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Leslie Heating & Cooling has been serving the residential, commercial and industrial arenas of Chicagoland for over 25 years. By “serving,” the company means taking their time with each customer interaction and giving the customer a holistic experience.
“Holistic service means that we will always find ways to take care of the whole home and the whole business of serving people,” said Brendan Slifka, general manager at Leslie.
Leslie is fortunate to be in the midst of an upswing, doubling their company nearly twice in the last four years. This is due to the company's strong ethics and progressive business management under Slifka, and rebranding campaign that has been said to be the “rebirth” of the company. Leslie’s new campaign gets back to the root of business – serving other people.
Leslie’s primary philosophy of business is not just addressing their customer’s mechanical problems, but also caring for the person as well.
“With our new branding, we reassessed ourselves and asked, ‘Who are we?’ ‘Why are we here?’ ‘How did we get here?’ And the answer always circled back to people and families,” Slifka said. “In the process of engagement with the customer we want to get to know them while at the same time solving their technical problems. If you experience service from Leslie Heating & Cooling, it’s going to be befriending and holistic in the sense that we’re not just coming in and making a repair and then getting out. We take our time.”
In an effort to communicate Leslie’s brand promise, the campaign’s goal is to remind people of when service was personalized.
“It brings us back to a time when people were referred to by names and not numbers. We’re coming back to the point of personalized service where you knew your milkman, you knew your postal worker. It fits well with our demographic,” Slifka continued. “It’s all about the experience our customers have with us. It’s about addressing the human spirit in addition to the technical issues they have.”
Prior to founding Leslie and after completing a different type of service in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine, Clint Leslie stumbled into heating and cooling after a technician came to his house and after ten minutes, fixed the problem and charged him $25, which was significant at the time. He then attended Coyne Institute in Chicago, which lead him to Trane Home Comfort.
Clint served in multiple positions at Trane Home Comfort, including field supervisor and production manager. This is also how he met Eileen, an irate customer. The rest is history. Clint and Eileen started their business initially servicing and installing HVAC for their friends and neighbors as well as landing their first account with Normandy Builders working with hydronics and high velocity duct systems. Servicing customers through referrals is how the company snowballed into the trusted status it has today.
Second generation member Slifka re-joined the Leslie team shortly after completing his undergraduate work in psychology and business and post graduate work in theology and leadership. Since then, Slifka has been applying his faith and leadership skills to the pursuit of excellence and entrepreneurism at Leslie.
Michael Costa, service and sales manager at Leslie, has a similar backstory of working with his father in the HVAC industry. Costa has 20 years of experience and his contribution to service is significant.
“In the beginning everything was about learning and perfecting. But now teaching someone to do the same things is very fulfilling to me,” Costa said.
Leslie gives team members the opportunity to become their best. This includes a lot of training and encouragement and many one-on-one meetings. This also means taking an interest in team members’ personal lives so that they are supported and have balanced work schedules.
“Our employees are our ‘inside customers.’ We try to eliminate as much seasonality that comes with heating and air conditioning as we can so that employees can have consistent incomes with top pay,” Slifka said.
Techs are trained to be “gentleman.” This includes everything from where technicians park their trucks to the shoe covers they wear inside a home. It’s how they walk up to a customer’s house, ask permission to enter the home and how they empathize with the customer’s situation.
“You have to understand that you’re going into someone’s home. This is not necessarily usual for them. You have to understand that they may have had to take off work and may be losing pay. They’re being inconvenienced in some way,” Costa said. “So, we have to make sure that we make the best of our time together. And, every job that we go on carries the premise that we are here to make sure that everything is working perfectly. And if it doesn’t, we provide options so that it does.”
Costa added that service should go beyond the broken part and that every technician has something to offer aside from heating and cooling expertise.
Making customers feel safe is an important factor of hiring. Leslie has zero tolerance for technicians who don’t uphold the same ethical standards in interactions with customers. The trial period for new hires is around 30 days before they can be fully incorporated in the field and working with customers.
“We have to identify if they have the same ethics, the right personality and technical aptitude,” Costa said. “We lean more on the side of who the person is. We will turn down expert technicians left and right if they don’t fit our team. We want the customers to feel safe, valued and not under pressure with technicians.”
Slifka added, “All the techs guard the culture. It’s a team decision to make sure we keep a positive, ethical environment.”
Leslie has found support from fellow professionals and industry groups including Nexstar, a network of contractors and coaches committed to providing the best customer service, profitability and employee satisfaction through education and sharing. Leslie considers Nexstar as their “brotherhood and sisterhood” of learning and communication.
Leslie has also formed a strong relationship with Daikin, which has benefited the company in numerous ways.
“Daikin’s business model provides a flat hierarchy. If a customer has an issue, we make one phone call, get right to the manufacturer and they’re quick to handle it. Their territory managers are fantastic,” Slifka said.
In being connected with the industry, it was only a matter of time before Leslie’s recent strides were acknowledged by others in the industry. In 2012 and 2014, Leslie received the prestigious President’s Award from Daikin/Goodman. Additionally, this year marks another year they received the Better Business Bureau A+ rating with no customer complaints.
The new face of Leslie is retro-themed to drive home their brand promise of “old-school” values and personalized service. To commemorate their campaign, Leslie has developed an alliance with Troops for Trades, a group that helps veterans obtain careers through recruitment, scholarships and training in the heating & cooling industry. In addition, this year they are providing all veterans with a 10 percent discount on all services.
“We find much value in employing veterans, not only was our company founded by one, but their measure of commitment and professionalism is honorable. They could allot for the increased need for talented individuals in the industry,” Slifka said.
In closing, Eileen and Clint Leslie reasserted Leslie’s trademark, “We’re bringing it back to the families. ‘Trust your family with ours.’”