The sales landscape for boilers has been considerably different for a number of years now with social media and the internet playing a larger role for manufacturers not only in terms of advertising and as a sales channel, but also in terms of customer advocacy.  This change is filtering into every industry; social media and the internet are now the first port of call for many when undertaking product research with the internet being a primary forum for word of mouth recommendations and product reviews.  This new age of more informed consumers means that they now have a very clear idea of what they want in terms of brand prior to seeking the advice of their installer.  Historically, installers have played a significant role in product recommendation, but with more informed customers is this changing?  Sime Product Manager, Phil Birchenough discusses the role of the installer in the purchase decision.

Many boiler manufacturers are waking up to the fact that communicating with the homeowner directly is now just as important as communicating with the installer, with brands investing in television advertising and increasing their social media presence.  It now seems the norm for manufacturers to provide consumer-focused guides offering tips on choosing the right boiler.  The internet is often the first port of call in the search for information, and before looking at boiler manufacturer websites, customers may look to consumer advice sites such as which.co.uk for an objective opinion on what brand to consider.  The installer may very well have a different perspective and brand preference; these brand loyalties are often reflected in their product recommendations to consumers. So how do installers help customers come to the correct decision about what boiler is right for them while remaining impartial to any pre-existing brand preference on either side?

Today’s empowered customer will no doubt have fully researched their decision and have a very firm idea of what they want before the installer even sets foot in the door.  But sometimes what the customer wants is not what they actually need and so it is the installer’s job to navigate the tricky terrain of managing their customer’s desires versus the reality of the situation.  Even in this age of customer empowerment, installer input is still absolutely essential in the decision-making process, and it is still what ultimately drives the purchase decision; after all, if a customer is savvy enough to research their boiler, they’re savvy enough to appreciate that their installer an experienced professional with a wealth of valuable knowledge.

Despite their research and subsequent information overload, the homeowner still lacks the technical know-how to correlate the specifics of what they want versus what they need. Regardless of brand preference, the evaluating factors such as the size of the building, the number of bathrooms, and how many people in the household are what dictate the overall decision of which kind of boiler is most suitable and only a qualified installer can make this assessment accurately.

In an ideal world, the decision on what brand and model to purchase would be based solely on these factors –  in relation to the customer’s budget of course, but the reality is quite different.  This is where the battle of brand preference begins, installer brand loyalty and knowledge versus customer preference based on strength of brand profile.  So, who wins?  Is it really a case of he who shouts loudest and offers the best deal wins?  Not necessarily.  Installer brand loyalty is rarely based on to who gives the best incentives and who is the most well-known.  Installers favour brands that they have used successfully in past installations and give preference to brands that are reliable, easy to install and offer great warranties.  Some might argue that ethically speaking an installer should remain impartial, putting his/her pre-existing brand preferences aside and help the customer reach an informed decision.  But it isn’t this black and white, if the installer brand preference is in the customers best interest, then of course they are going to recommend it!

Customers are more informed than ever before and this makes the conversation between installer and customer more two-way than it has ever been.  While customers now have more input into the purchase decision than they perhaps did before, it doesn’t diminish the installer’s role in educating the customer and helping them select the right product for their needs.  Being a heating engineer is part consultancy and part practical and managing customer expectations just part and parcel of an installer’s average day.

The challenge lies in breaking through customer brand affiliations based upon their own research.  However, we all know that the internet is not to be relied on 100 per cent; other people’s brand preferences can influence word of mouth recommendation in a social media setting, but this can be a fantastic opportunity for installers to demonstrate their training, experience and industry knowledge; by confidently discussing appliance and brand preferences with customers, on a professional level.  After all, this is what the customer is actually paying for – expertise.