Marianne Metzger is general products business manager for National Testing Laboratories, Ltd. She is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Water Quality Products. She can be reached at 800.458.3330, ext. 223, or by e-mail at [email protected].
The Water Quality Association (WQA) has developed a code of ethics that outlines standards of conduct for industry members in how they deal with customers, other dealers, members of related industries and the public at large. When you become a WQA member, you are required to abide by this code of ethics. The reputation of our industry relies on water treatment dealers to represent themselves honestly and professionally. In the past, we have seen some publicity given to dealers who are not operating with this high level of integrity, which makes consumers wary of all water treatment professionals.
There are a couple of ways to combat this perception, beginning with education. Water treatment professionals need to be constantly learning about the industry, as it is constantly changing in terms of removing new contaminants, following new regulations and utilizing new treatment technologies.
The WQA offers plenty of opportunities to learn about new developments in the industry. Water treatment professionals can take advantage of these opportunities by attending national or state conventions, reading new books, or most importantly, talking to other water treatment dealers, as they can impart knowledge not available in books or presentations.
It is important not only to understand the industry, but also to be able to communicate this understanding to customers. This education can be a deciding factor in many customers’ buying decisions.
There are a couple of excerpts from the WQA Code of Ethics worth discussing in detail. The following is #3 from Marketing Guidelines: “Accurately represent the source water supply, the performance of the water improvement process and the benefit of the products or services.” Interpreted, this means dealers should be aware of the general quality of the source water supply.
If the source water is city water, dealers should have a general idea of the water quality based on the Consumer Confidence Report supplied to customers from the public water supply. There are two points to keep in mind when looking at this report. The first is that the report is based on water leaving the facility; it does not take into account what may happen as it travels through the distribution system. The second point to remember is that the report is only a snapshot of the water quality when it was tested. These results tend to be from the previous year.
Many dealers will run some tests on site as part of their demonstration and to help determine the sizing of the equipment that may be needed. This leads to #11 from the WQA Code of Ethics, Marketing Guidelines: “Devices or techniques, used to demonstrate the presence of hardness, chlorine, color or other water characteristics of the water supply, shall not be used in sales presentations without, at the same time, accurately informing the consumer of their scope.”
It is extremely important that dealers thoroughly explain the test they are running and what the results mean. This is where some dealers may have a problem because they don’t fully understand the test or they misrepresent the testing to the homeowner in an alarmist manner. The first of these two can be prevented by providing adequate training to any representatives dealing with the consumer. As for the second, it can be more difficult to teach people to be ethical, but it should be insisted upon within each dealership.
If the water is from a private well, dealers may have some experience in the area as to the general water quality, but every water supply can be slightly different based on the depth of the well and the geologic formations in the area. Again, many dealers will conduct onsite testing to determine basic measurements such as pH, total dissolved solids and iron.
Keep in mind that while onsite testing is useful, it is not all encompassing; there can be many things in the water that cannot be measured accurately on site. This gives dealers the opportunity to educate their customers and build trust at the same time by sending the water to an independent laboratory for a complete analysis. This shows the potential client that the dealer is willing to send a sample to a laboratory that has no stake in the sale of their equipment, so the results are unbiased. In fact, there are dealers in areas where private wells are prevalent who will not offer recommendations on treatment until a complete analysis is done. This may also further benefit the dealer by showing results that may indicate a need for more extensive treatment equipment.
Stephen Wiman of Good Water Co., Santa Fe, N.M., said, “Although we do limited, onsite water testing for initial screening purposes, it is our company policy not to install water treatment equipment on a private well unless the customer has had a recent water test from an independent, EPA-approved testing laboratory.”
Because of the company’s extensive database of water tests, they can provide area-specific water information about what customers can expect to be present in their well water.
“Customers who call us usually know that we are problem-water specialists and not because we are known to be the least expensive company,” Wiman said. “Because they are committed to having quality water, we experience very little resistance to spending money for water testing. Our equipment is customized on the basis of the test results, rather than one size fits all, so the water test is essential. If customers want equipment installed without water testing, we ask them to sign a disclaimer form that limits our responsibility.”
While sales is an important aspect of any business, you do not want to sell your products irresponsibly, as it will possibly come back to you in unpleasant ways.
“Sometimes salespeople are so interested in making a sale that they fail to realize why they were called in the first place, and that was to provide a solution,” said Jeff Roseman, owner of Aqua Ion Plus+ Technologies.
You need to understand your clients’ concerns about their drinking water, so that you’re addressing their specific concerns. In addition, you should educate them about other water quality issues that could potentially be affecting their water. This needs to be done in a non-alarmist, educational way.
For example, you may have been contacted by homeowners who are concerned about iron staining, but they may not know they are in an area where arsenic could be present as well. In this situation, you need to explain that while some contaminants make themselves known in obvious ways, there are other potentially harmful contaminants that can be present without any physical indication. Offering to have the water tested to determine the presence of other contaminants will show the client that you are a dealer who offers responsible information about water treatment and all that it encompasses.
“Test the water for more parameters and provide a valued service for the customer, rather than using a free water test as a gimmick to get in the door,” Roseman said. “Onsite test kits and labs have made it easy and inexpensive to perform tests. The dog and pony show tests of using soap drops is old school, and it is time for dealers to bring their salespeople into the new millennium by using lab tests or onsite test kits.”