Extreme Makeover Contractor Edition
Stand Out From Your Competition In A Crowded Marketplace
In today’s hyper-connected world, customers can easily find a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning contractor. Flip through the Yellow Pages or perform a quick Google search. Your business is probably found there — along with any number of contractors who offer their services in your town.
But finding the right contractor for the situation — a reputable contractor who does the job correctly — is another story. It’s a common scenario: A lot of companies are more concerned about making a quick buck than providing customers with sustained, quality service. These low-cost, fly-by-night operations do a grave disservice to their customers — and to the many professional contractors who must deal with the fallout caused by their low-quality work. All this poses a major issue for ethical, dedicated contractors.
So what can you do to combat these shady businesses who sour (and even anger) potential customers? Are there certain steps you can take to help separate your trustworthy company from the pool of inferior competitors?
It all starts with making sure you have the proper accreditations.
ACCA launched its Residential Service and Installation Contractor Accreditation Program (RSI) earlier this year to help identify contractors who can be trusted. Contractors who become accredited meet stringent third-party standards for quality HVAC installations. Of course, those who receive RSI accreditation aren’t finished with their professional development. They’re asked to maintain licenses and implement written policies on quality assurance.
The RSI program is based on another successful ACCA program — Quality Assured New Homes — which requires contractors to stay within energy efficiency parameters. Those who take part in this pro-environmental program must meet certification requirements, follow industry-approved standards, and verify that every project they work on is eligible to receive the respected ENERGY STAR label.
Keep in mind: Each state, county, and city also has its own set of rules and regulations to follow. This is an excellent way to stay ahead of the pack. Those who don’t meet certain standards tend to stand out in negative ways — once curious consumers start doing just the smallest amount of research.
Don’t let your business join that unfortunate group known for poor word of mouth (online social platforms like Yelp can be powerful tools for savvy consumers) or lousy Better Business Bureau ratings. Always avoid an over eagerness to price and start your project. Low-end companies are easily identifiable if they don’t have enough work. They’ll look to give a fast, cheap price quote without hearing all the project’s details — just to secure work and cash in. Any reputable business should have a backlog of jobs lasting weeks or more.
Staying current with certifications truly matters. It helps contractors keep up on the latest trends and best practices, but it can also help contractors avoid common mistakes at the job site, according to Stan Mazur of Stamford, Conn.-based Mazur Mechanical.
Mazur, a successful contractor who is eager to share valuable HVAC business tips with his fellow ACCA members , says mistakes will eventually catch up to careless contractors.
“Surprisingly, a lot of contractors do not understand how to find the balance of energy solution and system configuration,” he says. “For example, if there is hydro air system, it doesn’t make much sense to add the condensing boiler, since energy savings are not there to warrant the added investment cost.”
Would less-reputable companies give their clients the same honest, valuable advice? Probably not. They’d likely go ahead and add the condensing boiler, which is a mistake.
Getting the right certifications means giving the right advice.
In addition to certification programs, ACCA helps contractors by establishing certain standards of service. As part of this practice, contractors can give homeowners a quality installation checklist, so both parties can review key milestones during the job and ensure quality throughout the process. Such checkpoints include:
- sufficient review of price and unit explanation
- proper documentation and measurement of HVAC units and airflow
- double-checking refrigerants, thermostats and other items not relevant to the original call
- providing references and documents such as a NATE certification.
Ultimately, however, there needs to be more —from you.
While Mazur admits that certifications, accreditations, and staying abreast of standards are essential to success, he says these things will get you only so far when trying to set yourself apart as a contractor. The best contractors, Mazur points out, take it upon themselves to be on top of their craft , in terms of knowledge, marketing, and customer service.
“Stay on top of technology and economic trends to anticipate and meet customer needs,” said Mazur, who recently updated his website so it would be more user-friendly and accessible.
You also need to listen.
“It is important to be open-minded and listen to your customer if you’re going to provide the best options for his or her particular situation,” Mazur says. “Help your customer make a wise decision. I like to take the time to spell out what I’m proposing to do, and what the benefits are in doing something different than what they may have heard somewhere else, or something that lengthens the installation process (like extra duct sealing).”
A balance has to be incorporated, though, between customer need and price. Mazur says a good blueprint to follow involves giving a customer an efficient option for tackling a specific job, then scaling it back or making it bigger, depending on their wants and financial abilities. As long as the job is crafted well and the customer remains happy, everybody wins, he said — especially you, as the contractor, when your reputation continues to grow.
Following up on your work will also earn you a top spot among your city’s contractors. If a project goes awry post-installation, the customer will rightfully heap blame upon the person who installed the equipment. Staying in touch — even after the job is signed, sealed, delivered (and paid for) — is a smart dose of customer service that won’t go unnoticed.
“My work is not done even when the system is in place. My reputation is only as good as my last installation. I come back to see how the system is working for the client in different climate situations to make sure it’s operating as intended,” he said.
Going that extra mile will earn you a great reputation — and more jobs in the long run. There are so many little things you can do. You can earn a new certification, update your training, or make one extra follow-up phone call.
The best way to set yourself apart as a contractor, however, is to keep improving. That dedication to your craft will make a name for you and your business.
“To succeed in this business, you need to learn every day,” says Mazur, who once traveled to Germany to visit manufacturer and see a specific component in action before incorporating into his own business back home. “The world and advances in our industry keep moving forward. Customers are more educated and rightfully demanding the highest standards and craftsmanship. Stay current, provide each customer with the best options tailored to their situation, and never be complacent.”
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