Perceptions of Relationship Marketing Activities by Service Personnel in the HVAC Industry

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This paper examines the attitudes of technicians and contractors of small HVAC firms in regard to how they view relationship marketing activities. A survey was utilized to gauge their perceptions regarding relational marketing activities deemed necessary to develop long-term relationships with residential customers. In this regard, a customer process model was used to delineate relational tasks required during pre-sale, sales, and post-sale interactions. Research findings showed that certain activities were evaluated as being more important than others. Furthermore, differences were found between how service technicians and contractors viewed the relative importance of relational tasks deemed important to their industry.

The implications of the results should be especially interesting to small HVAC contractors contemplating how to remain competitive in today's marketplace. These contractors and their service technicians are trained to be product experts. Yet, it has been suggested that they extend their focus to marketing tasks to improve firm profitability via the development of long-term, mutually-beneficial customer relationships. An analysis of the perceptions of relational activities from both technician and contractor viewpoints is a first step in grasping what soft skills need to be developed through coaching, motivating and training. This study suggests that both contractors and technicians both are in need of understanding the value of being customer focused, and not just product focused.

INTRODUCTION

The execution of a well developed marketing process is crucial to the success and continued existence of all firms operating in the current marketplace. Typically, an integral part of this process has involved the hiring and training of a sales staff responsible for finding and convincing customers to engage in mutually-beneficial exchanges. Yet, current advancements in marketing thought have shown a paradigm shift away from the facilitation of exchanges with increased focus on customer relationships. The American Marketing Association has even changed its definition of the term "marketing" to put greater emphasis on this notion. A recent issue of MarketingNews presented the new definition of marketing as- "an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating, and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders."

Placing emphasis on customer relationships is not new a myriad of companies that have employed related strategies over the years in order to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Toyota entered the upscale automobile market in the mid 1980s when it began marketing its Lexus automobiles in such a manner. The Lexus division of this firm combined highquality products with value-added services to set itself apart from other automakers. The exemplary execution of Lexus' customer relationship strategy has allowed the firm to build and retain a loyal customer base. Central to building a loyal following has been their focus on firm-customer interactions.

Liljander and Strandvik (1995) used the term episode to denote any buyer/seller interaction with a specific beginning and end. In the case of Lexus, each interaction that a customer had with any of their employees during pre-sale, sales, or post-sales encounters would be considered an episode which formed the foundation for an ongoing relationship. Lexus' sales representatives are deemed integral to providing pre-sale product, financing, and service information, in addition to forging buyer/seller relationships during the sale by performing tasks such as demonstrating how to properly use and care for car components. Sales representatives also contacted customers after the sale to ensure customers are satisfied and not experiencing any problems.

However, it is Lexus' service technician personnel that interact with customers the majority of time after a sale, and these post-sale interactions have been found to be crucial to the development of long-term customer relationships. …