The Silver Lining: Every cloud has one

Pick up the newspaper or turn on the news and you’ll hear about the housing market downturn. The market is so bad that some people are simply walking away from their homes and others are doing whatever is necessary for them to sell it. If the market is not enough to make you stand up and take notice, just look at the price of fuel. With the price of heating oil (over nearly $100.00 per barrel) at $3.50 per gallon, and probably going higher still ($4.00 maybe), this presents a good opportunity for us in the heating business.

For years now, I have been telling many customers to replace the heating plant in their home. The normal response from them is, ‘We’re only planning to be here a few more years, I’ll let the new buyer replace it.” My response was, ‘So many times the prospective homeowners hire home inspectors prior to buying, and their job is to inform their clients of every possible fault with the home.” In most reports, the heating plant is mentioned in one way or another. Some of the deficiencies listed range from minor repairs to complete replacement units. Why wait to replace the heating unit until you are going to sell, I would ask. Why not replace it now and start to see the savings in your pocket?

Homeowners and realty agents are coming up with some radical ways to market homes. I can’t think of a better time to get your customers to upgrade their equipment than right now. When you have them thinking about the upgrade, this is the time for you to shine. You don’t want them to simply replace an older, inefficient unit for another, which will probably be their thinking. You need to show them the advantages of going with the new high efficiency units available.

It’s really time to get our customers in line with fuel savings and the environment. When you speak about the environmental issues, however, you should take care to understand the issues here. It can be a very easy step to have the whole conversation turn around on you. You need to have a balance of environmental issues and comfort levels when dealing with them. Outdoor reset, set-back thermostats, radiant heating, energy management systems are all ways we can help our customers to save. Let’s stop being afraid to talk to our customers about their heating system, it’s time for them to start saving money (and us to make some.) The old story of ‘we sell oil” simply doesn’t hold up any longer.

However, simply telling your customer to replace is not going to cut it; you need to get them to believe you. You probably already have a good relationship with them, but it will probably be your technician who will be seeing them. The technician needs to be trained on how to relate to them. You and your technician really only have about 30 seconds to impress your customer. The clock starts ticking with the first ring of the telephone at your office. But the real test is the face-to-face connection at the front door.

The way to impress someone is not to have the odor of oil on you when you greet them. That turns off a customer the moment they open the door. Another turn-off is a scruffy, unshaven person at the door. Body piercing like tongue bolts, earrings, lip and eyebrow jewelry are fine when you go out on the town with friends, but not to greet a customer. Quite frankly, it scares some. I know some people who have such body jewelry and are very nice and friendly people, but the first impression, not good.

The technicians need to greet the customer with a smile and announce their name and the company they are from. Never, never, never get within the customer’s ‘personal space.” This ‘personal space” is about 18 inches completely around each of us. Invade that space and you are considered a threat.

Clean uniforms and a clean truck are also part of making a good first impression, they are very important. Ever hear of ‘body language?” It’s what you say without ever speaking a word. Your walk, your stance, even eye contact are all part of your body language. Walk upright, don’t slouch. Be definitive when answering a question, and don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know that answer, but I will get the answer for you and get back to you. OK?” Walk like the proud professional you are. Remember, your customer is inviting you or your technician into their home; we need to respect their home. Lastly, we need to listen. People like to talk about themselves and their possessions. If we can learn to listen more than talk, you will have a much better chance to get the customer to see things your way.

I think we have all heard the saying ‘every cloud has a silver lining.” Well, the home sales market can be bad for the economy, but we can use this to our advantage ‘ it can be our silver lining.

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