The hidden assistants

The hidden assistants

Modern heating controls have evolved over time to include a whole host of hidden functionalities that not only help to save more money for the customer, but make it easy for them to program their heating to suit their lifestyles.  However, teaching the homeowner how to use them properly in order to deliver these savings is another matter.
Using old fashioned heating controls was simple – set the times you wanted heating and/or hot water to go on and off, turn the dial to the desired temperature set point and the user was done.  Today’s heating controls however, are sophisticated pieces of electronic equipment which are still easy to use, but require a little knowledge and know-how which is where the challenge lies. Has the user also moved with the times?  Do they fully understand the equipment they have had installed?  And have they fully thought through how best to make it work for them?
To get answers to these dilemmas, Honeywell carried out some customer focus sessions, where homeowners were asked firstly if they knew about all the functions that they had at their disposal, and secondly if they had thought about how they could use these beneficial features to help them maintain the right comfort levels and suit their lifestyles.
The answer, in most cases, was a resounding no.  For example, when introduced to simple features such as the ‘Eco button’ on a thermostat (which lowers the set point to a set value for a set period), the attendees view it as a really good new idea, despite the fact that the function was present in many of the thermostats they already owned.
Holiday resorting
Once explained, the ability for programmable thermostats to link time and temperature together was understood. However, when they were asked to then suggest ideas on how this could best be used, the group resorted to creating on/off plans with a constant temperature. Similarly, ‘Holiday’ buttons, which can ensure frost protection and create a warm house upon a customer’s return home, were considered to be a great idea, yet most of the homeowners present admitted that they simply turned the boiler off.
The optimisation function – ensuring that the set point was achieved at the start of the time period, not at some point after the first firing of the boiler – was also thought a brilliant function.  However, in similar focus groups held with installers, most of the installers revealed they usually didn’t activate this function because when they did the customer kept ringing them to say the heating was coming on before it should, showing a clear lack of understanding on how their heating system should work for them.
Controlling bills
Yet one of the most surprising findings from the consumer session was that, when asked how to reduce their energy usage using controls, the group clearly struggled with the concept that the controls could actually work for them to keep the bills lower and the temperature at the right level.
It is clear that there is a significant lack of knowledge from the homeowners around how heating controls should and could work efficiently – but what does this mean for installers? Again, our research has shown that there is a belief amongst a number of installers that ‘complicated products meant unhappy customers, more call backs, and a lot of stress and unwanted hassle.’
So, is the challenge one of getting the communications right? Firstly, as manufacturers we have a big part to play in making sure the instructions are clear and easy to understand. We also need to ensure that they are available in a number of different formats and accessible in a number of different ways – both on paper and electronically.  But there is also a duty of care here with the installer in this process.
Appreciated service
As the most visible face of the industry, installers must be able to clearly demonstrate the full value of the products being offered to ensure that work being carried out is seen as valued, the service being offered is better appreciated, and the likelihood of repeat business increased.
Customers who search for the best price but are not aware of the energy-saving benefits inside modern timeswitches, programmers and thermostats, will not be basing their purchasing decision on the full set of facts. As an installer, by talking about how controls can help to keep costs down – at the point when first specifying a job and discussing the cost and requirements – you set the right tone to show your customer that you are adding value for them.
A customer’s boiler will only be as good as the heating controls that control it. Heating systems can be complex – a complicated set-up of underfloor heating and stored hot water across different areas of the house can become the major focus for the customer. If an installer doesn’t talk them through the need for a high level of control for this interlinked heating system, they could end up making the decision based on incomplete information. Therefore, it’s worth taking the time to consider the messages you can use during the sales journey so that you can include the need for the right controls in the conversation.
Added value
All today’s electronic digital controls have some form of added functionality, the key is to explain these in a way that shows you can add that all important value for your customer.  How you deliver the message is down to your own style and the customer in front of you at the time, but if you have a few ideas and explanations ready to be used, you could be making the difference between you and the next installer securing the sale.