Enough with that [bleeping] “eco-bling,” said “Green Curmudgeon” Carl Seville in this lively discussion on Green Building Advisor. “On hearing the news that three photovoltaic (PV) module manufacturers, at least one a recipient of federal loan money, have recently declared bankruptcy, I once again started thinking about my frustration with people’s attachment to putting cool ‘stuff’ on their buildings before making sure that those buildings actually operate well.”
Will “green appraisals” boost the values of higher-performing homes? Here’s a look at the Appraisal Institute’s new push to include energy-efficient features in home valuations. A couple of green remodeling experts weighed in, including Carl Seville. "It looks like an interesting start, but not unexpectedly, their priorities are skewed towards the things that people want (the bling), rather than what is really most important."
The U.S. Department of Energy has lots of free webinars throughout October for home-performance pros. Click here for a list of hour-long sessions on the federal Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and manufactured housing issues.
Speaking of WAP, more than 500,000 low-income homes had been weatherized under the program by mid-September, according to this statement from the Energy Department. The work also directly employed more than 14,000 people.
The kids are more than alright at the University of Maryland, whose team took top prize for a brilliantly sustainable and water-centric home in the Solar Decathlon. Here’s a bit about that home and the biennial event, which ended October 2 in Washington.
“Installed” a chimney balloon lately? The folks at Energy Circle say this cheap fix (less than $50) will keep your clients’ homes warmer and critter-free, among other benefits. A top Maine-based energy auditor says this: “The chimney balloon completely seals the flue.... Virtually no air gets past the balloon.”
Greenbuild 2011 was in Toronto the first week of October, marking the event’s debut outside the U.S. If you couldn’t make it, you can watch some of the sessions via live-streaming here. Greenbuild is sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council.
In the nitty-gritty of building performance issues, check out these posts from around the Web:
- Air-sealing best practices
- Does R-value trump thermal mass?
- What kind of window frame is best?
- The downsides of running a dehumidifier
- Stinky spray foam: who's to blame?
Thinking ahead: Want to present at a conference? Allison Bailes of Energy Vanguard has some excellent tips here on how to win a home-performance conference proposal, based on his review of proposals for the Affordable Comfort Conference.
Much has been written and said about what it takes to be a great service manager in our business, especially given all the changes our industry is facing. Probably one of the biggest impacts is the fact that service technicians today are expected to have excellent technical skills. Simply put, it’s the price of admission. It no longer is the most important tool in their bag. They must become people fixers. We all have seen first-hand, or heard, the horror stories of a technician fixing the box and then running afoul of the customer. If you don’t fix the people, the box is irrelevant. What this means to the service sector of our business is we can no longer promote the most technically astute serviceman to the role of service manager. The role is now becoming the service leader and that has nothing to do with knowing how to take the superheat or subcooling readings.
The person leading the service department of today’s home performance company knows that leadership is not something we are born with. Rather, it’s an observable and learnable set of practices and behaviors. As we say in the South, “you ain’t born with it.”
So what exactly is this leadership stuff?
Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less. It’s learning how to hold oneself, and one’s people accountable. Colin Powell said it this way: “It’s the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle to achieve common aspirations.”
Why is it a struggle? Another great leader and businessman, Jack Welch of GE fame, said, “Your job is to fight the gravitational pull of Negativism.”
Negativity is all around us. Sometimes it’s our people, sometimes it’s the weather we fight constantly, and sometimes it’s that little voice that haunts us all. Our people in the field face hot attics and cold basements, haul heavy equipment around, and mostly work alone. It’s too easy to become negative.
When we study those observable habits and practices of great leaders, we begin to understand the recipe. What do winning service leaders do? They relentlessly upgrade their teams. I know getting technical people in our business is the hardest obstacle we face. That is why we must recruit constantly. Leaders make sure their people not only see the vision, they live and breathe it. Leaders infect everyone with positive energy and optimism. They have the courage to make those tough calls; they push, pull, probe, and are agents of change.
One of the hardest parts of being a leader of anything is encouraging your people to take risks. Most of us learn far more through our failures than our successes. If this is true, shouldn’t we encourage more failures? Scary thought, I know. Mr. Honda, of car fame, said if your manager’s decision making batting averages are better than 40 percent, they’re not making enough decisions. Another thing we leaders have trouble doing is finding cause to celebrate. We can find faults far too often. Can we find a reason to have a small parade?
Leaders Bring Strength
If you own your own company, you’ve already realized that the strength of any company/department is the direct result of the strength of the leaders. Not the followers. A real scary thought is, “you are what you reproduce.”
What are some of the activities in which the 21st century service manager is involved? Establishing monthly goals for selling service agreements, average repair invoices, call backs, producing replacement leads, and all those issues dealing with caring for service vans. All these issues are tracked in a database daily, weekly, or monthly. Everyone on the team knows the score, especially the service leader. Why? With this real time data, the leader can determine where he should spend his time. He will know who needs what type of training. He will be able to perform (the dreaded words) performance reviews. The leaders of the service department must create a sense of urgency in their department.
Another reason we need a 21st century service leader is our customers. Today, their expectations are so much more than a few years ago. Why? We all know the answers. Today’s customers are smarter, faster, and more demanding, less tolerant, working more, earning more, spending more…
Here is a look at what a lot of customers told us they demanded from any serviceman coming into their home.
- Reliability - the ability to provide what was promised dependably and accurately.
- Can we DIRTFT (Do It Right The First Time).
- Assurance - the ability and courtesy of employees, and their ability to convey trust and confidence. They want to make sure they made the right choice.
- Empathy - the degree of caring and individual attention given to the customer. They are asking, “Do you understand, and do you care?”
- Responsiveness - the willingness to help customers and provide prompt service. They’re asking, “can you help me, and promptly?”
- Tangibles - the physical facilities, equipment, and the appearance of the personnel. How do your people look?
Here is how the 21st century service leader’s people look: they wear a photo ID badge, shoe covers (skid proof), latex gloves when touching the thermostat or grilles, and uniforms. They never go into a house with tobacco products on their person, and have fresh breath and clean hands. Their invoices are readable, logical, and value driven. The field people are good communicators as well.
The 21st century service leader also has to understand that if we do all the things we should do correctly, we still need to have the assistance of our customer service representatives. After all, they’re the first point of contact for many of our customers. We need to train them well. When that customer calls for the first time, the experience must be memorable and set the level of expectation for what is to follow at their home.
Speaking of training, this is where 21st century service leaders shine. They’re the ones who go into the field to train technicians on how to sell service agreements, convert repair calls to replacement leads, and legitimately increase the average age repair invoice. Yes, they can do some classroom training. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that to become a pilot all you need is ground school. To learn how to fly, your instructor puts you in a plane and shows you how to do it first. Training in the classroom only sets the stage for what will occur in the customer’s home. By showing them how to do it, you’ll eliminate the legitimate question normally asked by field people, “is it possible to do this?”
Lastly, 21st century service leaders are involved in the financials of the company. They know them, see them, work with them, and most importantly, are comfortable with them. They know what gross profit means. They understand labor costs and what windshield time is all about. They’re students of good dispatching and holding their people accountable for doing fabled service.
There’s that confounding question again: what’s the best marketing for your business? Do yellow page ads work? TV? Internet marketing? How about that sandwich board your partner is marching up and down the street? Or your sponsorship of last summer’s beach volleyball tournament? And what are the messages that resonate? Are people calling because of rising oil prices? Have they just heard about a new utility program? Is your free furnace offer compelling? When talking with fellow contractors, we get questions like this all the time. And the truth is, there isn’t just one single answer. But there is a right answer to guide you.
At GreenHomes, we’ve explored many ways to market home performance. One thing is clear. What works in one location doesn’t necessarily work in another. Some places, radio can be a driver. Other places it fails miserably. Ditto with internet, print ads, direct mail, and right on down the line. And it’s not just the relative effectiveness of different channels that changes. Different messages resonate differently in different markets. And what is effective changes over time even within a market. The only way to determine what is working is to constantly measure.
It is critically important to track information so you can measure how well you’re doing and where you need to make adjustments. This is important with respect to marketing so that you know whether your new TV commercial is working, if your new direct mail piece worked, and how much business you’re gaining from the yellow pages, for example.
Having an integrated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and accounting system makes this easier. There are a variety of off-the-shelf products that target residential contractors. But a smaller company can use some simple spreadsheets or a simple database to automate portions of their business. What is important is that you collect the data, organize it in such a way that key trends are apparent, and that you look at the data frequently to make sure things stay on track and that you can make tweaks and adjustments in your activities as needed. Not asking, or writing it all down on a napkin by the phone in the kitchen is not good enough.
Evaluating marketing effectiveness starts with the initial phone call (or email or walk-in). You’ve got to capture the source that generated the call. You must ask, as part of your intake process, “how did you hear about us?” There are services and software available that assign unique phone numbers, extensions, or codes to help automate the process and increase the quality of your data [see for example, myadnumbers.com, calltraxplus.com, or public.ifbyphone.com ]. Your website designer can create unique URLs for you to place in each of your ads, allowing you to track which ads drive the most traffic to your website. Your level of sophistication needs depend in part on the number of outreach channels you use and your budget. But the bottom line is the same. You want to record where your customers hear about you —and keep it associated with that customer in your tracking system. Over time, this aggregated data will help you see if different marketing sources are more likely to lead to sales, and the dollar amount associated with these sales.
In pretty much real time, or at least weekly, you should be using this information to answer important questions such as:
- What sources are working? What is making the phone ring? And what is not making your phone ring?!
- Why are people calling? Is there an emerging need or trend that could be fleshed out further in your messaging?
- Was it a referral? If so, who referred them? You want to know this so you can thank that person! (Incidentally, if referrals cease being one of your major lead sources, you need to ask why—referrals drive residential business and if you’re not getting them, you’ve got a problem you need to fix quickly.)
You have to monitor whether the channel, the message, and/or the offer are delivering the leads you need. And you need to get a sense of what you can do—should you ever be facing a slow week or month—to make the phone ring.
On a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis, you also need to be asking:
- What is my overall cost per lead? How does this match my assumptions and projections?
- What is my cost per lead from each source? Any bargains? Is there anything that is prohibitively expensive (not in terms of upfront costs, but in terms of the results it generates)?
- How many sales—and how much revenue—is generated by each lead source?
Using the data and the answers to the questions above, you'll need to measure yourself against something. Identify “key performance indicators” (KPIs). Then set benchmarks and targets that you'll use to compare to your actual performance. Weighing the cost and returns for each avenue, is it worth it?
This is NOT a one-time deal. What works today might not work tomorrow. A message that didn’t work last year, might be great this year. The yellow pages which once drove 50 percent of your business might now only generate 5 percent. People may have drifted away from that TV show you used to sponsor. A corollary to this is that you must constantly try new approaches so that as one message or medium starts dropping off, you’ve tested new areas to shift to. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t be afraid to try old things with a new angle or twist. Just don’t commit your full year’s budget to something you haven’t had the chance to evaluate.
There is an “art” to figuring out the creative approaches that you think will resonate. There is a “science” to measuring if the approaches actually do work. Having said that, though, remember that your data isn’t perfect. Someone may call you with a number from the yellow pages…but only after having seen your TV commercial several times and your trucks driving through the neighborhood. Use the quantitative information—but remember you will need to make some qualitative judgments, too. Remember to keep testing, adjusting, tracking, and measuring to evaluate whether you’re on track or not. And repeat.
Kudos to Josh Emond of Building Performance Contracting, LLC in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. There were lots of nearly-right-answers and a few wild guesses for last month’s stumper sent in by Jason Spratley of CSG, but Josh sent us the first answer that was right on the money. Readers will recall that the problem involved a vinyl-sided house with forced hot air heating and central cooling. A circular area of mildew, three feet in diameter, was growing on the outside of the house. Josh’s answer: “The installer drilled a hole in the AC duct. Cold air entered the wall cavity, reducing the temperature on the outside wall, creating dew point. High summer relative humidity outside causes condensing in a pattern that is the same as the (round) leakage path. It’s real scary when damp air gets inside the wall. This won't happen if it’s properly dense packed.”
Jason explains that “the home had shared duct work for its heating and cooling system. One of the ducts ran up the exterior wall adjacent to the wet spot. Removing siding revealed that a small hole had been punched in the duct by the pilot of the drill bit when the installer attempted to insulate that wall cavity. The hole had not been patched, and the exterior wall sheathing had not been repaired. The insulation had been installed in March, and when the cooling season began, cool dry air leaked out of the duct, causing condensation on the outside surface of the vinyl siding.”
Just to mix it up a little, this month in 'So you think you know Home Performance' we challenge you to play “What’s wrong with this picture?” A big thank you to Guy DuBois of Commonwealth Building Sciences in Richmond, Virgina for contributing the pictures. Don’t worry Stump the Chump fans, another stumper will be back next month!
What’s wrong with this picture?
Take a close look at the two pictures above. What in the world of home performance and good building science is wrong with these pictures, and why is it wrong? Think you know the answer? Send your answer and your proposed solution to email@example.com.