Empowering Customers With Information

Empowering Customers With Information

The ancient HVAC system that keeps my century-old home toasty in winter and bearable through humid Washington summers was always a mystery to me.  It seemed to lose enthusiasm every time the seasons changed. Some days it worked, some days not so much.

Enter Donald from Metro Services HVAC in Silver Spring. Donald is like that high school English teacher whose infectious enthusiasm made you (almost) love Chaucer.

Donald knows everything there is to know about residential HVAC systems and he’s happy to share it.  His philosophy: an informed customer is a happy customer.

Recently, he spent two full days at my house, exploring the depths of our crawl-space attic for the gremlin that takes down the AC whenever DC humidity reaches 90 percent.

Donald from Metro Services HVAC, the knowledgeable expert bringing warmth and comfort to old homes in DC

Periodically, he paused his work to explain what he had discovered, why it’s a problem, and the likely history of patchwork solutions. He explained the quick-fix and long-term solution, outlined the pros and cons of each, as well as a timeline for repairs and pricing. He was friendly and informative, expert without being patronizing. Never did he try to befuddle me with jargon.

I liked and trusted him completely and gladly paid a premium for a permanent solution.  When the work was completed, I called his dispatcher to rave about his service and gave Metro Services HVAC a five-star Google review without them even asking.

In short, he created a loyal and vocally happy customer without having to sell. In educating me, he built trust, and empowered me with the information to make a decision that was right for me.

Every business has one superstar, but I had to know: was this a fluke or a deliberately customer-centric business?

An informed customer is a happy customer

Nate Mufarreh is the owner of Metro Services HVAC and a 20-year veteran of the metro Washington DC heating and cooling industry. He explained the business philosophy that drove him to start Metro Services in 2019:

“I worked for many different companies in the DC area, and everything was veering towards sales. A long time ago, HVAC was about servicing and extending the life of equipment. I wanted to get back to that philosophy of taking care of customers by helping them save money.”

Nate Mufarreh quote about HVAC companies

Indeed, over the last decade, the HVAC industry, like other home-services industries, consolidated in a way that does not always serve the customer. When private equity funds gobble up local providers, businesses operated by seasoned local technicians give way to regional empires run by MBAs. Often, a relentless focus on the bottom line means the service provider who comes to your home is trained to sell you expensive new equipment, not extend the life of your existing HVAC unit.

As new technologies and accessories entered the HVAC market, Mufarreh noticed that customers felt mystified by too many choices and too little information.

Customers get sold on an energy-efficient unit, or an accessory that will stop water damage. In some cases, they’re great equipment, and sometimes they will save you money in the long run.  But sometimes they just empty your bank account.

If everything that’s old is new again, Mufarreh started Metro Services HVAC to revive an old school way of doing business: be honest, deliver value to the customer, and people will tell their neighbor. It’s not that Mufarreh is lacking in ambition – he can see ahead to a $100 million business. It’s that he understands that a business built on a well-trained team that shares your values is a rock-solid foundation for long-term growth.

Building a customer-centered culture

While those private equity-led HVAC conglomerates may boast deeper pockets, Mufarreh understood that what they lack is a deep connection with their customer.

 Nate is exceptionally gifted at making sure his customers are like family. Even with hundreds of service calls per week, people call in, and he knows them. If I mention a name, he knows what’s going on in their house. He can remember, this customer is a police officer, and that one is retired and on a fixed income.

— Carla X, Metro Services HVAC’s office manager

That focus on customer stories is deliberate. Mufarreh understands that if his technicians learn to see each and every customer as an individual, honesty and integrity will follow. “I tell my technicians: don’t look at the money. Take care of the customer, and we’ll grow that way.”

Couple reviewing Metro Services HVAC feedback on their laptop.

Empowering customers starts with empowering your team

 If empathy is the first ingredient in a customer-centric culture, the next is expertise. Not surprisingly, Metro Services HVAC has a recipe for mentoring and training a team of HVAC wizards who can give customers candid advice and make the necessary repairs or installations to keep their homes comfy, whatever the season.

Mufarreh himself got his start at smaller HVAC providers, where he installed units for several years before moving on to service calls. Once promoted to a customer-facing position, he found he was more effective at educating customers on what was wrong with their system and helping them weigh the pros and cons of different courses of action.

For the sake of his customers, he wants to avoid what he calls the “parts changers.” “Homeowners shouldn’t have to pay for 20 parts before their HVAC service rep figures out what the problem is.”

Today, Metro Services HVAC’s long-term training program starts new employees on two full years of installation before they’re ready to make a service call. “That hands-on experience means our service reps know what to look for. How can they get to the root of the actual problem if they haven’t gotten their hands dirty?”

Part of the training program includes teaching the team how to serve as the customer’s trusted advisor. For Metro Services HVAC, customer empowerment follows a distinct process:

  • Learn about the customer’s goals, budget and preference for a short-term versus long-term solution.

  • Take the time to educate the customer on all the available solutions, their price, estimated duration, and the timeline to complete the project.

  • Use plainspoken language, not jargon, and asking clarifying questions to ensure the customer understands the choice at hand.

  • Show, don’t just tell, and guide the customer through a hands-on tour of their HVAC system.

Training at scale: mentoring the next generation of HVAC professionals

Clearly, Metro Services HVAC’s philosophy of empowering customers has built them a very loyal client base. Without any concerted campaign to generate reviews, the four-year-old company enjoys a sterling five-star rating on Google. Reviews extol their honesty, customer service, and above-and-beyond efforts to diagnose and repair problems in a way that saves customers time and money.

So what’s next for Metro Services HVAC?

Beyond just growing his own business, Mufarreh worries about a wider set of economic problems: well-paying blue-collar jobs are going away, and veteran small business owners are struggling to pass the business to young workers with the skills to carry on a tradition of quality home services.

To bridge the gap, Mufarreh’s hopes to open an HVAC academy so that he can pass on his expertise to a new generation of HVAC professionals. While there is no shortage of HVAC training programs, most recreate a classroom environment that didn’t serve these students back in high school, and fails to inspire them now:

I want to take that person who is unmotivated or doesn’t think they can do it, and say: Come here, what do you think this does? Some people don’t learn as easily through books, but they’re really mechanical. We’ll teach them hands-on and encourage them to like the tech as much as I do.  Once they learn it, they’ll fly.

Metro HVAC and the academy will exist in a symbiotic partnership: some successful graduates will be hired as technicians, steeped in the company’s culture of customer empowerment. Others will go out to find jobs at other HVAC companies, or strike out as entrepreneurs themselves, fueling a new generation of customer-focused HVAC professionals.

5-star Google review rating for Metro Services.

Lessons from a customer empowerment strategy

Whether you run a law firm or a landscaping company, there’s a lot that service-based business owners can learn from Metro Services HVAC’s success:

  • It all starts with culture: If employees don’t see the boss living and vocalizing a culture of customer empathy, it won’t stick.

  • Staff training is a continuous process: Don’t expect to build a customer-centric culture from day one orientation alone. Managers need to establish a long-term plan for building staff expertise and nurturing their professional development.

  • Arm your staff with comprehensive knowledge of your product and service: Train your employees to understand the features, benefits and potential applications of your service — and teach them to communicate information clearly. Make sure they also understand the customer’s job to be done, and can answer questions about alternatives (whether they are competitors, or simply another solution to the customer’s problem).

  • Outstanding customer service is the cheapest form of advertising: Build a system that delivers above-and-beyond service and you will retain loyal customers who refer their friends.

  • Integrity is the surest path to success: Being transparent with customers and serving their interests without regard to the upsell may not put you on the rocket ship of growth, but it builds the soundest foundation for long-term success.

  • Tap into your superpower as a local business: Small businesses can and do outmaneuver national competitors with deep pockets. But don’t try to compete on their terms. Lean into your knowledge of the local market, interpersonal connections with your customers, and the ability to customize your service.

More ways to educate your customers

Feeling inspired by Metro Services HVAC’s model? There are dozens of different ways to empower your customers and equip them with the tools to make decisions that meet their goals, budget and long-term interests. Read on for more ideas:

  • Educational Materials: Brochures, guides, blogs and videos can provide detailed and easy-to-consume information about your products or services. Distribute them on your website, social media, in-store, or during networking events. Even better, employees can share these materials with customers to facilitate their decision-making process.

  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Create an updated list of FAQs that address common customer queries. Train employees to refer to these FAQs and provide accurate answers to customer questions, saving time and ensuring consistency in information delivery.

  • Training workshops for employees: Conduct regular training workshops for employees to enhance their knowledge and communication skills. These workshops can cover topics such as product updates, industry trends, and effective customer engagement techniques.

  • Online resource center: Establish an online knowledge base that can house informative articles, guides, and videos to help customers make informed decisions. Encourage employees to direct customers to these online resources for further information.

  • Educational workshops for customers and the community: Conduct regular workshops or webinars for current or prospective customers. Make them fun and interactive to boost turnout, and record them to share online.

  • Feedback and Improvement: Establish a feedback mechanism to gather customer insights on the effectiveness of information training efforts. Encourage customers to share their experiences and suggestions, which can help identify areas for improvement and refine your staff training program.

Are you ready to delight your customers?

Metro Services HVAC is proof that creating a culture of customer education is a powerful strategy for small businesses seeking growth and success.

By equipping customers with the knowledge and resources they need to make informed buying decisions, your small business can build trust, enhance customer satisfaction, and stand out in a crowded market.

Need help taking your next steps towards small business success? At RS Gonzales, we are passionate about helping the Washington, DC region’s local service-based businesses thrive. Get in touch to schedule your free sales and marketing audit and strategy session.

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