborate on a past Discipline of Leadership column. In that column I discussed how customer care boosts referrals. The column prompted many questions and comments from readers looking for more specific information. Those comments offer a unique opportunity for discussing the powerful added-value principle, while at the same time furnishing specifics in addressing four types of customers.

After your company delivers a product or service — whether it is an equipment replacement job, accessory product, IAQ product, service call, precision tune-up, duct cleaning or any other product or service — do you know how satisfied your customers are with the work?

Typically, customers experience one of four states of mind after an experience with a home-service provider: angry, dissatisfied, satisfied or more-than-satisfied.

Prompt action can make the most of a good or bad situation. Here is how I define and apply added value to the four states:

Angry. Obviously, this is the one state of mind companies do not want. However, it does happen and probably has happened more than once to most of us. Unfortunately, an angry customer can do a lot of damage. You can be certain they will quickly tell you how they feel, but the big problem is that they will tell a lot of other people how they feel as well. Bad news travels fast!

Once you become aware that you have an angry customer, you must move quickly to rectify the situation. I can think of nothing with a higher priority. It is critical that you “disarm” the customer in a rapid manner.

I found that the most effective method of disarmament is to simply ask, “What would you like us to do?” Often, an angry customer expects the company to take an adversarial position. Asking the customer what your company can do to make things right surprises them and opens the door to a meaningful conversation that will lead to a resolution.

Once you have had your conversation with the customer, no time can be wasted in making the required corrections. Once corrections are made, I recommend sending a gift thanking them for their business and patience.

Dissatisfied. A dissatisfied customer is the one who feels your company did not meet their expectations. Dissatisfied customers cause me more concern than angry customers. An angry customer will let the company know that they are angry — dissatisfied customers often do not let the company know. However, they will let a lot of other people know — a truly scary thought.

Indeed, think about a dissatisfied customer telling 12 people, then those 12 people telling 12 more people, and so on. Pretty soon hundreds of potential customers get a tainted view of your company.

But it gets even worse. Many dissatisfied customers simply go away and in the future use another company.

To make my point during discussion of this topic, I ask disbelieving contractors, “Have you ever had a bad dining experience in a restaurant?” Most everyone has had such an experience. My next question, “What did you do about it? Did you leap up on a table, yell and scream and make a big scene? Or did you simply pay the bill, walk out, take an oath that you would never return, and then tell several other people never to eat there?” Point made.

So, if it is true that a dissatisfied customer does not tell you they are dissatisfied how do you find out? That’s easy. Within 24 hours after your product is installed or your service call is completed, call the customer to thank them for their business and ask if everything was completed as they expected. I call these happy calls. If they do not answer the phone, leave a message about why you called. It is vital that you leave the message. If you do not, they may think it is simply another sales call and never call back. A dissatisfied customer will call back. (See Exhibit A on page 38 for a sample happy call.)

Another way to unearth the level of customer satisfaction is to attach a customer feedback form to the invoice. Technicians then encourage customers to fill out the form and mail it to the company. Other companies have an installation performance feedback form such as the one exhibited in my book “HVAC Spells Wealth.”

Although a good idea, it is important to understand that it requires the customer to take action and they often will not take the time. With a happy call, the company takes action.

If a dissatisfied customer has not yet informed you of their feelings, the happy call will give them the opportunity.

Incidentally, some of my very best referral customers were ones who were not totally pleased with the service at first, but were impressed by how quickly and cordially we corrected the matter.

Satisfied. Many companies aim to satisfy their customers — if they don’t, they should rethink their goals.

While I agree that a satisfied customer is better than an angry or dissatisfied customer, satisfied customers also pose problems.

Satisfied customers are defined as those customers who received exactly what they were told they would receive, no less and no more.

For example, your comfort consultant told them that for an agreed upon contract price the company would replace the furnace, evaporator coil and condensing unit with a new 14 SEER system along with a programmable thermostat, new refrigerant lines and an electronic air cleaner. Your company did exactly what the customer was told would happen and they wrote a check for the agreed upon amount. Consequently, there is no reason for them to get excited. That’s what they thought would happen. This means that they will not go out of their way to tell others. Satisfied customers won’t boast about their satisfied experience as much as dissatisfied customers will rant about their less-than-stellar experience.

This leads to the ultimate goal:

More than satisfied. This fourth state of mind represents the type of customer that is the objective. This customer’s expectations were exceeded. In marketing it is called “added value” — and it is a very powerful principle.

More-than-satisfied customers tell everyone about your company, and it is good news! More-than-satisfied customers receive something they were not told they would get. These extras do not need to be expensive, but they do need to be unexpected.

Here are some examples:

On an equipment replacement job have technicians install an empty cabinet for a future electronic air cleaner, or leave a two-year supply of air filters. Or how about awarding them a completed service agreement with the price on it marked “no charge”?

Another way to unexpectedly satisfy the customer is to deliver a nice floral arrangement at the completion of the job — better yet, make it a live plant so they remember your company every time they water and nurture it.

Other simple but effective tactics: On service calls and precision tune-ups have your technician check the smoke alarm batteries and replace them if necessary. Offer assistance on simple tasks. After getting permission, trim any shrubs near the outdoor air conditioning/heating unit. Between mid-November and Christmas have technicians and installers ask customers if they would like them to get their holiday decorations out of storage.

The possibilities are endless. Have a fun session by asking your co-workers to help you come up with some methods of providing added value. Explain why added value is important. It’s the little things that mean a lot.

In short, when faced with angry customers disarm them and take quick responsive action. Find out if you have dissatisfied customers by asking them. Recognize that it is nice to have satisfied customers, but what you really want is more-than-satisfied customers. And how do you get more-than-satisfied customers? Practice added value.

Exhibit A
Sample Happy Call
Date ________________________________________________________________________
Time ________________________________________________________________________
Technician(s) __________________________________________________________________
Customer _____________________________________________________________________
Call Initiated By_________________________________________________________________
“Mr. or Mrs. (name) this is (name) with (company) and I’m phoning to make certain you are totally pleased with our service. May I quickly ask a few questions?”
Was our response time good?______________________________________________________
Was our technician(s) courteous?___________________________________________________
Did our technician(s) clean up when finished?__________________________________________
Did our technician(s) answer any questions or concerns?__________________________________
Did our technician(s) explain the operation? ___________________________________________
Is there anything you would like to share that would further improve our service? _______________
“Thank you for your time. Your business is very much appreciated.”