Indoor air quality (IAQ) is a great lead-in for HVAC contractors during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. But according to Scott Harkins, VP of Sales for Resideo, there’s a right way to do it — and a very wrong way.
IAQ might never have been more important than it is right now. The air in a home can be two to five times more polluted than the air outside, Harkins said.
In a work-from-home environment like the one produced by the Coronavirus outbreak, with residences being built tighter than ever before, cleaner air is critical.
Of course there are concerns about COVID-19, which is commonly spread by coughs and sneezes that aerosolized the virus. But that’s not the only IAQ concern.
Homes can also have problems with carbon dioxide, odors, dust, allergens, ventilation, humidification, filtering, and more.
“One in six people are allergic to the air in their home and they don’t know it,” Harkins said. “They think they are allergic to the outside. When their symptoms kick up, they close the windows, shut the doors. There is no air exchange, and it amplifies the symptoms.”
The result is stale air. Even Harkins has experienced that while working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I have been working in this 10-by-10 office for going on 30 days, and I can feel the air become stale throughout the day,” he said. “The CO2 in the air will make you tired, less alert, less sharp, and it just impacts your work environment.”
Selling IAQ, for those reasons, is always appropriate. It’s the approach some contractors are using in the Coronavirus age that upsets Harkins.
“We’ve seen advertisements by contractors who use that FUD approach — Fear, Uncertainty and Deception — to get people to think about this,” he said. “This is not the right time for it — really, it’s never the right time for it."
The right way to sell IAQ: The Five C’s Approach
Harkins gets it. Business is difficult, service visits are being canceled by homeowners, and HVAC contractors are trying to fill the gap and keep their phones ringing.
Keeping core principles in mind during this moment of uncertainty helps. That’s what Harkins and Resideo, which recently entered a business collaboration with ServiceTitan, advocate.
“The approach we’re taking with contractors is, talk to your customers, give them something that benefits them,” Harkins said. “But don’t try to scare them about the virus.”
Harkins has come up with a set of keys — something he calls “The Five C’s Approach.”
Commitment. Reassure employees and customers by developing a clear, specific COVID-19 response policy. “It has to be detailed, but it also has to be really easy to understand so (technicians and CSRs) can talk about it with customers,” Harkins said. The policy should include information about how personal protective equipment, disinfectant, cleaning anything the technician touches and paperless transactions play a role. “Really go in with a plan that can provide some peace of mind in the home,” Harkins said.
Communication. HVAC companies should use their website, social media, email marketing and other avenues to inform customers about plans and policies for keeping everyone safe. Share videos about safety and health. “We’re essential services for a reason,” Harkins said. “Let your customers know you can be there.”
Continuity. Companies can’t be afraid to sell, Harkins said, as long as they do it responsibly. “This is really where IAQ comes in,” he said. “But recognize that people are fearful and if your company is going to sell it, it should be something that actually brings value in this new world.”
Cash. Understanding government programs such as the CARES Act, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) relief funding through the Small Business Association is essential. That helps assure that your essential business survives. “There are places companies can go for money,” Harkins said. “Don’t wait. So many people don’t understand what is available to them, so we’re trying to help them through that.”
Community. Remembering that your company is part of something bigger in these times of need will make your neighbors remember your company when times are better. “If you’re idle and you are getting some money from the government to keep your employees and get them paid, put them to work in the community,” Harkins said. That can include simple things such as using company trucks to deliver groceries or PPE to those in need, or something more substantial. One contractor in Minneapolis buys a $25 gift card from a local hair stylist or sole-proprietor business for every service call. "The HVAC Industry has a strong history of service in the community, and it is neat to see all the good it continues to deliver," Harkins said.
High-quality air begins with high-quality diagnostics
Resideo offers homeowners an easy way to understand the air quality in their residence. AirCycle, a device contractors can place on a table during a home visit to analyze indoor air quality, provides the diagnostics consumers need.
After about 30 minutes, AirCycle prints out a consumer-friendly report on the air quality while the contractor is still onsite, with analysis for 14 different contaminants and product recommendations for the residence.
“Indoor air quality is important. It’s not something you should be scared about. It should make you healthier, it should help you be more comfortable in your home. Telling the story around that ought to be enough.”
“It’s not always about selling, because the answer could just be to open your window,” Harkins said. “But it can be an opportunity to do an upsell, and to provide pricing while the contractor is in the home.”
Without fear, uncertainty or deception, you can offer whole-home solutions informed by data and backed by science.
“The most successful sales people don’t have to scare their customers into buying,” Harkins said. “I wouldn’t appreciate someone coming into my house and scaring me."
It also shouldn’t be necessary for HVAC professionals selling IAQ solutions, Harkins said.
“Indoor air quality is important,” he said. “It’s not something you should be scared about. It should make you healthier, it should help you be more comfortable in your home. Telling the story around that ought to be enough.”
ServiceTitan-Resideo collaboration joins companies with similar goals
Harkins said the collaboration between ServiceTitan, an all-in-one home services software solution, and Resideo, which provides smart technology for HVAC and security systems, will benefit the HVAC contractors both serve.
“We feel like we’re trying to solve similar problems in different ways,” he said. “(ServiceTitan does it) through software and business management, as the strategic piece of managing a contractor’s business.
“We do a lot on the product side, and in particular the connected product side, ServiceTitan’s software and the data we generate will unlock some pretty incredible insights for contractors.”
That includes understanding how customers are using Resideo's Honeywell Home products and enhancing the ability to make predictive maintenance calls.
With Resideo products on ServiceTitan’s platform, consumers win too.
“Having information around our products and our solutions and how to sell them, right in ServiceTitan’s software package, will make the process easier for the technician,” Harkins said. “I think they’re likely to be more successful."
COVID-19 outbreak could change HVAC business for the better
Companies could also find value in innovations they implement during the Coronavirus outbreak. And some could come out ahead in some areas, Harkins said.
“I go back to the same thing I tell my customers and my sales organization: We get it, sales are off and we don’t know when it’s coming back,” Harkins said. “About 25 percent of the U.S. economy is shut off, but 75 percent of it is up and running. So there is still opportunity, and those who play in the residential space, your customers are at home. Normally, they’re never at home.”
In HVAC as in life, adversity can lead to growth.
“I think we’re going to find across businesses different things they’ve done that actually work,” Harkin said. “Different ways to create business. New ways to sell and add value.
“When things return to normal, those things are going to keep working. I think we’re going to find some, like the community support piece, stick.
“If they implement these things in this downturn, they’re going to stick — just like IAQ becoming a more mainstream piece of every HVAC system.”
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