All about AC service
By Jonathan Harp
Maintenance and startup of customers’ air conditioning systems may appear to be a straightforward process for contractors, but consider whether your company is looking at this season in a way that will optimize growth and customer satisfaction. It may be time to review and rethink your AC service process and be sure it’s meeting your company’s objectives.
There are three fundamental areas of AC maintenance operations to focus on to maintain a profitable business model and provide value to customers: when and how to start, maintenance check lists and selling service agreements.
There are a number of opinions about when to start contacting customers regarding AC service. The opinion with the most history is “home owners are only receptive to AC service when the weather warms up.” This opinion is a fallacy and occurs when a company is not regularly communicating with its customers.
It is true that the large majority of homeowners will not have air conditioning on their minds until the warm weather breaks. The only way you are going to put AC service into their minds is to have a regular customer news piece and to start “talking” about it before the cooling season starts.
Follow this up with targeted emails and/or mail reminding customers of the need to schedule their AC service before the warm weather arrives. Remember, you need to move customers into your schedule for maintenance and startup in the spring. Your customers will be pleased that they simply have to turn on their AC systems when they need it.
AC service and startup is the next important step in your company’s annual plan. Take a hard look at how you are approaching this important season and ensure plans focus on engaging with customers and meeting your company’s growth objectives.
Make sure your team understands and is engaged in the objectives and importance of the AC season.
HVAC MAINTENANCE CHECKLISTS
The maintenance work done on customers’ AC systems should be at the forefront of any AC service program. This usually involves a technician “checklist.” There is a range of AC maintenance checklists contractors use in the spring. Many of these lists can be found on contractors’ websites. This is a great idea to enhance a homeowner’s understanding of the maintenance process. Remember to keep the list on your website less technical so customers can easily comprehend it.
Most importantly, maintain a comprehensive AC maintenance checklist that is used and clearly understood by technicians as the benchmark for the service to be performed. As a refresher for contractors who use an AC checklist and for those who want to develop or upgrade their lists, here are some key steps contractors have told us should be on the list:
- Check thermostat for proper operation and location away from heat sources
- Lubricate motors, blowers, fans, bearings and other moving parts
- Examine condensate drain pans and drain lines and repair/unclog/replace if necessary
- Check that air filters have been properly cleaned/ replaced
- Check the refrigerant charge, ensure system does not have leaks and repair as needed, add refrigerant if necessary
- Inspect indoor coil, blower and blower motor for wear and proper operation
- Inspect condenser coil, fan and motor. Clean condenser coil and debris from outdoor unit
- Inspect electrical system and check for safe operation, including wiring, contactors, capacitors, disconnect box and compressor
- Check compressor operation including amp and volt draw
- Run unit and check running operation including temperature change between supply and return air
- Make sure controls are operating the system properly including safety devices
Another customer-oriented approach is to identify clearly on your website and, in literature provided to customers, any maintenance issues homeowners can deal with during the year. These include changing air filters, ensuring condensate lines are working, and checking for kinks in refrigerant lines. This will make the customer more aware of the annual maintenance needs of the system.
Tips for growing service agreement business
Contractors should understand the business value of customer service agreements. AC and heating service agreements create ongoing workflow during shoulder seasons, develop customer loyalty and generate sales leads.
- Grow your service agreement business through your frontline team members, that is the technicians who go into customers’ homes. These employees are the key to a successful service agreement business. Customers view service technicians as “experts” at what they do. If a technician believes in the value of a service agreement, the customer will believe in it too.
- Train technicians to develop a relationship with the customer each time they are in the home. Technicians should take time to engage the customer in conversation before going to check the equipment. Once the customer is engaged, ask how the air conditioner, furnace, water heater and other accessories have been working and determine if their systems receive at least annual maintenance. In the conversation, explain the importance of HVAC equipment, the comfort it provides for their families, and the need for regular maintenance to prevent breakdowns and improve performance. Impress upon them that service agreements can help to minimize future problems and provide them with somewhere to turn when system problems arise.
- Offer a variety of service agreement plans and payment options that make service agreements more attractive and affordable to customers. Plans should vary between full protection including parts and labour, and protection such as reduced cost of repairs. Regular maintenance and priority service should be common to all plans. Payment options should include one- and two-year payment terms (with a discount for the second year) and monthly credit card payments.
- Ensure your service maintenance agreement includes reviewing all parts of the system; do not take short cuts (see the maintenance checklist).
- Indicate the normal cost for service calls and how service agreements could reduce this cost when new and current customers call. Once customers purchase agreements, remember to highlight customer savings each time a home visit is made under the agreement.
- Stay in regular contact with agreement customers whether by newsletter, scheduling visits or simply calling to see how their system is operating. Have an in-office representative responsible for contacting agreement customers two to three months before their agreement expires, and before the renewal invoice is sent, to reinforce the benefits of the agreement. Continue to follow up on agreement renewals even after the agreement expires. Remember, retaining customers is much easier than finding new ones.
- Use the power of your website, social media and contact lists to engage customers. Send out eblasts promoting specials on other HVAC services to generate new work. Give customers the ability to schedule service appointments on your website. Use your web site and social media presence to post information on the benefits of service agreements and other services.
The driving force behind selling service agreements is your technicians Make them a part of the process and they will deliver the message directly to customers.