How Finding an HVAC Company is Like Hiring a Lawyer
My husband and I are attempting to get estimates for installing central air
conditioning into our older home in Baltimore City and, at the same time, also
replace our heating system. We began our research, which included going to
the Internet, asking for referrals from friends and a neighborhood e-mail group
as well as going to home and garden shows to get names and set up appointments.
We knew that the cost would not be cheap, but we were prepared to do it. We
had some understanding of what needed to be done, but certainly did not know
any of the details.
Who knew that just getting estimates would be such a Herculean task? During
our attempts to gather estimates in order to make a reasoned decision, I became
appalled at the disregard for what I consider to be common sense issues if
you are attempting to get people to choose your business. I can’t even
imagine using some of these companies (even if they could do good work at a
fair price) because they were so inefficient at simply giving estimates.
Now, six weeks into the estimate process, I started thinking about how solos
and small firm practitioners get clients and why clients would choose one practitioner
over another, all things being equal.
Here are some tips that I think solos and small firm practitioners can use
to help ensure you make a positive impression on potential clients and that
you can turn a prospect into a client.
First, you must develop a written policy/system for how to handle potential
new clients, whether they come from a referral source, referral service, a
yellow page ad or just a cold call to your office. This policy/system will
differ from firm to firm, depending on your staffing and practice area, but
there should be some systemized way to take information and make certain that
you get back to the potential client within 24-48 hours.
The procedures for handling inquiries can vary, depending upon how the prospective
client came to you. You may handle a referral from a respected source differently
than a cold call from a newspaper ad. The important thing is to make certain
that you have a procedure in place and then follow that procedure.
Some suggestions include:
1. For phone calls, have a form that includes all the information that you
may need in determining whether or not you want to take time to see the potential
client. You may have a receptionist or other staff person gather this information
over the phone, but let the person who is calling know that the information
will be given to you and that you will call back to make an appointment.
If you determine from the information that was gathered that this is NOT a
case you would like to take, PLEASE have the decency to contact the person
to inform him/her that you will not be taking the case. There are good reasons
for treating potential clients with this respect. You should be telling them
that you are not their attorney, especially if there are statue of limitation
issues. Although this may not be a case you want (or can) handle, there may
be future cases, or he/she may know others who will need legal services. It
is more likely that this potential client will make negative remarks if you
do not give him/her the courtesy of a reply than if you simply say that you
cannot take the case. The world is competitive enough without having people
out there making statements about you simply because of the way they were treated.
People care as much (and maybe even more) about being treated well and with
respect as they do about the outcome. It costs so little to treat everyone
well, and the benefits can be enormous.
If you or someone from your office is going to take information over the phone
to determine if you want to take the case, make certain that you familiarize
yourself with that information before meeting with the client. My husband and
I spent considerable time either on the phone or in person at the home shows
explaining about our house, our current heating system and what our goals for
the house were. Yet, it appeared that none of that information had ever been
shared with the person who actually came to the house to give an estimate.
(At one point, I asked outright whether or not they were being managed well
enough to do the work.)
If it appears as though the “management” of your firm is not being
handled properly, this does not create a feeling of competence. A prospective
client may think that if you cannot even prepare for a simple interview, you
might not be able to prepare for his/her case. Remember, everything you do
reflects either positively or negatively upon your perceived ability to handle
the work this client may be bringing to you.
2. Be respectful of a person’s time. If you make an appointment for a
specific time, be available at that time or call to explain and give the person
the opportunity to reschedule. If the meeting is at your office, make certain
you do not keep the person waiting for more than a few minutes. If it is going
to be longer because of an emergency, go to the reception area to personally
explain and apologize.
My husband and I scheduled all of our appointments for 8:30 a.m., which meant
we had to take time from work. Not one of the representatives came on time.
Not one. Only one called to say he was running late because he was lost. Considering
they had had our address for at least a week, they should have checked with
In addition, if you indicate that you need to get back to a potential client
with a proposal, retainer agreement or other information, make sure you do
it within a few days. It is a bad sign if you cannot get something to a potential
client on time. It will make the client think that your work will not be timely.
3. Political correctness is a good thing when talking with prospective clients.
When attempting to get a new client, stick to legal issues or discussions/comments
that are completely benign. For example, when someone returned my call to set
up an appointment to give us an estimate, I gave him a time I would be available.
He asked if my husband was going to be there. When I asked if that was necessary,
he said no, but that he found that men understood these things better. What
do you think the likelihood is that I actually made an appointment with this
4. It is important to explain the “process” as clearly as possible
to the potential client. I know there is a world of difference between installing
an air conditioning system and performing legal work. I also know that in many
circumstances you are not able to tell a client exactly what will happen with
a particular matter. However, it is possible to explain the legal process so
that a client will have some idea of what to expect. Most people who hire attorneys
do not understand the legal system or process at all. It is your job to help
them understand in addition to performing the legal work. This effort will
go a long way in avoiding problems later.
Always remember that people are more likely to pass along negative reactions
than positive reactions. Even if you do not get the client or choose not to
take a client at this time, leave the person with a positive feeling about
the way you handled the process. You never know what the person will say to
others that could affect potential clients in the future.
I was so insulted by the way we were treated by one of the companies that was
scheduled to come give us an estimate that I sent a message to a number of
neighborhood Email Lists and other lists simply relating the negative experience.
Don’t have this happen to you because you were not professional and courteous
to potential clients. Remember, it all counts.