As seen in the September 2006 edition of HVACR Business magazine.

What are customers looking for from their hvac residential providers? What must you do to meet or exceed their expectations? The answer is not complicated. It consists of only four points. Yet, many companies either do not understand these elements or are unwilling to implement and manage them.

Here is what customers want:

On-time delivery

This means you show up when you said you would. Being on time applies to repairs, installations and sales calls. What happens if you are late? You should not let this happen, especially if you have already let down the customer and may never regain his or her confidence.

But, here is a key question: Is the customer willing to accept a change in time? Obviously, if we really subscribe to the on-time principle, this never is necessary. But in the real world, it might be sometimes. In most cases, the customer is willing to allow a change in time, but only if you properly inform him or her before the initial appointed time.

The call might go like this: “Mrs. Jones, we told you our service technician would be at your home between 3 and 4 p.m. It will be a little later, between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. The reason is he is on a service call that is taking much longer than we expected, and we want to make certain that the repair is completed properly so the customer has cooling. He will then immediately come to your home. I’m sure that is the way you would want to be treated.” It is absolutely critical that you phone the customer before the customer has to phone you.

Quality work

The word “quality” often is abused and misunderstood. From a customer’s perspective, the definition of quality is very simple—the product or service does what you said it would do. If it is an equipment-replacement installation, it performs as the customer was told it would when he or she invested in your company. If it is a service repair, the equipment operates as intended and continues to do so for a reasonable time.

Professional behavior

It all starts with the person in your office who answers the phone. Is he or she properly trained, knowledgeable, and practicing empathy? Also, are your representatives who visit customers clean and neat? Do they treat customers and their homes with total respect? Are they perceived as competent? Are vehicles clean and neat? Are documents used during transactions attractive, neat, and easy to understand? Is your pricing easy to understand and fair? (I did not say cheap!)


Many companies of all types are difficult to do business with, and I’m certain you have experienced such in your personal business dealings. In the hvac residential retail business, if you are open for business Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., you are not easy to do business with. You are practicing a contractor mentality not a retail mentality. Non-hvac retailers, who also are your competitors—particularly when a customer decides to spend some discretionary income—are open in the evenings and certainly on Saturdays. Many are open on Sundays. I have owned and operated four air conditioning and heating companies. Our biggest equipment-replacement sales day of the week was Saturday, and the closing ratio of sales-to-presentations was always the highest on Saturday.

Another example: having a good, well-presented consumer financing program of easy monthly payments. A customer certainly finds it more convenient to invest $149 per month rather than write a check for $7,000 (assuming the customer even can do so).

Here is my personal hang-up (no pun, I promise). If as a residential retail provider, you are using an automated telephone system, you are not convenient to do business with. Once again, you are practicing a contractor mentality. It will work for a contractor but not for a retailer. I am convinced that automated telephone systems were invented by the devil. A customer calling in with no heat when the temperature outside is 20 degrees does not want to go through a series of several automated telephone prompts. And, they should not have to do so.

Incidentally, not long ago, I pulled out the Nashville phone book and called reservation departments at nine airlines: American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Southwest, U. S. Airways, Aeromexico, Air Canada, and Quantas. Only one airline answered the phone call with a real, live person. Guess who? It was the only one that reports profits quarter after quarter, in fact has never had a losing quarter, and continues to grow—Southwest. Could there be a correlation?

You may be wondering, “Where is price? Why is it not on the above list of four items?” It’s because if you are properly delivering the four described elements, price normally does not become an issue. If it does, it is not nearly as important of an issue, and one that you usually can overcome.