What kind of 'crops' are you sowing in your business?

Farmer Bob was restless. He hadn't had a good night's sleep in weeks because he was worried about his freshly planted crops. Oh, there had been just enough rain and he knew that the bottom land he planted was rich and fertile. He was worried about something else entirely. Farmer Bob was worried that he'd planted the wrong seed and wouldn't know for sure until the crop started growing. He needed sorghum, but he was worried that he'd planted alfalfa by accident.

Likely story? Possibly. Though it's not likely that an experienced farmer would confuse the two seeds, but one thing is for certain: if he planted alfalfa, then alfalfa would soon be popping up.

What does Farmer Bob's plight have to do with the PHC industry? For starters, the axiom “You reap what you sow” applies to us just as it does in the agriculture industry. The challenge for us is that our “seed bags” aren't labeled as succinctly as “alfalfa” or “sorghum.” Sometimes, we won't know what we sowed until we start seeing the results, so let's explore some “crops” to see if we can identify the seed we used.

What is our “field,” anyway?

If the shingle over our door says “Plumbing Service,” what would a customer reasonably expect us to provide for him? It's highly probable that he would want some plumbing work done, right? In order for this customer to feel good about his decision to call us, what needs to happen? Would it be fair to say that his plumbing issues need to be resolved?

In reality, the answer is not that cut and dry. It's not plumbing that our customers care about. They want niceties such as a toilet that flushes, a hot shower and a place to brush their teeth. Obviously, our customers understand that we plumbers exist to provide them with these luxuries, but if they could have all these wonderful conveniences without our help, they'd be even happier.

If we're in the heating and air conditioning business, the example is even clearer. Our customers want to be cozy and comfortable in their homes. Except for a few individuals with issues of dominance and control, our customers don't even want to tinker with a thermostat. If you mention “80 percent AFUE,” they'll say “gesundheit” - except maybe for the guy that's hovering over the thermostat. Energy efficiency is important, but what our customer really wants is to be comfortable for free. We can't deliver that ultimate goal, so our mission, our “field” so to speak, is to deliver comfort as painlessly as possible.

Keeping our field in mind, let's consider the types of seed we may be planting. For example, if you expect your customers to care as much about plumbing or mechanical codes as you do, you're setting yourself up for a bumper crop of conflict. Obviously, we must make sure our work is installed properly and up to code, but if I'm your customer, the last thing I want to hear is you telling me all the things you're going to have to do just to get my AC running again. I called because I want cold air blowing, not because I wanted a citation.

Plant some confidence by showing me how you're looking out for my best interest. Plant some seeds of trust by showing me how the code is there to protect me. Show me how a proper installation can save me money, make me more comfortable or prevent future problems. Just don't tell me I have to do something because the code says so.

Huckster Harvest

What if you've been harvesting a crop of customer price complaints? Let's check the label on your seed bag. The label may mention something like “Huckster.”

In the PHC service industries, we have a tug of war between sales and production. In most service shops, the people making the sale usually produce the service, so there's an internal tug of war between the communicator gene and the doer gene.

The owner or manager of the company affects the balance of this tug of war by establishing priorities and policies. If your compensation and bonus program is based upon total sales dollars, you're at risk of sowing huckster seeds. If your techs perceive that you care more about sales-closing tactics than about solving problems, you're at risk of raising a crop of hucksters. When you look the other way when your top sales tech flouts company rules and procedures, then you are definitely sowing huckster seed.

By your actions, you are telling your personnel that all you really care about is how much money you can extract from your customer. If that's the goal, you'll most likely achieve it but at the cost of your reputation.

On the other hand, if you sow a technical culture dominated by parts, codes and mechanics, you'll solve problems for your customers but at the expense of excellent customer service. Company sales and profits will suffer as well. Solving a problem isn't all there is to customer service. A good service tech will explain options and upgrades so that the customer has a choice.

The dichotomy is that our entire economy relies upon salespeople. Hardly a moment passes when we're not selling, or being sold, a product, service or idea. Selling, therefore, is a necessity of prosperity and is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Customer service also requires that we fix things well.

Can there be a balance between the two? How will you know if you're planting “good seed” in the ground? One measure of a good crop is to look at your repeat and referral rate. If you're achieving good sales numbers and achieving an acceptable repeat/referral rate, then you're raising a good crop.


Next month, we'll discuss seeds you sow within your company. You may find some weeds popping up. The good news is that, once the weeds pop up, you can identify them and do something about them. In the meantime, I have a homework assignment for you: Examine your best “harvests” and try to figure out what sort of seed was planted to yield the bounty.

At the same time, examine your worst “weeds” to see if you can determine the type of seed they germinated from. Not all answers are clear cut, but the exercise itself will help you develop the policies and procedures necessary to improve your harvest.

'Hot Topic' Online Discussion
Join our next “Hot Topic” online discussion: “Buy American?” To participate or simply listen in, send a blank e-mail to hot@serviceroundtable.com. You'll see firsthand how e-mail discussions work, and at the same time, have an opportunity to influence your industry. Note: The discussion will begin on June 20 and will take place over the following two weeks, so sign up as soon as possible.