Weil I Have Your AttentionWhen it comes to dealing with HVAC customer and employee problems, the famous quote, “We have met the enemy, and he is us,” by the comic strip character, Pogo, said it all. Some time ago, I was following a conversation on one of the HVAC Industry discussion forums that addresses how business owners deal with customer and employee issues. Many of the participants were taking somewhat of an adversarial tone, creating what appeared to be an “us or them” approach to problem solving.

POGO can target the HVAC Industy as well as environmentalists.

The infamous Pogo cartoon may well have meaning in the HVAC Industry. This cartoon was by Walt Kelly, an environmental artist in the 1970s whose daily cartoons were often controversial. Using this comic, Kelly created the phrase, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Pictured here are some of the cast of characters from those cartoons.

This gave me pause, especially during this really weak economic recovery, where newspapers like the Wall Street Journal are headlining experts’ fears that a new recession is looming. There’s nothing like those kind of headlines to keep consumers worried and make them much more frugal with their discretionary dollars. Isn’t this the time to be focused more on customer service than ever? Doesn’t it help to build relationships in tough times that will carry you through, and help your business grow, despite the economy?

One of the issues had to do with employees who don’t understand the business part of HVAC contracting and who take issue with their employer’s pricing practices. In the online conversations, one contractor said that service technicians and installers shouldn’t be concerned, “about why the amount being charged is the amount being charged.”

This contractor said that in his opinion, “Everybody has a position to play, just like in baseball, but an outfielder is not expected to know why his pitcher threw a curve ball, just that the catcher called a pitch, and the pitcher decided to throw that pitch or another. Just because you are ON a team, doesn’t mean you have to know what or why everything else exists. That person should play their position and only worry about being the best they can be at their position.”

Now there is some truth to what he said. However, if a technician questions a price, what’s wrong with the owner or service manager explaining how the company sets prices and why? My thought is that the technician can then feel confident about the prices charged to customers.

One of the commentators in this discussion wrote that he found it very troubling when contractors or their employees talk about customer or employee problems, as if customers or employees were the enemy. I agree. I mean aren’t employees part of your team? Should their concerns or problems be taken seriously?

This particular commentator went on to say that treating customers as if they’re partners or team members goes a long way to building a following. In this age of social media and online reputation management, I would think this sort of attitude goes a long way toward really building  your brand and customer loyalty — both very positive contributors to building a strong business.

If a technician questions a price, what’s wrong with the owner or service manager explaining how the company sets prices and why?

HVAC Industry Consultant and friend Frank Besednjak, president & CEO of Training Source, Inc., once told me that when it comes to building a loyal customer base, it’s key to treat a client as a family member who happens to be paying you for a service. He went on to say, “How would you feel if you (as a customer) made a substantial investment, to only find out later that you were overcharged by someone you totally trusted, versus receiving a refund due to an overcharge? Would you recommend them? I have no problem charging a premium for premium service. I believe most contractors still need to raise prices, but it has to be fair and equal across the board.”

NCI member Rob Basnett, president of Basnett Plumbing and Heating, Littleton, MA recently summed it up nicely. He said, “We charge a premium for or services. It’s important to me that our technicians understand why we charge what we do, so they don’t go in to a job feeling like we’re over charging clients.”

John Ellis of So Cal Dynamics, Northridge, CA  concurred. He said that “When employees are treated as valuable members of the team, companies have higher gross profits and much greater numbers of satisfied customers.”

So take a step back and analyze how you treat people and manage your customer experiences while maintaining 100% total integrity.

Comic strip author Walt Kelly was targeting his ‘we are our own worst enemy’ commentary toward the American environmental movement of the 1970s. It applies to many different things even today. Let’s work together to educate each other and our employees on why we do what we do so that the HVAC industry doesn’t become it’s own worst enemy.