By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
Craig Denton worked for Anton’s Air Conditioning & Heating for eight years before leaving to work as a journeyman sheet metal worker. When he came back seven years later, it was because owner Gus Anton wanted him to buy the business.
Anton, a Greek immigrant, started the business in 1980 and eventually built a small building to house the company behind his home in Affton. Denton bought the property six years ago. He built a much bigger building that includes space for training, a break room, ample office space and something especially valued by the office staff: indoor plumbing.
When Denton took over, the business had one truck and one technician besides Anton, who remained with the company for seven years after Denton bought it. The business was doing about $400,000 in sales a year when Denton took over. Denton says improvements in customer service helped him build the company to $2.5 million in sales last year. His staff has grown to four service technicians, five people in the office, three installation crews, a field manager and a comfort adviser, his title for salesman.
Denton said the road to growth has included some bumps. He had nearly tripled the business when it seemed to hit a plateau in about 2008. That’s when he decided to join Nexstar Network, an organization that helps companies in the heating and cooling, plumbing and electrical trades improve customer service and employee engagement.
Through Nexstar, Denton set up a six-step system for technicians to use when they make a service call. The steps are: 1) prepare, 2) greet the customer, 3) explore the situation, 4) present options, 5) execute the work and finally, 6) pricing and wrap-up. Step four is especially important because it gives the customer the chance to decide on an immediate fix or other options based on the technician’s assessment of the age and condition of the equipment.
Denton reviews the steps and the company’s code of ethics in twice-weekly training sessions. Mondays are reserved for technical training, often with vendors. On Tuesdays, Denton does customer service training, which includes going over customer reviews of each technician. Anton’s also has safety meetings to review safety issues.
In addition, Service Manager Jackie Coplin spends a half hour a week with each technician, discussing his production, reinforcing the service steps and chatting about the job.
Before each appointment, the company emails the customer a picture of the technician who will come to their home and a short biography, including reviews of the technician’s performance. Denton said he believes the emails increase customers’ trust in the technician.
At the end of a call, technicians give customers a card that encourages them to submit a customer review through ReviewBuzz, a company that helps companies manage reviews. If the technician forgets to do that, the customer gets an email asking for a review and a response to a survey.
Technicians earn points for each review they receive. The points can be exchanged for gift cards at popular retailers. Denton said some employees save their points for holiday shopping.
“The whole principle is: We provide great service with the highest of ethics, we vow to be profitable, take care of customers, employees and the company, in that order,” Denton said. “We’re not the cheapest, and we’re not the most expensive. We’re right in the middle but we provide some of the best service.”
In 2008, Denton began offering home performance testing through the Comfort Institute. He has equipment that uses negative pressure to test a home and its ductwork for leakage, which can sap efficiency. He also offers a duct-sealing service with a machine that can apply sealant to ductwork from the inside.
Anton’s main charity partner is the Angel Band Project, a local organization that uses music to break the silence about rape and sexual abuse and provide healing to survivors. Anton’s has promised to make a donation for each service call between April 1 and September 1 this year.
Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. To register for this year’s TORCH Awards luncheon on Nov. 13, go to http://www.bbb.org/stlouis/events.