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Are You Railroading Your Business?

”They don’t want quarter-inch bits. They want quarter-inch holes.” Theodore Levitt quoting Leo McGinneva in his book The Marketing Imagination.

Levitt, a Harvard Business School professor and economist who passed away in 2006, held the belief that customers aren’t interested in products, they want solutions to their problems.

You’ve probably heard the quarter-inch drill bit / hole that relates to the HVAC industry; people don’t want furnaces and condensers, they want comfort.

It makes so much sense. Yet we continue to place pictures of products in our advertisements and marketing material.

In that same book Levitt told us why the railroad industry failed. The railroad industry held a railroad-oriented view of their market instead of a transportation-oriented one. Consequently the transportation need was filled by airplanes, trucks, buses and cars. Bottom line the railroad industry was product-oriented instead of customer-oriented.


An example of the HVAC industry on the right path to customer orientation is extended hours of operation without overtime charges. Is your company operating two shifts to better accommodate your customer’s schedules?

Financing gives your customers more purchasing options. Do you offer customer financing? Do you provide a secondary means of financing for customers with borderline credit?

You are the brand, not the equipment you sell. You know this, enough said.

How do you become more customer-oriented?

Place yourself in your customer’s shoes and identify every point in which your company touches both your customers and prospective customers.

Are the telephones automated or does a live person take care of your customers? You know how frustrated you get when calling your cable company, right? Is this what you want for your customers?

Your techs and installers wear uniforms. Is that because your town’s top competitors wear uniforms? Or is it your intent to project a professional image, easing your customer’s apprehension? Do your customers know that your techs and installers have been background checked and drug tested?

You have to schedule the carpet, bug or landscaping guy out to your house. You know what a hassle it is, right? Do your customers have to jump through hoops to get their service scheduled?

It’s about being more human

Here’s a short story about a mammoth consumer goods company and its quest to figure out how to sell one of its air freshener products.

The company invested an inordinate amount of time, effort and money in testing markets to see how consumers were using their air fresheners. They finally had a breakthrough when a research team discovered a female park ranger who handled animals. The woman’s home wreaked with animal smells. She used the product and it eliminated embarrassing animal smells wafting through her house.

So the company sent the product to market as a means to eliminate foul odors. Sales flopped. In time they discovered that people who live with bad smells are unable to detect them and simply didn’t buy the product. The park ranger was an anomaly.

Following additional research the company discovered that people who were using the air freshener were using it in a state of delight, almost as a reward. The consumer would clean an area and then give the room a couple of sprays. It acted as a nice, finishing touch. The product was promoted as something to use at the end of a cleaning routine.

At the Service World Expo last month in Las Vegas, Christy Fiveash, VP of Operations at ShuBee, was showing contractors how to place a nice, finishing touch on HVAC maintenance by spraying one of her company’s scented air fresheners in the return air.

This action is designed to connect the human action of repair and or maintenance to the customer’s human side - their sense of smell. A system is tuned up and ready to go or one is now working correctly again. The pleasant smell connects your service to your customer.

Think about the human connection made with the air freshener and then think about those customer touch points. Where else might you make a delightful and human connection?

The drive toward customer orientation and human connection separates your company from the competitors in town still using the railroad. Choo-choo!

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Topics: Customer Connection

Posted by Dave Rothacker on Nov 14, 2016 10:57:30 AM

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