BY DENNIS SCHROEDER
THE BARRIERS TO entry into the industry are low, to say the least. In this highly competitive market, how do quality mechanical contractors stand out from their competition? How do we help customers understand the difference between cost and price in relation to a job well done? And how do we as contractors keep those quality customers once we find them?
In the service business, if you only do what you have committed to, then the customer is not impressed. You've done the bare minimum. That is what is expected. In your best-case scenario, this results in satisfied customers. The more likely scenario, however, is an indifferent customer.
How do we bridge the gap between indifference and customer loyalty? The first step is to make the transition from mechanical contractor to mechanical consultant. Anyone can install equipment and provide service, but exceptional contractors become customer consultants.
As a customer consultant, it is important to remember that a customer doesn't always know what he doesn't know. I have had many instances where customers have called me to request a price on a direct replacement unit. They make the assumption that the equipment on site now must be right. Seldom do they consider the square footage the unit will cover, or that since their original unit was installed they have added a small server room, a conference room or a classroom with multiple computers, all of which affect the size and type of unit needed to support their indoor environment.
A mechanical contractor would quote a price on replacing the equipment. A mechanical consultant, however, would offer to go out to their location, survey the job, provide a quality assessment of their needs and offer options on how to do the job right. By going to the property and properly engineering the job from the start, we show the customer that we are willing to go the extra mile for them by ensuring the equipment and installation are right the first time.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, "I just had this installed, and it doesn't work." As a mechanical consultant you have to recognize that your work is the signature of who you are and what your company stands for. If you are a quality mechanical consultant, you must be willing to walk away if you know the proposed design will not work and the customer is not willing to pay for it to be done right.
Walking away from a customer is not easy, but sometimes it is essential to the well being of your company long term. We've all had experience with customers who have a lot of work but complain about every invoice, consistently pay late or don't pay at all.
As much as it may hurt initially, releasing these companies frees you up to pursue the quality customers with whom you want to establish loyal relationships. These are the customers who understand quality and are willing to pay for it. These customers realize the essential reciprocal relationship that needs to exist between their organization and their service consultant. They are the ones who want a fair profit for their own work and would not deny you the opportunity to make the same. These are also the customers who understand the difference between cost and price. They recognize that choosing the contractor with the lowest price often results in hidden costs and they know that the law of business prohibits paying a little and getting a lot.
It is everyone's goal to find and retain these loyal customers. The more we have of them the less time we spend on problems. This allows us to engage more in developing our business and finding additional ways to provide a quality customer experience.
Quality is not just a word. It is a way of life. It is contagious. It has a domino effect that starts at the top and filters down to every person in the company, from the technician on the front line to the dispatcher to the salespeople and even the billing department.
When you make the transition from mechanical contractor to mechanical consultant, then quality work, quality relationships and quality contracting become the foundation for everything you do. Make quality mechanical consulting part of your company philosophy and loyal customers will be the rule rather than the exception.
Dennis Schroeder is the service division manager for Heating & Plumbing Engineers in Colorado Springs, Colo., and a member of The Unified Group. To learn more about Heating & Plumbing Engineers, visit www.hpeinc.com or contact Schroeder directly at 719/633-5571.