Lawyers, Guns & Money

Warren at his finest!

“Lawyers, Guns & Money,” from Zevon’s classic Excitable Boy album from 1978.

And speaking of lawyers, guns and money, did you catch the Today Show sting piece last month that featured 6 out of 6 A/C service techs seemingly ripping off a customer whose system simply had a disconnected wire?  Click here to see the piece. 

My good friend Allison Bailes of Energy Vanguard is a first rate building scientist and a blogger-supreme.  In his latest Energy Vanguard blog he suggests that the business model used by many HVAC service companies may have an unintended consequence – the potential for service techs to “upsell” customers on parts and service they don’t really need.

You can read his blog here.  It’s a great read and should cause our industry into some serious mirror-looking.

Gotta admit I really don’t have a problem with flat-rate pricing.  Used properly, it’s a win-win for contractor and customer.  The customer knows what the repair is going to cost before the work starts, so there’s no big surprise at the end.  The contractor wins because his pricing is predictable, repeatable and the fee can be collected at the jobsite.

I don’t believe that flat-rate necessarily means “outrageously priced.”

Now that we’ve opened that can of worms, let’s get down to brass tacks. Flat-rate pricing, as well as time-and-materials pricing, are tools.  A hammer in the right hands is an instrument of construction. In the wrong hands it’s an instrument of destruction. It all depends on who’s holding the hammer.

My guess is a company that takes advantage of customers using flat-rate pricing would probably do the same thing with time-and-material pricing.

But this isn’t about flat-rate vs. T&M.  That’s your call.  But whichever method you choose, it’s important that you don’t get painted with your competitor’s paint brush.

Stories like the Today piece tend to use a Wagner Power Sprayer as opposed to your standard “broad” paint brush, but it’s good that an ACCA representative was part of the story (check out the “behind the story” blog here). One hopes that the outcome of the story is that people pay a little more attention to whom they hire.

I tell my contractor-students all the time that the average homeowner assumes competence when they hire someone. After all, if you have a shingle over your door that says “HVAC Service Contractor,” it’s reasonable to assume that you would have a minimum level of competence and integrity (we are a trusting people!). Unfortunately, customers don’t find out otherwise until it’s too late.

Bottom line, caveat emptor – buyer beware – is a pretty good mantra. It’s important for customers to do their homework, don’t assume all service providers are the same and they shouldn’t treat their home comfort system as a commodity. Ductwork, pipe, furnaces, A/C’s and boilers may (MAY!!!) be commodities, but the people that put them in and service them most certainly aren’t.

As a service provider, your job is not only make sure you and your techs are properly trained and certified, but to make sure that training never really ends.  Continuing education keeps your techs sharp and up-to-date.  Also, make sure you brag on that training and certification to your customers.

It’s an increasingly impersonal world.  Back in the day you knew all your customers personally, and they knew you.  Today’s world is a little different and stories like the Today Show piece tend to make people skittish about our trade.  Professional certifications, educated techs and strong ratings from the Better Business Bureau or Angie’s List can help separate you from the price-only commodity swamp.

What are your thoughts?

And we can’t leave without just one more from Warren Zevon…

“Mohammed’s Radio” from his 1976 self-titled masterpiece.  One of my faves…

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