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My mother always told me, “Choose your words carefully and know they can always be used against you.” Mom was right on the money, but I had to learn my own way. Here’s my story.

My mentor, Frank Blau of Blau Plumbing, Heating & AC in Milwaukee, told me 23 years ago I would be expanding from plumbing into the HVAC business before too long. I was a snot-nosed plumber then and his prediction was just another piece of advice that I didn’t understand. 

Looking back, Frank was as right as my Mom. Within 12 months of meeting Frank Blau, I was operating in the HVAC business. How I got there is another chapter in my life, good for another cup of coffee. But for now, I want to focus on what I learned and what became crystal clear to me during the process.  


My paradigm shift

In the beginning, I saw HVAC companies were selling service agreements. So I started offering service agreements (as we all should) to my plumbing customers. After the first eight months of the year, my six plumbers sold 1,200 service agreements, which is a story good for another cup of coffee. We were successful, so I hired an HVAC technician. Here is where the real learning curve started. 

That fall and winter, I read every industry article on HVAC so I could speak the language. All the industry gurus, a few of whom I hired to help me in the beginning, all spoke about performing air conditioning, heating and furnace checks/visits/tune-ups/maintenance/etc. 

So, what did I do? When spring came, I did what the experts were doing. I called my customers and said, “Mrs. Jones, it’s time for your air conditioning maintenance check,” and she would just laugh at me.  “What? You’re coming to check my air conditioner? It’s 40° outside.” 

This really bothered me. It was March, and, yes, it was 40° outside. But I knew I had to complete all these prepaid visits before the temperatures rose and found myself in air conditioning repair-and-replacement season. 

Every year, in spring and fall, I beat my head against the wall trying to figure out how to get my service agreement visits completed before peak season. By not completing these visits before the hot or cold weather hit, I lost new customers. I was so busy scheduling my service agreement customers that I wasn’t available to run new demand calls. Don’t get me wrong, I made money, but I also knew I was missing much more. 

This pattern went on for four years; call me a slow learner. One day in a Nexstar sales class it hit me like a ton of bricks. 

The instructor said this:  “You are selling ‘systems.’ You don’t sell air conditioners. You don’t sell furnaces. You don’t sell humidifiers. You don’t sell air cleaners. You sell systems.  You are selling home comfort systems.”

I realized I had not chosen my words wisely. Mom was right again. I sat there for several minutes, numb. I took this a step further and thought: I don’t repair air conditioners and I don’t repair furnaces. I repair systems!

On the flight back, I decided the training and deprogramming begins now. The very next day at the shop I changed my words: I changed the way I spoke to my salesmen, my service techs, my customer service reps, my dispatchers and my installers. Then they changed the way they spoke to our customers. This Nexstar sales class was the beginning of my paradigm shift.

We took “air conditioning” and “furnace and heating” out of our vocabulary. We replaced them all with “systems.”

Our comfort consultants sold systems, our installers installed systems and our technicians repaired systems. No longer did we go out on air conditioning or furnace/heating pre-season visits/checks with our service agreement customers. We now went out on “system checks” to fulfill our customer service agreements. This was a game changer.

It didn’t happen overnight, but we all bought in and we all made the change. We don’t speak about air conditioning or heating, we speak about the customer’s system. What did this scripting do? There was no more pushback from customers on the timing or seasonality of the call. The CSRs, who were responsible for filling the call board, now called our service agreement customers and said: “Hi, Mrs. Jones, it’s time for your system check. Would Tuesday or Wednesday work better for you?” Mrs. Jones no longer laughs.

We started performing system checks for nearly 100% of our service agreement customers prior to peak seasons. As a result, I achieved higher profits, leveled out my work force and grew revenue by capturing more in-season demand calls.


Where do you start?

About 10% of all service agreements will have a refrigerant issue when maintenance is scheduled annually. I focus my schedule on “age management.” That means system checks are scheduled based on age of equipment. Here are my stats:

• For equipment five years and younger, checks are scheduled for February and March. Equipment less than five years old fails at a 3% rate. Said differently, 97% of equipment doesn’t have issues. Put the odds in your favor.

• For equipment five years plus one day to 10 years, checks are scheduled for available days in March and April.

• For equipment older than 10 years, checks are are scheduled for May.

An age management schedule helps me manage my odds for these reasons:

• Equipment less than five years old is generally worry-free with few repairs. 

• Equipment past five years may require more repairs, but my weather at the end of March and into April allows me to check refrigerant on most days, and I am reducing my chances of these customers calling me on the first hot day.

• Equipment more than 10 years generates most of the leaks and breakdowns. Since it is generally warm in May, I can catch these repairs or start getting the tech replacement leads rolling again before that first hot day.

When you couple your new system checks with an age management schedule that fits your climate, you have a winning combination for an HVAC company.

My biggest pushback was typically from my “most technical” technicians. It was hard for them to see how the customer would benefit. They would ask: “What happens when I can’t check the refrigerant level or check for leaks in the refrigerant lines because it’s 40° outside? Then the customer calls on the first hot day and they are upset.”

The answer is simple:

If we were able to check for leaks or lower refrigerant, we did. If we found leaks, we fixed them and charged the customer to fix them at that point.

If we were not able to check for leaks or refrigerant, and the customer does have a leak or low refrigerant, we were sure to get that call on the first hot day of the year. And, that call was a top priority.

We would send a technician to fix the leak, and then charge the customer for the repair. Since we did not charge service agreement customers a diagnostic fee (a benefit to buying a service agreement), the customer paid the same charge to fix the leak now as she would have if we would have been able to check for it during the system check.

Using an age management schedule will help to minimize these situations, but make sure you are ready to manage them as you are sure to receive a handful no matter how well you schedule.

Think about the words you are using in your business, both internally and with your customers, and how those specific words may actually be hurting your business. Then if you need to, change your words so they help you.

 Then, when you see a change in your business, go ahead and listen to my Mom and just say, “Thanks!”