Welcome! Here are the website rules, as well as some tips for using this forum.
Need to contact us? Visit https://heatinghelp.com/contact-us/.
Click here to Find a Contractor in your area.

Penny pinching homeowners

Boiler Guy
Boiler Guy Member Posts: 585
The law says you can't shootem! Look at the post 'some steam pictures' They will give you a "warm fuzzy" hoping they're next!


  • Ken C.
    Ken C. Member Posts: 267
    Monday from hell

    Sometimes I cringe when homeowners attempt to service their own heating systems. Had two such calls today. First call, for no heat, arrived to find the jacket stripped off the boiler, the basement carpet soaking wet and disconnected wires everywhere. I told the customer I would have to charge him a diagnostic fee, which he didn't want to pay, so I just gave him an intentionally high estimate for a new boiler and made a quick exit.
    The second call was for a noisy circulator. I also noted the water pressure was zero, so I recommended a new feed valve. But the landlord, a single woman in her 40s, only authorized me to replace the circulator. She even insisted on purging the boiler herself to save money (I work for a flat rate company, so we charge by the procedure). She also wanted to clean rather than replace the feed valve (an older model with no fast fill). Fine, so I just replaced the circulator. What should have been an hour call turned into more than two hours, as she kept asking me how to clean the feed valve and how to purge the system. To add insult to injury, she decided to cancel her preferred customer membership AFTER I had already filled out all the paperwork and done an inspection of her property's plumbing and heating systems. Some people will do anything to save a buck.

    Ken C.
  • gary_6
    gary_6 Member Posts: 60
    Try to pre screen your customers before you get there

    I learned this the hard way with alot of wasted trips and time. One time a customer actually handed me the parts to a burner in a zip lock back and stated that he wanted a tune up done. We all go thru it but if you pay close enough attention penny pinchers give themselves away on the phone. That's why I like to ask the customer questions before I get there so I can set the ground rules. This way both of our time isn't wasted.
  • Ken C.
    Ken C. Member Posts: 267

    Pre-screening over the phone sounds like a great idea, but incoming calls are handled by a secretary/dispatcher whose technical knowledge is somewhat limited. What kinds of questions should she be asking to weed out these types of customers? She does tell them that we charge a $39 trip fee, even if they decide not to have us do the work, but I don't think this amount is high enough to weed out home-moaners who just want to pick your brains.
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,490

    Gettting Listed, Ken.
    Retired and loving it.
  • gary_6
    gary_6 Member Posts: 60
    weeding out dead beats

    I run an ad in a local paper for a tune up and vacuum special. When a customer calls for a tune up and vacuum I'll ask them if it's running or not. If it's not running I advise them there will be additional charges on top of the tune up and vacuum charges in order to correct the situation as some people think a tune up should solve every problem. If they call for a tune up and vacuum I'll ask them when was the last time it was done, if they tell me three years ago I'll tell them to double the advertised price as I know the unit hasn't been taken care of and this is going to make my job harder and I should be compensated for it. If a customer calls they have no heat that the burner is not running I'll ask them right out has anyone touched the heating unit trying to repair it .If they tell me yes I advise them that there is a $60.00 diagnostic fee payable cash only for me just to show up. This small fee covers my time and gas. That's what I charge just to show up 60 bucks and if you want the repair done by me there is additional charges. If you don't want the repair done by me I take my 60 bucks and leave. This point I make very clear to the customer that it's $60.00 for me just to show up. Some people want a free estimate on repairs and I tell them very nicely that is not the way I run my business they should look in the yellow pages for companies that work like that. Penny pinchers will call you for one thing and then say "by the way while you're here maybe you can take a look at xxxxx." and I tell them I can take a look at xxxxx for xxxx amount of money. Some will say oh forget about it. I think some penny pinchers try to feel you out and that's why you have to stick to your guns. Don't give the trade away.
  • heretic
    heretic Member Posts: 159

    Building a business relationship based upon trust cannot be attained through 'pre-emptive fees'. In fact, presuming any potential customer might be 'deadbeat' by charging a 'deadbeat fee' can get the relationship off to a bad start. A self-fulfilling prophesy? Mistrust begets mistrust?

    It is incumbent upon any service professional to 'sell' oneself as competent. Yes, this can be tiresome, particularly after years of experience, but realistically you are starting from zero credibility with every new customer. The best way to build trust is to explain the situation carefully, offer up options, and be sympathetic to their plight. Heating system repair costs are often unexpected and not in the 'operating budget'.

    Remember, these customers do not know you either, have little understanding of the technical matters involved, and probably have had bad experiences with any number of home services provided to them in the past.

    You are coming into their home (potentially under stressful circumstances,like no heat) and proposing services that they cannot put a cost/benefit analysis on due to their lack of perspective. This is where a little patient 'education' goes a long way. Salesmanship is about providing information which leads customers to draw their own conclusion.

    To put it another way: There is an important difference between saying "Mrs. Jones, you need widgets x,y, and Z" vs. explaining the situation in such a way that Mrs. Jones CONCLUDES herself that she needs widgets x,y, and Z.

    Once a trust relationship is established, odds are good that subsequent service calls will be easy. And who will they call for a major upgrade? Will their friends and neighbors call too?

    Just some things to think about.
  • gary_6
    gary_6 Member Posts: 60
    It's not a deadbeat fee but a diagnostic fee

    You're correct that once people know and trust you it makes life alot easier. However the trust begins once you understand the fact that I'm not going to come to your house, see what's wrong with your heating system and then you tell me "I'll think about the repair" and I'm going to walk away from your house with no money.
  • George_10
    George_10 Member Posts: 580
    I agree with your analysis

    of the dynamics of such a situation. However, I do believe there is a way to have your cake and eat it too. Salemanship of your services also provides the opportunity to explain why you have a service charge.
    Here in Missouri, I have yet to have a plumber or electrician come out without the understanding that there is a minimum charge for such a call.
    It is very easy to justify since vehicle expense and gas expenses are way up compared to just a while ago. Also, the value of your experience in getting it right the first time is worth a lot. I want the problem solved. If the pro I call in does that it is worth the cost. Value is perceived through results. Experienced and qualified help is hard to find. Any person, who does not understand this is just not in tune with the world as it now is. Education of such a person may be difficult, but if the job potential is worth the time spent, it is worth the trouble to try.
    Besides, people with lingering questions do not make decisions. But, I will have to admit that I have made my living selling and not doing the physical work. One last basic rule: "Treat the customer as if they were your mother. Kindness and respect will rule most situations.
  • Mark J Strawcutter
    Mark J Strawcutter Member Posts: 625
    red flags

    The following send up a red warning flag:

    Refering to customer as "home-moaners" (lots of that over on alt.hvac newsgroup)

    Service contracts renamed "memberships". Like the Camping World "President's Club" which is paying $20/yr to get 10% off purchases.

    Call screeners with "limited knowledge" (ie none?). Like the "service writers" at auto dealer repair shops who make you wonder if the problem is being communicated to the tech.

    $39.95 tune-ups. There is no way they can do a truck roll for that little.

  • john_27
    john_27 Member Posts: 195

    As a homeowner, I agree with everything said in this thread, except the wish that further problems befall the homeowner...that is not being true to the ethics of the trade....the rule at my place(2 lgb 15-s on the main house,one electric furnace, and four other boilers in each of our out buildings) is that everyone who comes either gets work or offered 60 dollars for the visit...that being said, guess how many times I've had people up here who try to get a "driveway premium", ie. try to sell me something I don't need because they hope to gouge me, quite frankly....and the guys who know the least are at the top of the list. That's the other side.
  • Like your mother

    Great line, George. We used to use that when I first started out.

    A variation was,"like they are your mother's best friend".


    PS Thanks for the literature, George.
  • Ken C.
    Ken C. Member Posts: 267

    Hi Dan,

    What do you mean by getting listed?
  • Steve Whitbeck
    Steve Whitbeck Member Posts: 669
    service call

    Isn't this where a service call comes into play.
    I don't go to someones house unless they understand that the charge for me to show up and diagnose their problem is going to cost $50-55.
    All repairs are flat rate.
    It works great and I have 0 problems or complaints.
    It might be my customer base though.
    I only give free estimates for replacement of equipment.
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,490

    Find a Professional, on this site. Thanks.
    Retired and loving it.
  • Wethead7
    Wethead7 Member Posts: 170
    Service Call

    We are not a flat rate firm. We will not show up at your home for less than $75.00 These rates are for Kansas(not Johnson county either). We will not send service staff out unless we call you and make sure we can get in. If we call and you are not there when the personel arrive$75.00. We do not take on new customers without credit card number before we go out. We will work for some customers that leave a key for us or the door open. Our staff will not attempt to sell you anything you do not need. We will always give you several options on how to spend your money, hopefully wisely. Yes you get people that want to cut cost anyway possible, but the office staff has become very good at weeding out the pennypitchers. Our staff will not leave any thing unsafe, if it means no heat or hotwater so. Waking-up cold is better than not waking-up. The same applies for A/C, electrical, or anything else we do. We will provide you with a price of not to exceed XXXX and most always complete under budget.

  • Wayco Wayne
    Wayco Wayne Member Posts: 615
    It's hard

    to read every situation correctly. The homeowner should be expecting a charge or he is not being realistic. I just finished woth a customer to whom I gave a price for re-piping a boiler system. Along the way I discovered things that had to be fixxed. Each time I went to them and got approval for these adds. At the end they were upset that my cost was higher than first projected. I really thought they understood, but obviously I fell short in my communication. Sometimes there are people that don't hear what you're saying, there are a few that are looking to take advantage of a situation too. My radar is pretty good but sometimes you have to suffer ther few, to have the pleasure of serving the many.

    To Learn More About This Contractor, Click Here to Visit Their Ad in "Find A Contractor"
  • Dr. Hardcrab
    Dr. Hardcrab Member Posts: 1
    Service Call Chanrge

    My company charges $89 just to show up. That may sound high, but we are the CHEAPEST in the region. $89 an hour. Yes, after the initial charge, we break it down to 1/2 hours, but even if we are there for 10 minutes, it's $89. If the homeowner knew what it costs for overhead, insurance, training, truck maintainance, etc. they would understand that it is not CHEAP to maintain a business. Sure there are times where we let some calls slide when it's something simple (read: stupidity on the homeowners part), but when we get woken up at 2 a.m., have to get dressed, warm the truck up and drive 35 miles just to turn on an emergency switch that someone 'accidentally' turned off, you are going to get charged the going rate. And just because it was something simple and it was something "you've could have done", you DIDN'T. That's why you called and that is why we came out AND that is why we get paid.....
  • Ken C.
    Ken C. Member Posts: 267


    I don't own a company, I'm an employee.
This discussion has been closed.