TAMPA, Fla. -  In a winter when the Sunshine State’s temperatures have been unusually cold, the weather in Florida generally cooperated for the  ACCA’s 42nd annual convention.

Clint Harris (left) and Pat Hyland show the RotoStorm, Rotobrush International’s new insulation-blowing machine

TAMPA, Fla. -  In a winter when the Sunshine State’s temperatures have been unusually cold, the weather in Florida generally cooperated for the  ACCA’s 42nd annual convention.

Seasonal temperatures in the low to mid-70s were what Air Conditioning Contractors of America members found March 7-9 when the group’s convention was held at Tampa’s waterfront convention center. And that seemed to put attendees in a good mood. Organizers called this year’s show, with the theme “the big picture,” a big success.

“I have heard many great things about the magic that happened this week,” said ACCA President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Stalknecht. “We can always expect great things when we gather ACCA contractors together, and this ‘big picture’ event has exceeded expectations.”

Also exceeding expectations, officials said, was the amount donated to Reading is Fundamental, the charity that gives free books to children and families who need them. This year, the ACCA gave hundreds of books and a $500 donation to a Tampa public library.

“ACCA feels strongly that the ‘Throw a book in your bag’ effort is a way for annual event participants to give back to the cities we visit,” said Hilary Atkins, vice president of finance and administration for ACCA. “Our contractor members from all across the United States brought children’s books with them to Tampa and made monetary donations to make this year a record-breaking effort.”

Dave May of Duro Dyne Corp. talks about the DuroZone control system with an Indoor Air Expo attendee.

Popular sessions

As part of the conference, attendees could choose from more than 30 educational seminars or visit the event’s Indoor Air Expo, a trade show co-sponsored by the Indoor Air Quality Association. It attracted an estimated 2,000 members of the two groups.

It all contributed to the convention’s “big” theme, officials said.

“Being a visionary doesn’t mean just seeing the big picture - it means creating the big picture,” said Stan Johnson the outgoing ACCA chairman. “You must recognize that the big picture isn’t just something that happens, it’s something you help create. And that’s what the 2010 ACCA conference (was) all about.”

It helped that convention organizers secured big rooms for some of the show’s most popular seminars. This included Frank Besednjak’s “Become Legendary: 20 - Plus One - Methods to Turn Satisfied Customers into Raving Fans” March 7.

A Kentucky-based consultant who ran service operations for Sony and RCA, Besednjak now owns the Training Source Inc.

Besednjak said his presentation would not be breaking new ground.

“There is nothing that you are going to hear today that is absolutely new,” he said, adding that he hopes the tips still make attendees better business owners.

His tips:

1. Be great at what you do.

No one says, “ ‘We do marginal work,’ ” Besednjak said. “Don’t do stupid things.”

Only accept work you can do well.

2. Measure. Know what you need to earn per day or per hour to make a profit.

“When people measure, when people get measured, (they) will improve,” he said.

3. Keep in touch. High volume, important customers need personal visits. Ensure they have a positive experience.

4. Happy employees make happy customers. Be good to them.

“If you have ticked-off people, you’re going to have ticked-off customers,” he said.

5. Make everyone the customer relations manager. Give employees the power to handle problems.

“For every complaint that you find out about, there are 26 you didn’t know about,” Besednjak said. Complaints offer opportunities to improve.

6. The customer is always right - most of the time.

Apologize, then fix the problem, Besednjak advised. A “small” problem for you may be huge to a customer.

However, sometimes you have to say “no,” which is OK, he added.

“I don’t want to devote my resources to people who are crazy,” he said.

7. You can’t provide good service if you or your employees believe that your products are junk. Support what you sell.

8. Practice makes perfect.

Not everyone is born with good communication skills, he said. It’s OK to have salespeople follow a script.

9. Be a friend. Act like a friend to your customers.

10. Arrive on time - every time. Surveys show punctuality is more important than price to many customers.

11. Look for things or ideas that will make life easier for your customer.

12. Look good and smell good. Carry extra shirts, mints.

13. Let them know what you’re doing. Ensure customers know if you will be making noise or tearing things up.

14. Value the customer’s time. Call if you are running behind and don’t sit in your car in front of the customer’s home.

15. Real people like to talk to real people who are not stupid. Be professional. Use an answering service. Write a script for phone operators.

16. Develop routines and methods of operation that work.

17. Be available to your customers. Odd hours are sometimes required.

18. Make yourself unique. Use newsletters and coupons. Hold a picnic for your customers.

19. Always do the right thing. Listen to your “little voice.”

20. Make it memorable. Your interactions are likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience to your customers. Make them count.

Besednjak uses a “customer satisfaction pyramid” based on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

21. Do something. Try new things.

Brian Kraff of Bethesda, Md.’s Market Hardware Inc. gave ACCA members an update on Internet marketing and the growing world of social media March 8.

Time to be social

The Internet of 2010 is not the Internet of 2008 - or even 2009. That was one of the messages Brian Kraff of Bethesda, Md.’s Market Hardware Inc. delivered in his March 8 presentation, “Social Media and the New Face of Online Marketing.”

Kraff has spoken to ACCA members several times, including during the association’s 2008 convention in Colorado Springs, Colo. (See “Into thin air,” April 2008), and last year’s Fort Worth, Texas, meeting.

In the world of “Web 2.0,” you can’t just rely on occasionally updating your Web site and thinking you will be relevant, he said.

Today, the big online buzzwords and phrases are Facebook, Twitter and “social media.” And while this is important for contractors, it’s not where most should be focusing their resources, he added.

Kraff asked the audience to raise their hands if they believed they needed to be on Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter or they ran the risk of losing customers. Most raised their hands.

But Kraff told them they were wrong. Most HVAC contractors do not need to be on social media sites such as Facebook or posting “tweets” on Twitter. Not yet, anyway. 

Frank Besednjak gave tips on improving customer service during his March 7 seminar.

Monitoring is key

That’s not to say they aren’t useful or don’t have advantages for contractors. But far more important, according to Kraff, is monitoring the online customer reviews of your business on sites such as Angie’s List or the local listings on search engines such as Google and Yahoo. These sites allow visitors to post their opinions of companies. Good reviews can be great for business, while a negative review can have an even greater impact.

You must monitor such sites, Kraff said.

“It’s really hard to get your customers to do what you want,” he said, adding any complaints found online should be followed up if you can figure out who the customer was.

If you want to be near the top of search results on sites like Google, regularly posting to social media Web sites may help.

“Search engines love Twitter and they love Facebook to an extent,” Kraff said.

But you’ll need to dedicate two to four hours a week on Facebook and Twitter to use them effectively, which is time many contractors don’t have.

“There’s a big difference between advertising on Facebook and (just) using Facebook,” he said. Social media “is not advertising. It’s a way to create buzz.”

Currently, most Facebook users are under 34 years old and not potential HVAC customers.

Echoing a comment he made at the ACCA’s 2008 convention, he advised against using up a lot of money on services that claim they can ensure you’re always at the top of search engine results.

“I don’t suggest people spend a lot of time on search engine optimization,” he said. “I do suggest they spend money to get on Google Maps.”

Google Maps’ search results list the businesses within a specific area, and are popular with consumers, Kraff said. 

Group announces winners

Companies from New York and Florida won the ACCA’s 2010 Contractor of the Year Award for residential and commercial work.

Winners were announced during the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s March 7-9 convention in Tampa, Fla.

Conditioned Air Corp. of Naples, Fla., won the residential category award. Theo Etzel, who has seen revenues grow by about $15 million in the last 15 years, runs the company.

The commercial winner was Tag Mechanical Systems of Syracuse, N.Y. Tag has found success focusing on energy efficiency and green building projects, ACCA officials said.

Paul T. Stalknecht, the ACCA’s president and CEO, complemented both companies as being among the best in the industry.

“This year’s Contractors of the Year program finalists were all notable contracting businesses with unique approaches to serving their customers, and we are pleased to recognize Conditioned Air as the winner,” Stalknecht said. “Conditioned Air transcends the HVACR industry and functions as a true business, with a disciplined approach to decision making and companywide buy-in to its value proposition.”

Stalknecht said commercial winner Tag Mechanical offers its customers something extra.

“Tag Mechanical has consistently been a leader in the industry, committing itself to being a true resource to its customers and the building community in general,” he said.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail devriesj@bnpmedia.com.