Ready for the Future?

Jim Hinshaw
Contributing Writer
Improvement Professional, President & Sales

Just ate at an Olive Garden, was able to order the minute I sat down.  They had an electronic terminal (looked like an iPad) sitting on the table, did not have to wait for a server, could pay and leave whenever I wanted.  Swiped my credit card, printed out my receipt, added any tip is wished.  Can do the same at Red Robin.  Coming to a restaurant near you?  Probably sooner than $15/hour for the server.

We sold my wife’s car last year, went to Echo Park where they pulled our car inside the building out of the weather to give us an appraisal.  Took about 6 minutes, when we got the number it was more than we thought it would be.  If you wanted to buy a car, they had a lobby where you sat at a long table, used an iPad to pull up their inventory.  The car you selected showed up on a huge video monitor, 40’ wide x 12’ tall.  It was impressive.  A guy called me the day after we visited, asked how our visit was.  Remember, we are not buying a car, we were selling a car.  He called, asked, I told him about one thing that concerned me, got a call back from a manager in 20 minutes.  Straightened it all out.

Speaking of car sales, have you been car shopping lately?  The model of the future (pun intended) is Tesla.  They have taken Kickstarter to the automotive world.  They announced the Model 3 smaller car on March 31st, but even before the unveiling, they had a plan in motion.  For $1000, fully refundable, you can reserve your model 3, which will not be coming off production for at least 2 years.  Successful?  Well, depends on your definition of success.  Actually it doesn’t.  They now have over 400,000 deposits on record.  Go ahead, tell me that not all of them will stay, some will cancel.  No matter, they have about $400 million to play with.  Not in an escrow account, they can do as they please with that money.  And if they all stick, it represents around 17 Billion in sales.  With a B!  Add to this model is the fact they have not built one stand-alone car sales facility.  Which requires a ton of people to manage, sell, finance, etc.  They operate out of storefronts or malls, in Phoenix they are at the Scottsdale Fashion Square, in a space with one car frame and one car.  Couple of attendants, who are tech savvy.  The model of the future?  Not sure, but they are disrupting car sales all across the nation.

How about Car rentals?  I rent almost each week, traveling across the nation.  Ran into an interesting concept in Phoenix.  Silver Car.  All they rent are Audi A4s.  Each one similarly equipped.  They are just behind the car rental location in Phoenix, when you arrive at the airport, text them; they pick you up in an Audi!  They give you a ride back to the airport in an Audi, see how seamless that whole process is.  Never guess how I found out about them.  Was on the Avis FB page, picking out a car, when their ad popped up.  Went to their FB page, was impressed.  If I booked on their page, liked their page, got a Audi for $49 per day, a bargain.  So I rent a lot from Hertz.  Silver Car is just rolling out, not in all locations yet.  Hertz will send me an email when I land, telling me what space my car is in.  And what car I am getting.  If I want, can go to another isle and pick out another car, same price.  Or I can go to the upgrade isle, pick one for a few dollars more.

I stay at Hilton hotels all across the nation.  I can pick my room online a day or two ahead of my arrival, and use my iPhone as a room key.  So I can get a room on the top floor, away from the elevator, end of the hall.   Gives me the ability to choose where I will be sleeping, rather than taking whatever the desk clerk wants to give me.  They send me a survey after my stay, asking how it went.  Just had a stay that didn’t go well, kids running up and down the hall, TV was not working.  Got a full refund.  So they have a system in place when things go south.

In Sweden there is a company that will not only deliver groceries to your home but also set them in your refrigerator.  They install a secondary lock on your door that you control with your cell phone.  There is another company who delivers to your Volvo, puts the groceries in the trunk of your car.  The company that delivers to your home claims their system is superior, since not everyone has a Volvo, but everyone has a front door.

How does this impact us in the HVAC biz?  I have found several websites that are game-changing.  Just visited one that let me pick my size of unit, asked me what configuration I wanted, showed me several systems with prices right there on the page, along with an install price that was around $1200 in addition.  Interesting.  First saw this a couple of years ago, one back east, another out west.  My guess is we will see lots more of these sites, the internet is not going away.  And, let me be clear.  I don’t have a dog in this fight.  Not gonna take sides.  Just point out some things.  Do we need to go to the home, spend an hour or more talking about something the homeowner doesn’t want to talk about today?  Maybe.  When we go to the home, we can see how big the return air grills are (not big enough, usually), ask what rooms are not comfortable, discover why those rooms are not comfortable, ask about allergies, sound, humidity, utility costs, all the things we should find out in an interview.  On the other hand, when I ask companies that have these websites, here is what I am told.  They are getting an average of 1 or 2 sales a day; they treat it as a bonus to the bottom line.  There are homeowners who do not want you coming to their home, at least until they have done some research.  Where it can be a little uncomfortable is if they do not do the install themselves.  I could see an insurance opportunity if a problem occurs due to install.

Is that the future of our business?  Not going to make that statement.  I believe that the Internet is one part of our business model, ignoring it can be fatal to your bottom line.  The successful companies today have an interactive website, where you can look at their maintenance agreements, set appointments for service, get questions answered, share specials and promotions, all sorts of things.  They are on FaceBook, Linkedin, they Tweet, they go where the customer is today.   My message today, we must do a better job than ever to reach the customer.  The idea of waiting on the weather will not bring us double digit profits.  We must be pro-active, do the extra things to attract and keep the customer.  Stay in contact with regular newsletters, emails, calls, thank you cards, list goes on and on.   Oh, and to attract and keep the good employees as well, no one wants to work 80 hours in July, and 10 hours a week in March.

So what can you do different today to connect with your customers.  Just left the movie theater, saw the new X-Men flick.  Before it started, one of the female leads was on screen to thank us for showing up, with her wishes for a great experience.  She said “that is why we do what we do, so you can enjoy the show”.  I kept waiting for her to say, shut off those phones.  Never happened.  Can you as a manager or owner thank the customer for being involved?  Maybe on your website, or FB page.  A personal photo or short video showing your appreciation for their business.  Maybe a hand addressed thank you card made out to the homeowner who purchases a new system.  Perhaps the technicians could send a hand written thank you to a service customer?  We purchased a sofa for our son Mike when he moved to Fort Collins years ago, we got a thank you note from the sales person on a $340 purchase.  Made an impression.  Think of ways to wow you customers this year, that is the price of success today.

Thanks for listening, we’ll talk later.

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