How Well Do You Know Your Customers? - Warm Thoughts Communications
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How Well Do You Know Your Customers?

Posted on April 29, 2014

For fuel companies that currently provide, or are looking to expand into HVAC services, a different model of thinking must be used for developing customer relationships. At one time, the fuel business was much simpler… make sure your customers have the fuel they need, when they need it, with easy payment options. However, in the HVAC world, everything changes. You now need to become a home comfort consultant.

It’s been said that a home is a person’s castle. Unfortunately, many homes feel like castles too; cold, damp, stuffy, and drafty. And we’re not just talking about older homes. Newly constructed homes begin life with poor air distribution, lack of proper zoning, and other problems that make a home uncomfortable. While this all sounds like a bad thing, the truth is that here lies your opportunity.

Homeowners understand what is wrong with their house but few know what to do about it. According to the American Home Comfort Study, the industry’s largest and most comprehensive knowledge base of homeowner behaviors, homeowners have been looking for an HVAC contractor who can be their home comfort consultant as opposed to simply the guy they call when their system breaks down or needs more Freon. The study of more than 35,000 homeowners includes findings from nearly 2,500 purchasers of HVAC equipment. And it tells us some incredibly important things. For example, when homeowners are asked about selecting contractors, we learn:

And when they are asked about where they get their product information:

What can the data teach us about becoming our customers’ home comfort consultant?

The American Home Comfort Study helps assemble all of the building blocks of a successful business model by helping you understand your customers better. Let’s take a look at a few of those building blocks.

  1. Service Agreements: This is perhaps the single most important vehicle to building a relationship with your customers. And what’s critical for fuel companies to understand is that plans for air conditioning customers and gas and propane customers differ in significant ways from the traditional oil company model. When a homeowner has a service agreement with your company, you will be inside that home at least once and generally twice a year to clean, check, and maintain their central system. This gives you the opportunity to get to know your customer and build the rapport necessary for you to inquire about other aspects of their home comfort. Once you begin a dialogue about what is going on inside their home, then you have the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and value by making suggested improvements. This process achieves two things simultaneously. First, it enables you to increase your sales per customer because you are actively making suggestions that will address their comfort issues. Second, you will be making your customer more satisfied because you were the one who gave them what they were looking for but didn’t know how to accomplish it. It’s the ultimate win-win!

    Another benefit to getting your customers on a service agreement is that the research shows that homeowners who have a service agreement suffer significantly fewer emergency breakdowns than those who do not have a service agreement. Just equate this to customers who run critically low on heating oil or propane right as a severe winter storm hits. It throws your business into chaos and your customers are in a panic. Then they become angry if you are not able to get there immediately. The HVAC service agreement helps you keep a customer happy, increases your sales, and smoothens out the seasonality in your business.

  2. Regular Communication The service agreement gets you in front of your customer two days a year. That is great! But what about the other 363 days? Don’t leave these large gaps of time unattended. Communicate with your customers on a regular basis. And not just a barrage of sales pitches. That will grow old very quickly and lose its effectiveness when the time comes that you need a clear call to action sales piece. Instead have a steady and consistent dialog with your customers that provide useful information that addresses their needs and concerns. By understanding your customer’s needs, concerns, and attitudes, you can craft a message that captures their attention and makes you a valuable resource. Regular communications through newsletters, emails, and other marketing pieces allows your customer to get to know you better. It enables you to differentiate yourself from your competition as a source of timely and reliable information that helps a homeowner enjoy better home comfort. The study shows us that it doesn’t take long for people to forget who installed or repaired their furnace last time. And a sticker isn’t going to do much to remind them of their experience with you.

  3. Understanding the Home as a System: The American Home Comfort Study illustrates that there is a difference in systems, issues, concerns, and actions taken in different parts of the country. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that you can offer your customers. Does a home have hot and cold spots? Is the indoor air quality poor? Too much or too little humidity? Is too much indoor air escaping the house and too many allergens getting into the house? Are utility bills too high? By understanding the problems and needs of your customers and more importantly, how they are or are not addressing these problems will help you be the one they turn to for solutions. The answer may be more involved than simply a new central unit. The answer may involve more elements of the complete home system such as ductwork, insulation, windows, sealing and weatherization, whole house humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and zoning just to name a few. You don’t necessarily have to do all of these things in your business as long as you are the consultant who diagnoses the problems and then coordinates the solutions with a network of strategic partners. Again, the goal is for you to be the go-to source for solutions.

  4. Be Where Your Customer Is Looking: Having a service agreement and being a knowledgeable and trusted consultant who stays in regular contact goes a long way towards you winning the business. There is however, one last piece of the puzzle and you don’t want to leave that to chance, Once upon a time, the homeowner had one primary source of information when buying a new central system — the contractor. Today, thanks to the Internet, they have another source of information available to them. And they are using it. When a homeowner is getting ready to make an expensive purchase and commit to a critical piece of equipment that will be in their home for the next 15 years or so, they will conduct some amount of research. Your marketing, especially your web marketing needs to be in front of your customers eyes with messaging that addresses their needs and concerns with pinpoint accuracy. This will validate your standing as the home comfort expert that they need to hire. Additionally, homeowners who are not currently your customer will see your messaging and decide that they should talk to you before making such a large and important purchase and thus opening the door to growing your customer base. To accomplish this, you need to understand homeowner buying behaviors such as where they go for information, how they shop, the issues that matter to them, and what motivates them to select one contractor over another. Armed with this information, your messaging will hit all of the right hot buttons and speak to their critical needs and wants. As a result, the HVAC side of you business will grow and prosper.

We’ve all heard that information is power, but in this business, having the right information along with proper execution, leads to success.

With 20 years of experience working in marketing, consulting and business development, Ken Reese joined Warm Thoughts Communications in 2013 as a Senior Marketing Consultant in the Energy Efficiency, HVAC, Home Performance, Propane, and Fuel Services industries. Ken also serves as the Director of the American Home Comfort Study, a proprietary residential research study licensed from the award-winning market research firm, Decision Analyst. For more information about AHCS, visit us at AREE booth #830 or online at

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