How to Maximize Opportunities During the HVAC Busy Season

Diana LamirandJuly 28th, 2020
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It’s summer, it’s hot, and customers need your HVAC services now. But even though your phone might be ringing off the hook during the HVAC busy season, that doesn’t mean every call presents a good opportunity for your service techs or your company.

When demand outpaces supply, how do you identify and prioritize a potential new install over a tune-up? How do you handle the urgent (“I need someone today!”) calls when your crews are working overtime to handle an already jam-packed schedule?

Steve Miles, Vice President and CEO at Jerry Kelly Heating and Air Conditioning in St. Peters, Mo., knows the struggle business owners face when they hit capacity day-over-day. He and his wife run the Missouri residential HVAC repair and replacement company, started by his wife’s parents 43 years ago. Today, Jerry Kelly HVAC employs 64 and projects $11.2 million in earnings this year.

In a recent ServiceTitan webinar, Miles shares his foolproof strategy for triaging high-opportunity calls and sending the right tech to the right job.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • How to empower customers to define their level of need with adjustable diagnostic fees.

  • How to implement a “catch-and-release” policy to prioritize your highest opportunity calls.

  • How to identify which techs you should send on the calls with the highest opportunity.

  • Plus, understand the importance of hyper-focused market penetration.

Help customers define level of need with adjustable diagnostic fees

Jerry Kelly HVAC follows “the Fedex system,” Miles explains, by implementing a fluctuating diagnostic fee during the HVAC busy season.

“The idea is when you’re busy and approaching capacity on a hot day, you adjust your service rate (or trip diagnostic fee) to a premium rate, much like how Fedex delivers your packages,” Miles says. 

For instance, Fedex charges a premium rate for next-day priority service and lower rates if you can wait a week or longer, with every level based on how fast they can get the package to you.

On a sweltering summer day in the suburbs of St. Louis, Jerry Kelly might charge customers a $250 fee for same-day service, a $125 fee for next-day service, or a $79 fee if you can wait until the end of the week.

But adding adjustable diagnostic fees isn’t about making more money, Miles says.

“You’re testing the cost priority of the customer,” he says. “What’s more important to them—saving 50 bucks or getting you out there right now to take care of it?

“That’s a good way of weeding through the people who might be a little overly cost conscious when you’re at capacity, and your guys are already working overtime and about to kill you anyway.”

How do customers react to the higher trip diagnostic fees?

Some customers balk at the higher prices, but Miles says that’s OK. He simply tells the customer, “I understand completely. If you can’t find somebody else, give us a call back.”

The company also prioritizes calls based on opportunities for higher sales, identified through the age of the customer’s HVAC system and complexity of service needed. Screening calls through this lens also ensures Jerry Kelly sends the appropriate tech with the right tools to every job.

Miles says it’s important to understand some callers may not be a good customer for your company. For example, Jerry Kelly might get a call from a customer who typically uses another HVAC provider to add refrigerant to his 15-year-old air conditioner every summer, but that provider is booked out for several weeks. 

“Do I want to do $200 or $400 worth of refrigerant for some guy who normally gets it for 50 or 60 bucks? That is a problem call and there is no reason to take it when you’re already busy,” he says. “They are somebody else’s customer. They just want to use us because we have the capacity to handle it.”

On the other hand, if the caller’s 15-year-old A/C is experiencing a more serious problem, such as tripping the breaker, and it’s clearly received no regular, routine maintenance, a Jerry Kelly tech may respond sooner to the call because it presents a higher opportunity to sell a replacement system.

“That’s an opportunity-and-a-half right there. You don’t want to pass that one up,” he says.

Using ServiceTitan tags to screen callers

Chris Hunter, ServiceTitan’s new Director of Customer Relations, founder of Hunter Super Techs and co-founder of GoTime Success Group, says using the tags available in ServiceTitan’s HVAC field service management software is an absolute must for more efficient call screening.

“It’s a quick, visual way to sort through, see it easily on the dashboard...and pull it for reporting,” Hunter says. “That was my favorite thing. As a manager, I could go back, sort, and get all that data by the tags, export it over to Excel, and I could manage and look through hundreds of calls in no time.”

The Jerry Kelly team tags every call by age of equipment, Miles says. He defines an opportunity call as any customer who needs service or repair on HVAC equipment that’s more than 10 years old.

“That’s my highest concern,” he says. “If it’s not our equipment under warranty, the next thing I care about is whether it’s an opportune age. It’s critical for the way we do business. I don’t know what I’d do without it. I live and die by tags and notes [in ServiceTitan].”

If the customer’s equipment is more than 14 years old, selling and installing a replacement system should be a no-brainer for his Jerry Kelly team.

“There’s really no reasonable repair, other than maybe a cleaning, for a piece of equipment that old,” Miles says. “I just think if you have a 14-year-old piece of equipment, it doesn’t owe you much.”

Use a catch-and-release policy to prioritize your highest opportunity calls

When considering a catch-and-release policy for customers during the busy season, think of fishing with a goal to catch three fish for the day. You might catch two 2-pound fish in the morning, and then catch two 10-pound fish in the afternoon. You’re likely to release the smaller fish in favor of the big ones.

On a typical summer day in the St. Louis area, the morning may start out at 70 degrees with no urgent calls on the HVAC dispatch board. By afternoon, the heat index may be pushing 100 degrees and customers with urgent needs fill every available time slot.

At that point, customers with newer systems and less urgent calls may get rescheduled for later in the week, so the Jerry Kelly team can respond to the higher opportunity calls. Miles says Jerry Kelly HVAC never promises a specific appointment time, but lets customers know they will call first when a tech becomes available.

“You call the other guy and say I’m sorry, we’re overwhelmed, we just can’t get to you today. We may be able to get to you tomorrow or two days from now,” Miles says. “The customer may say, ‘I can’t wait.’ I say, ‘I understand and I’m so sorry.’

“I am sorry we can’t get to him, but I’m not sorry that we’re not passing up on an opportunity to make money.”

While some contractors worry too much about losing potential customers, Miles thinks they should refocus their “scarcity mindset” on their technicians’ well-being.

“Once you’re at capacity, you’re done. If you’ve filled up your install board for the next day or two, let the guys go home and rest,” he says. “You can’t do any more. There’s no sense in burning them out. The scarcity is on your workforce. There are more customers out there. Everybody has air conditioners, they all break, and they will come back.”

Miles knows a rescheduled customer can often become an upset customer.

“Is it the guy who would have bought that $10,000 system or the guy who was going to buy a couple hundred bucks worth of refrigerant? Somebody will be upset, but you get to have a choice on who that is,” he explains.

Identifying the right techs to send on the highest-opportunity calls

Jerry Kelly HVAC employs 16 service technicians and 18 install technicians. While the company usually breaks even on service calls, it generates more profits by installing replacement systems. 

Miles says each of the install techs are qualified and trained to do the job the same way, but he uses a specific formula when deciding which tech to send on an opportunity call. 

“It’s who is delivering the most revenue per opportunity call over the past four weeks,” he explains. “I look at who’s generated the most leads or who’s sold the most systems on their own, and the dollar value of those systems divided by the number of opportunity calls they went on. It’s really simple.”

“It’s like (the movie) ‘Moneyball!’” Hunter adds. “The hot hand gets the opportunity.”

Exactly, Miles agrees. “If I’ve got a guy batting $1,000 on every opportunity call he goes on, I will give him six to eight calls a day.”

It’s also a good formula to apply to smaller companies, he says.

“It’s easier to roll out with a smaller company and start out with the right processes,” Miles says. “Once you grow, changes are really tough.”

He also compares his process to what he terms the “McDonald’s french fry theory,” which he tested out by traveling to Moscow, Berlin, London, Canada, and other countries and ordering McDonald’s french fries. At each location, the workers made the french fries exactly the same way.

“Why can’t we do the same thing with HVAC?” Miles asks. “Document everything, everybody follows the same procedure, and in the end, every customer gets the same McDonald’s french fry. 

“It’s kind of nirvana, and I’m always chasing it. All I know is the closer you get to it with process and procedure, the better off you are.”

Hyper-focused market penetration works for Jerry Kelly HVAC

In business for more than 40 years, Jerry Kelly HVAC knows its target market audience and stays hyper-focused on it by limiting service to customers living inside 15 zip codes in the St. Louis suburban area.

Miles says the company finds great efficiency by not requiring techs to drive 50 miles for a service call. Right now, his techs average 10 to 15 minutes for drive time between service calls.

“We have to draw the line someplace,” Miles says. “It’s hard and fast, and I am a jerk about it.

“I don’t want to drive 20 miles and only do one or two systems a year in that area. I want to stay in an area where I’m doing hundreds a year,” he adds. “I’d rather maximize where I’m at, in my backyard, than try to cover half the state.”

Miles also describes Jerry Kelly as a marketing company that just happens to provide HVAC service to customers, as he’s always tracking, measuring, and perfecting the marketing side of the business.

“I’m an in-home retailer. We’re not wholesalers, we’re not selling a widget, we are selling the finished product to the end user,” he says. “We’ve got to polish it and put some bangles on it...spiff it up for them.”

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