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Modernize your business to broaden its appeal and attract young customers

By: By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.

To make the most of the opportunities in home comfort in these challenging times, companies need to broaden their appeal. Retaining the customers you have is essential, of course, but you also need to build a broader base and serve more homeowners and businesses.

In addition to the diversification strategy that every company needs, companies need to make themselves more attractive to young customers. That requires understanding what today’s buyers want and adapting your marketing strategies accordingly.

Here are nine steps that any home comfort provider can take now or in the near term to draw positive attention, transform the company image and create a more satisfying customer experience.

1. Put service first.

Every household and business in your market is a potential customer for comfort-related services, and chances are you are an excellent service provider. Chart a course to become an attractive provider of multiple services. Heating and cooling services alone can get you into any home or building in your market, provided you are willing to service any system regardless of fuel type. Determine what it will take to build a service team with the full range of skills and certifications and put a heavy emphasis on training. You should continue to promote your services and skills in heating and cooling, but do it within the larger context of a home comfort service business.

2. Offer a comprehensive approach.

The holistic approach to home comfort and energy efficiency is taking hold in consumers’ minds. Utilities and fuel providers have been promoting home energy audits aggressively for the better part of a decade. It’s a model that appeals to the educated mind, because it emphasizes science and knowledge. It’s also great for marketing, because it creates a logical framework for selling a series of products and services. The approach also puts customers at ease, because the salesperson has specific, scientific information about their own house or building. With each passing year, it is getting harder to sell without a comprehensive, science-based model, and that trend will only continue. Get the necessary training and certification, and then develop a marketing program around energy audits to support sales.

3. Get reviewed.

The emergence of customer review sites like Yelp has dramatically changed the way that customers find local service providers. They’re not looking in the Yellow Pages anymore; they are searching on the Internet and are most likely to choose a company that has good reviews from customers. It is imperative to make company reviews easily accessible on the Web. Ideally, you’ll want live customer reviews on sites like Yelp and Google Plus. Get yourself registered on those sites and then reach out to your satisfied customers and ask them to go online and write reviews. You can use customer surveys to identify your most ardent advocates. Also, be sure to load up your company website with customer testimonials and promote them prominently on your home page. Use search engine optimization (SEO) to make them searchable. If you have too few reviews on the customer review sites, be sure to place a company profile on every review site that links readers to the testimonials on your website. Promote your reviews on Facebook too.

4. Provide online account access.

Modern companies give customers access to their account information online. It’s essential and non-negotiable. Until you offer account access, you are thwarting customers by standing between them and the access that they want, and that is risky business. When a prospect visits your website, they should be able to see at a glance that the site includes customer log-in capabilities. Display a brief description on how your online access works and highlight the attractive extras you offer, such as live chat. Don’t expect customers to just call you. They are looking for companies that make everything possible online, from fuel ordering, to service scheduling, to making inquiries. That way they know they can conduct meaningful business late at night and on weekends, instead of waiting for your office hours.

5. Embrace mobile technology.

The smartphone is the most important computing tool since the PC. Leverage its power and versatility to improve your operations and make powerful impressions on prospects and customers. For starters, create a function-oriented mobile website for the company that enables users to contact you, gather important information on products and services, and conduct meaningful business through their iPhones, Droids, Galaxies and Lumias. Go to the next level too. Outfit all your salespeople and techs with smartphones that carry useful apps for company communications, sales presentations, system design and more. Commit to living on the cutting edge and you’ll find yourself connecting much more effectively with the customers you want most and generating powerful word-of-mouth.

6. Enhance your e-services.

The online environment is the comfort zone for today’s consumers. Help them be where they want to be by offering solid online services, including paperless billing, online signup and scheduling, and online loyalty rewards. Add these online applications and promote them prominently on your website. Revise the company description in all your marketing materials to highlight your commitment to the online environment. An online loyalty rewards program is particularly helpful in keeping customers happy, because you can issue program points as an easy, immediate goodwill gesture whenever you want.

7. Communicate via video.

Many of today’s consumers prefer video to other forms of communications. Make a commitment to video communications and create a YouTube channel for your business. Videos can include a company introduction that resides on your home page and videos on nearly every page of your website. Topics can include an energy efficiency overview and descriptions of services such as price protection, home energy audits and indoor air quality. You can also promote sales with videos focused on high-efficiency heating and cooling appliances, solar energy, radiant heating, Bioheat® and more. Develop a feel and format that will be consistent throughout your videos and you’ll help customers see you as a friendly, cutting-edge company that they can trust.

8. Update your advertising.

As you transform yourself into a more modern company and develop fuel-neutral services, it makes sense to renew your commitment to television, radio and out-of-home advertising. Begin by taking the time to develop an effective, contemporary message that plays well to a broad demographic that includes young adults. Strike a balance between image building and immediate sales so that you are selling the company as well as the products and services. Be bold. Flash some character. Be consistent across all channels from television commercials to truck wraps to uniforms to maximize the impact.

9. Optimize customer service.

Great customer service never goes out of style, and it’s just as important to younger customers as to older ones. Focus on how you interact with customers across all channels – phone, in person, live chat, e-mail, mail – and make sure you are giving customers what they want and need every time you connect with them. Think proactively about building great customer relationships, and then examine all your processes to make sure you are creating the kind of experiences that you would want as a customer. Many companies need to invest in customer service training to raise awareness companywide. When your people know how to talk to customers and they understand how important their performance is, they can serve you more effectively. Don’t settle for making customers satisfied with your services; aim for customer enthusiasm. The best companies are completely intolerant of poor customer service. Do not allow employees to take money out of your pocket by being thoughtless or lazy with your customers or prospects.

By implementing most of these suggestions in the months ahead, you can energize your business, give employees renewed hope and position yourself for solid growth now and in 2013.

Richard Rutigliano is President of PriMedia, Inc., a full-service Advertising/Integrated Marketing Communications/New Media firm with offices in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.