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Winning the Weather War in the HVAC Business

Apr. 04, 2016
The HVAC industry’s demand is largely controlled by the weather, and in Michigan and other parts of the Midwest with unpredictable weather patterns and seasonality swings, that can be bad for business. Waiting for the weather to break into spring to perform air conditioner maintenance checks and keep technicians working when winter is essentially over, proves an ineffective solution. There is also the challenge of managing rainy days and mild temperatures that keep the height of A/C season at bay.

Thornton & Grooms Heating, Cooling, and Plumbing has been serving the metro-Detroit area almost 80 years and had conducted business as usual when it came to scheduling air conditioner tune-ups; we waited for the temperature to reach 65° and rescheduled customer when weather was cold or rainy. As we worked to achieve our growth goals – in a weather-powered industry like heating and cooling that can determine when you can and cannot work – enough was enough! Thornton & Grooms decided to look for a solution to this industry-wide problem.

The Problem:
In Michigan the seasons are becoming less predictable, more fluid, and less cooperative. The 2015/2016 winter season in Michigan has been one of the warmest on record.
There are a handful of reasons scheduling air conditioner maintenance based on weather is a problem that threatens a growing heating and cooling company.

Picture This: More than 3,000 customers want to schedule A/C maintenance. You have four planned maintenance technicians to run those calls. Each tune up takes 45 minutes to an hour if everything is on the “up-and-up.”  You have 90 working days to complete all 3,000 visits, not including cool or rainy weather or the time it will take to drive from one customer to the next.

1. Waiting for “good weather” often means scheduling customers out weeks at a time – and possibly rescheduling again if weather doesn’t meet our expectations
2. The longer we wait means getting started on A/C tune-ups later and performing fewer in a limited “good weather” window.
3. Customers who have to wait “too long” or are rescheduled due to weather issues (rainy days or extreme heat that causes an influx in broken systems) often can not see the value in their maintenance agreement in that moment and cancel.
4. Customers lose confidence in your company.

All of these reasons hurt us. ... It’s well known that people remember the bad easier and more frequently than the good because of how our emotions cause us to process memories. A customer who has to be rescheduled, delayed, scheduled out or otherwise inconvenienced often remembers it. An upset customer, who doesn’t cancel that day, may in the future, or may not call you because they remember their bad, poor, upsetting, or frustrating experience.

At Thornton & Grooms it is our number one goal to increase the membership and retention° of our maintenance agreement customers. Keeping and increasing maintenance membership requires a few things:
1. A maintenance program the customer finds valuable (i.e. peace of mind, reliable operation, improved efficiency, etc.)
2. A process that consistently keeps the customer engaged in the program.
3. The ability to execute plan benefits in a timely and professional manner.

Let’s be honest, sometimes the phones aren’t ringing the way we’d like. Along with being able to call on customers during mild weather, a successful heating and cooling company needs to be able to service all those customers when they’re calling you. That’s what an engaging maintenance program can do.
Thornton & Grooms’ Customer Service Supervisor, Shireen Ghandhi stresses to her team, “When the phones aren’t ringing, we need to make our customers’ phones ring.”
When it’s January but 60° or June but 40°calling customers who have committed to allowing you in their homes can make or break your workday call count. That’s why you need an engaging maintenance plan and to give them the value you promised.

The Solution:
Although the final product will be a technical solution, the problem is greater than not being able to accurately test, check, or diagnose equipment due to the weather problem in our industry. Without a focus on fulfilling our growth goals, the pain of unhappy customers and poor retention in our maintenance program directly connected to not meeting customers’ expectations for air conditioner maintenance checks, we wouldn’t have looked for a solution.

When performing maintenance on an air conditioning unit, a certified technician will check refrigerant levels and system function using refrigerant gauges. When the weather is too cool, he cannot properly take these vital measurements, meaning: he cannot accurately tell you if your air conditioner is leaking, has the proper refrigerant level to cool the home as desired, or if the system will have problems cooling as the summer heat intensifies.

We needed to simulate summer in order to service air conditioning units no matter what the seasonal structure.

Thornton & Grooms’ HVAC Service Manager, Adam Whitney, envisioned using an enclosure that would trap the warmer air that the air conditioner dispels and simulate warmer temperatures despite outside weather.

To test this theory, one he first learned of at a previous employer, Whitney found large tents that would be able to simulate the summer environment. These Simulators cover and enclose the technician and A/C unit during the annual inspection. Each tent is water resistant, reflective, and sealable, which allows it to absorb the sun’s heat along with keeping in the “heat” created by the running air conditioner.

Although covering an air conditioner with a tent may seem simple, unconventional and possibly unreal, field testing proved our theory and despite 30° degree - 40° degree weather and melting snow, the Thornton & Grooms team began performing air conditioner tune ups and completing the final furnace tune ups during our Michigan weather lull.

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Do you have a persistent problem in your business? What are you doing or can you do to solve fundamental problems in your business?

“If you can’t solve a problem, it’s because you’re playing by the rules.” – Paul Arden
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Thornton & Grooms
24565 Hallwood Ct
Farmington Hills, MI 48335
(248) 644-7810
MI Plumbing Lic. #: 8106666
MI Contractors Lic. #: 7100232
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