|What a great time to be alive and well and working in the oil heating business. Does that sentence sound like the heat has gotten to me? What the heck am I thinking? Well, if you look at these times the way I do, you certainly must agree with me. When, in the course of your career, has your customers needed our expertise more than right now? Oil, it seems, has become the most talked about topic in conversations today. Yeah, some people may talk about the upcoming presidential election, but everyone is talking about oil; more specifically the cost of it and how they are going to afford it. Yep, this is a great time to be servicing customers.
Right now, everyone is trying to save money on gasoline for their cars. You hear it all the time on television. Heck, you can even find out on the Internet who has the cheapest gasoline in the neighborhood. Is this the way you want to go into the winter of ‘08 –‘09? Very soon your customers will be looking for the best price of fuel oil, just like they do for gasoline. Now, more than ever, it is important to be in contact with them and offer your assistance.
Every oil company, large or small, has a presence in the customer’s home via the service technician. Why not make the best use of your best asset to grow your business? Now, I am not saying to turn your technicians into sales people, but they are the ones who your customers trust the most. They will be asked things like “How well is my system working?” “What is the best way for me to save money?” “How much could I save if I convert to another fuel, like gas?” That last one is always a killer. How will they handle these and other questions asked? Keep in mind that these technicians are not, nor do they want to be, sales people.
We need to give the technician the ammunition needed to answer these questions. He or she should be able to give many options to the customer to heat their homes this coming winter. Not doing this gives the gas company an unfair advantage. The gas companies have very deep pockets and are very good at convincing our customers to switch over. We can easily combat this with education.
Homeowners, if given the chance, are very interested in learning and listening to the best solution to their problem. Is the best solution to change out the heating unit and replace it? It may be, but are there options? Not every heating unit needs to be replaced. Some need only to be upgraded in order to save the homeowner fuel, and fuel is money. Look at the auto market today; everyone wants to buy a hybrid car because it gets great mileage. But if you look at the cost of a new one, the savings are diminished because it will take years to make up that savings. So, if you are trying to save money this may not be in your best interest. Buying a new heating unit can have the same effect.
At least one company I know of is offering their customers a “lock-in” price of $5.50 a gallon for a specified number of years. Does that give you an idea where oil prices are going? In these crazy times, when oil is approaching $150 per barrel, we need to be thinking more about the customer. We need to step gently when dealing with a customer that already is struggling to simply “get by.” A suggestion to replace the heating unit could be a mistake.
As you know, there are items on the market today that do exactly what your customers want to do — save them money. The upside for us is that we can still charge for this service and make a profit. Helping the customer save money does not mean giving anything away. Some items will help, such as outdoor reset controls, controls that monitor the boiler heat output and adjust firing times to match the output, a burner with a 50 percent turndown ratio, even such mundane items like a set-back thermostat. These products need to be suggested to the customer. Going for the whole system may be like going for all or nothing. Without a doubt, sometimes you will come up with nothing at all. I believe it is better to treat a customer fairly and keep them rather than going for the whole nine yards and losing the customer to our industry competitor.
NORA has produced a video on how to help your company help your customers through these tough times. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can view it online at www.noraedvideo.org.