“Who are you to the homeowner?” Ask that question to your technicians and see the types of answers you get.
THE FEEDBACK YOU RECEIVE could provide insight into what is right or wrong with your service department. For example, if their responses are “crook, thief, or nuisance,” the technician might feel that their company charges too much. It probably wouldn’t surprise you that the technicians who see themselves in this light do not do a good job of promoting your company’s products and services. It is refreshing when you hear technicians use terms like “hero, expert, and problem solver.” The reality is that the homeowner does see the technician in that context. They understand that when they have an issue and it is 12 degrees and the middle of the night, they will be there to solve what is wrong. And this has proven to be true. A survey conducted some years back by the ICPA (now CEMA) found that the oil heat technician is one of the most trusted professionals in Connecticut. A similar survey was done in Maine and the results were similar.
Transformation Starts at Home
As owners and managers, we must change our mindset when it comes to the service department. Often is the case that service takes a back seat to fuel sales. The reality is that without service, fuel sales would suffer. Service is the one advantage this industry has over its competitors on the other side of the fence. While there is no doubt you, as an owner, understand the importance of the technician to your company, you must show your technicians that you do value their feedback. We have conducted numerous technician focus groups in the industry. In these focus groups, where we take the technicians offsite without management, we get unfiltered, unabashed feedback on what is working and not working with your company. They are able to identify waste and misuse in the service department, which managers may not be aware of. Whether it is the hoarding of parts or inefficiencies around the scheduling of service, the technicians are quick to offer a diagnosis for what is wrong with the service department. This discussion also sponsors many productive ideas on how to fix these service ailments. And what’s best is that because they are their ideas, the technicians tend to get behind them that much more. In our engagements, we have seen the impact many of these ideas have made to the bottom line. In many cases, the service departments have gone from red to black.
Don’t Sell. Consult.
It’s been said that we create through language. One way to begin your technicians’ transformation is to change your language. Rather than referring to them as technicians, refer to them as energy consultants. It’s no secret that technicians don’t like to “sell.” They are so adverse to selling that they go out of their way not to sell – at times holding back necessary recommendations they may have for their customers’ heating equipment. What if we replace the word “sell” with the word “consult” instead? Rather than selling, your technicians could consult in a fully self-expressed manner on what is best for the homeowner. The authenticity in their consulting would not be lost on the homeowner as they would see the technicians as the energy consultant they are. Just a minor tweak in language may have the most significant impact.
So, now you have changed who your technicians are to you, the homeowner, and most importantly themselves. You need to work on how the energy consultant interacts with the homeowner. Role playing is a great way to hear how the consultant communicates to the homeowner. Through role playing, you could hear how they would articulate the value proposition of, let’s say, a new boiler to the homeowner. Though each technician will communicate their value proposition differently, role playing is an opportunity for technicians to share the sound bites they use in talking with the customer. While the final sale is not done by the technician, improved customer interaction will help set the table for the salesman. As we implemented this process with many companies in our network, the number of leads to the salesmen increased exponentially.
There are two sides to customer communications: the live interaction and the promotions that are sent out via mail or online. It is not that uncommon for the energy consultants not to be made aware of ongoing promotions. Their input on these promotions is often overlooked or ignored, yet they are the closest to the homeowners. They are the face of your company. They are your frontline representatives. They know the various nuances with each customer. Their feedback is vital. For future marketing initiatives, be it a promotion or rolling out a new product or service, you might be wise to include your energy consultant in the process.
Take Advantage of Low Oil Pricing
Things are looking up for the oil industry. The forecast is for another cold winter and the price of oil is heading in the right direction. Now is the time to build up your service department. Take advantage of low prices. Homeowners might have the money to invest in upgrading their heating system. Service contract customers tend to be “stickier” customers. Now might be a good time to find creative ways to get your customers on service contracts. Of course, none of this can be done if you are not changing who the technician is to your company. The best way to build for the future is to build up the service department. The best way to build a profitable service department is to recognize the value of the energy consultant. Invest in their training. Let them know their feedback is valued and appreciated. Incorporate their feedback into your business processes. Make them feel like they are truly part of the company. Get them to see who they really are as heroes, experts, problem solvers – and, now, energy consultants.
Gerry Brien is Senior Vice President of Consumer Focus™ Marketing. With years of experience in the energy industry, Gerry has compiled valuable data from several technician as well as consumer focus groups throughout the Northeast and, in turn, has helped marketers generate a better understanding of their current and potential customer base while helping to identify substantial revenue growth on the HVAC side of the business.