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Customer Service

When a Customer Calls Your Business, Are You Prepared to Answer?

Originally published
Originally published: 3/1/2024

As a business owner, you need to make a solid first impression with new customers, whether they call your business or reach out to you on your website. While you may be following all of the best practices for strong customer engagement, you may need additional guidance on navigating situations professionally. 

When a prospective customer calls your business, you don't know what request they will ask or how relevant it is to you. They may want an installation that you can't provide, have a heating system you don't operate on or are located outside of your service area. How do you prepare for this kind of uncertainty? 

The key to building a strong business relationship is to navigate these different situations professionally and leave a positive impression while gathering the information you need to do your job. To do this, you must prepare in advance. That means whoever is answering your phones and messages should have a checklist ready to respond to many different types of customer scenarios. 

As the CEO of, we manage this frontline customer engagement for hundreds of HVAC businesses. Over the past eight years of answering calls and responding to messages, we've learned best practices for HVAC companies, and I am going to share some of these insights with you. 

 Preparing for customer inquiries

 As a starting point, ensure you always have a standard checklist of information ready. This includes: 

·    Knowing your general availability and the services you offer — if someone asks for an urgent repair, does your team have the capacity to help them? ·    The HVAC system brands you carry, and the warranties you offer for both systems and their parts — one of the most commonly asked questions is whether a system is still under warranty and if you can service an existing system.
·    Do you have referrals to other businesses if someone requests a service you don't offer? Could you help point them in the right direction, so you still maintain that positive first impression?
·    If you are running promotions, do you have the language to talk about them? Maybe you are offering a discount for a bundled heating and AC replacement or are offering heating repairs in the summer. 

 Mastering the art of the free estimate 

In addition to this standard information, one of the debates among business owners is whether to offer free estimates. This will come down to your individual needs and bandwidth, but many of the HVAC companies we work with offer this service. Providing a free estimate can attract potential customers, build transparency and trust, and set your business apart. 

If a customer calls and you can help them, you want to ensure you capture all of the information your technician needs to do their job or provide an estimate. Your customers need to understand the different factors that can affect pricing for services. This estimate will vary depending on whether you charge hourly or by the job. There may be other cost factors, like the price of parts for dealing with the disposal of hazardous materials.  

Have a concrete list of information you will need to gather that will assist with estimations. With the correct information in place, your estimators know the facts and can walk into that estimation with a sales mindset. They will be less focused on gathering the baseline information and instead can prioritize helping a customer and leaving a strong impression. 

When gathering information for free estimates, make sure you collect:

1.    Details about the current heating and cooling system, including its age, brand, model, and whether it is under warranty. If it is under warranty, confirm what the warranty specifically covers.
2.    Any specific needs or challenges, like uneven temperatures in certain rooms or allergy concerns.
3.    The size and type of property (residential or commercial), its age, and the number of rooms. Information about the condition of ductwork, if applicable, and whether it may need to be replaced or repaired.
4.    The customer's name, contact information, address, and how they learned about your business. 

Be thoughtful about the number of questions you are asking, but don't neglect the importance of capturing all of these details. Try to limit the number of questions to seven, and think through how to bundle questions together to maximize the amount of information you can collect. 

Here's why this is critical: Say someone is calling in about fixing their fireplace because that is their heating source, but you don't fix fireplaces. You don't want your technician going to their house thinking they're doing an estimate for a furnace when they're not. It may be obvious to you as an expert that servicing fireplaces is different from working on heating systems, but that's not obvious to everyday people (we know this firsthand because we handle these calls for many HVAC businesses). Being detailed and specific will help you understand whether you can help this customer and give a more accurate estimate. 

Are you prepared for those unexpected questions?  

The preparation doesn't end here. As much as you anticipate questions from customers and information you have to collect, unexpected situations will always arise that you must navigate on the phone. 

Say that someone is inside your service area but requests service from a specific technician who no longer serves that region. Do you agree to make an exception and have them travel out of their way? Or what if someone is outside of your service area but is offering to pay a travel fee? How do you decide whether to entertain those scenarios? 

It all goes back to your initial checklist. You should know your team's bandwidth and the services you offer. If someone calls in asking for a part or an urgent request outside of your service area, you can make a more informed judgment call because you know if you can accommodate their request. Perhaps you are in a slow season and are more open to traveling outside of your service area. 

If bandwidth is tight and your technicians already have a lot on their plate, accommodating this request may be more challenging while leaving a positive impression. Maybe you decide that it's not feasible to take on these requests. It's understandable, and you can still professionally handle these situations. Be apologetic and helpful by offering a list of relevant resources and referrals.

Regardless, documenting your policies, including how and when you will consider exceptions, is critical to your business running smoothly, reducing chaos, and instilling peace of mind for your employees who expect consistency when they come to work. Remember the value and vulnerability of online reviews: If you make an exception, plan on everyone knowing about it. It pays to be consistent with what you do and don't allow.

Another key aspect of “policy development” is deciding who can enforce it. Is the person answering calls able to make that judgment call? In an ideal scenario, the answer would be “yes.” If all else fails, take someone's number down and call them back once you have an answer — but do this as an absolute last resort. In the time it will take you to get a response and call them back, they may have already called another business that can help them, which means you've lost that opportunity. Do everything possible to have answers ready when potential customers call.

Dealing with uncertainty can be hard, but with enough preparation, you can navigate these situations like a pro and build strong customer relationships that will pay off for years to come.

Aaron Lee is the CEO and co-founder of, the 24/7 customer engagement platform for businesses that combines the best of human agents and AI tools. Formerly CTO of The Home Depot and co-founder of Redbeacon, he also played a pivotal role in Google Video’s inception. 

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