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How To Deliver What Customers Really Want

Originally published
Originally published: 5/1/2007

Comment cards and focus groups are two ways to keep growth on track.

Delivering hvac and IAQ products and services customers want and need in a way that makes their overall experiences with your company not only convenient but actually pleasant should be a primary objective for any hvac “retailer.” Accomplishing this objective is not possible without first understanding what customers really want and need and also clearly understanding their expectations in regards to the delivery of those products and services.

At Peachtree Heating and Air Conditioning in Atlanta, the hvac and IAQ retail company I operated from 1990 until 2002, we completed around 70,000 service calls and 2,500 installations annually. We developed the appropriate company culture, procedures, and performance-monitoring systems necessary to exceed our customer’s expectations, enabling our company to consistently surpass our aggressive revenue- growth and profitability goals. We constantly strove to fully understand what products and services our customers wanted and needed and how our customers expected our company to deliver them.

We found that one of the best ways to make this determination was through the establishment of a representative customer focus group. Establishing such a group is pretty straightforward. Contact several long-standing customers (preferably, customers who have service agreements with you), as well as a few more recently established customers to introduce the idea of establishing a customer focus group to enable your company to better serve its customers. Invite four long-term customers (> five years) and two recently established customers (< two years) to attend a 1½ hour meeting with the owner and at least one key manager in your company.

Offer, as an added incentive for their participation, something on the order of a $75 to $100 gift certificate for a local restaurant. In advance of the meeting, provide the participants with a meeting agenda along with a list of no more than six topics you want to discuss with them at the meeting.

These topics could be ideas you are presently considering for new products and services, questions regarding your present products and services, as well as an evaluation as to how well they are now being delivered. A major part of the meeting should be devoted to soliciting input from the group for additional products and or services they would like your company to offer. Meet with the group, along with at least one of your key managers, a minimum of twice each year. Provide written follow-up within one week after each meeting and establish ongoing two-way e-mail communications with the group.

Up until 1995 we phoned customers the day following service calls and installation jobs (“happiness checks”) to determine how well our customers felt we had performed. Unfortunately, due to the Atlanta markets being saturated with unsolicited telemarketing, we were forced to discontinue this practice. In order to continue getting the customer feedback needed to measure our performance, we added a detachable postage-paid Customer Comment Card printed on card stock to our service invoices. Our technicians were trained to ask customers to please complete the comment card and drop it in the mail at their convenience. In order to encourage this activity on the part of our techs, we paid cash incentives at our monthly Company Communications Meeting to the three technicians with the most comment cards returned on service calls they had performed during the prior month. We received Customer Comment Cards on approximately 60% of all service calls and installation jobs. This input, combined with our Customer Focus Group activities, was instrumental in the growth and profitability of our company.

Jackie Rainwater is a 46-year veteran and former owner of Peachtree Heating and Air-Conditioning in Atlanta. He built his businesses on service agreements. 

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