What a $110 lightbulb can teach about sales and customer satisfaction

A few years ago, I bought a brand new furnace/air conditioning system from One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning. I’ve been very happy with the furnace and air conditioning system itself, although the company has struggled with delivering good service. If it wasn’t a requirement of the warranty, I would have dropped them years ago.

As part of the annual maintenance, a technician came out earlier this year to inspect the furnace and (because it was too cold at the time) another technician came out to inspect the air conditioner this week. During his inspection, the air conditioning tech observed that the pilot light was out. “I can order another one for you. It will cost $110.”

Yes, $110. For a lightbulb.

I haven’t decided if I want to order the lightbulb yet. I get that things cost money and there are many industries where prices are more than the consumer wants to pay. But I think I’m galled by the high price from this company in particular, since I have had more than my fair share of frustrations from them.

But it was also a lesson in sales skills… or lack thereof. The technician was very nice and did their job quickly and professionally. But when it came to presenting me with the lightbulb, their sales skills fell far short. As a result, I am even more annoyed by this company than I was before.

When the technician want to hear. “Your lightbulb is out” and “It will cost $110 to replace“. Although these are both factual statements, they fail to point out why this is important. So instead of forcing me to consider the function of my furnace or the safety of my family (or whatever the purpose of the lightbulb is), all that is left out hanging in the air between the technician and I is the idea of a $110 lightbulb. I think about the other lightbulbs in my house — which might cost between a few cents and a couple of bucks, depending on the type of bulb — and all of them do a fine job. This furnace one is smaller and is some kind of indicator bulb… but I don’t even know what it indicates. And so I’m left with what seems to be an overpriced lightbulb of unclear purpose, and that just compounds the negative feelings I already have for the company.

How should the technician have handled the situation? This is where some sales skills come into play. It’s not that complicated, and the technician shouldn’t have to feel like they are forcing me to buy anything.

  1. The very first thing they should have done is highlight the importance of the indicator. (I’m not sure what this lightbulb indicates so I’m just making up the following example…) “Aaron, part of your furnace has an indicator mechanism that watches for poisonous carbon monoxide and alerts you to when those levels become too dangerous”.
  2. The second thing they should have done is highlight the consequences: “When carbon monoxide levels are too high, your family is in danger.”
  3. Then they can talk about the lightbulb: “The lightbulb lets us know that this carbon monoxide detector is working. When the light isn’t on, we’re not sure if it’s working or not.”
  4. And THEN they should talk about price, but they can soften the blow by forcing me to consider the cost of not fixing the light. And they should also soften the blog by making it seem like a pretty special lightbulb: “We have special long-life indicator lightbulbs that are installed in these, and your lightbulb has lasted 4 years — far longer than most household lightbulbs. But now it’s burnt out and it’s pretty important that you are aware that this unit is functioning. So I recommend that we order in a special bulb. The cost is $110, which some of our customers find a little steep but there isn’t a better bulb out there to do the important work that this bulb does.”

The tech doesn’t have to go into a hard sell on this. But with a $110 lightbulb, to a customer who is already on the edge about liking the company, they could do a better job of selling me on the bulb.

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