Get Your Customers To Refer You


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In a field as saturated as HVAC, conventional advertising is just not enough to get your business noticed. With thousands of contractors vying for a spot in the yellow pages, unless your ad stands out amongst the others, or the name of your business places you at the top of alphabetical listings, your chances of being noticed are slim. The same applies to radio and television, which also happen to be costly.

Ironically, the most effective form of advertising in the HVAC industry is also the most inexpensive. There is no better advert than the customer who is so pleased with the quality of your work and service that s/he raves about it to friends, family members, and work colleagues, yet it’s absolutely free.

Operating for almost six decades in New York’s five boroughs, Master Cooling Service’s longevity can largely be attributed to word of mouth.

“Ninety percent of our business comes from referrals; we do very, very little advertising,” President Andrew Ferraiolo said. “We do a lot of business with real estate firms and managing agencies and over the years [they] have recommended us to other tenants. Before we knew it we were doing the major work in the buildings,” he said.

So how do you start building your business based on referrals? Here are five simple tips.

Pricing – First on the list is what not to do. With the industry as competitive as it is, you may be tempted to lower your prices, but one of the main reasons contractors go out of business is because they take jobs they don’t make money on. While you want to ensure your prices are competitive, referrals shouldn’t be based on them being the lowest in the business. Instead, work toward ensuring the referrals you get are because your service and work are exemplary.

Quality versus Quantity – Believe it or not, offering a slightly more expensive system, such as a 16 SEER 90% Split may put you in the running for more referrals than offering cheaper run of the mill units like 13 SEER 80% Split Systems. It may involve you selling the customer on why s/he should opt for your more expensive quote, but this comes with the opportunity to build a relationship as you explain such things as the benefit of higher efficiency equipment, duct testing, insurance, and follow-up service. Needless to say, with a more energy efficient unit installed, each month the electric bill is opened, the customer will likely sing your praises.

Make the size of your business work for you – As the old adage goes, good things come in small packages, so if your company is small or is a startup, use that to your advantage by offering a more personalized service.

“We pride ourselves on the fact that when customers call, if they ask to talk to the owner, they get me, whereas with most larger companies, they’ll get a service manager or a dispatcher,” Ferraiolo said. “Unless you’re a huge client, it’s very difficult to actually talk to the owner of the company, but over here, no matter who you are, you can call up…whether it’s good or bad, and let me know,” he said.
While you may have hundreds of customers, each needs to feel like s/he is the only one. If you can deliver on this, then the customer is likely to deliver your name to friends and family seeking HVAC service.

Who you work with is a reflection of who you are – It’s an unfortunate fact that you are likely to be judged by the actions of those you work with and/or for. When hired by building and general contractors for example, do your due diligence. Check up on their reputation for delivering quality work. Their inability to deliver good work on schedule may also affect your ability to deliver, and even if it doesn’t, the customer may lump you in the same box.
The same applies to choosing your staff. You’re only as good as your last service visit to a customer, so the good will generated by 100 exemplary visits could easily be wiped out by just one visit from an indifferent or incompetent staff member.

Don’t leave it to chance – Finally, while it’s true that one good turn deserves another, don’t assume that great work and excellent service automatically guarantee a customer will tell their friends about you. To increase your chances of having them do so, create an incentivized customer referral program that benefits both the referrer and the referee. Offers for the referred customer could include a free gift with purchase or a discounted rate on a consultation or installation of a new system. Customers wanting their friends and family members to benefit from these savings will likely spread the news. However, ensure you show your appreciation to customers helping you grow your client base. A free or discounted service visit after a predetermined number of referrals is a good way to do so. Alternatively, a more personalized gift basket is a wonderful way of saying thank you.

Growing your customer base will take time, but remember, every new customer you acquire has the potential to bring you others, so, be patient; ensure your work is consistent; and most of all, ensure your customers feel appreciated. If they do, then chances are they’ll remember you each time they reach for the thermostat this summer, and if they remember you, they’ll likely want to tell others about you.

Marsha Branch

Posted In: Customer Service, Sales & Marketing

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