Economic indicators are pointing to a change — will you be ready?

You don’t have to be an economist to know that there are economic cycles. As the economy changes business picks up, declines and then picks up again. Over the last year or so, I have shared some techniques to maximize revenue in service and repair businesses. When the economy took a dip, it was not unusual to see businesses in many areas of the country suffer. But times are about to change.

Several economic indicators are pointing to a change in economic conditions — a positive change for the better. For example, interest rates are approaching 45-year lows; the stock market is recovering; real estate prices in most places are peaking. All these events tend to show a growing and improving economy. Companies can expand easier and faster when the money they need to buy new facilities and increase capacity doesn’t cost as much to borrow.

But, just because the economy improves does not mean that all service businesses will do better; we saw that not all businesses fared equally as poorly in the recent economic downturn. So you can’t automatically rejoice and sit back, waiting for the profits to roll in with the changing economy. You still need to outdistance competitors.

Only the businesses that have positioned themselves as the best in the business will be able to take full advantage of these changes.

There are proven techniques to keep a service business ahead of the pack in good times, just like there are techniques to keep a service business growing in bad times. The most important ingredient in a plan to take advantage of the upturn in the economy is timing. Now is the time to prepare your business to more effectively compete in the marketplace for the best service and repair customers.

Market Leaders

More than at previous stages of economic changes, this point in the economic cycle is the time to fully upgrade your company so it represents the top quality company in the market. What’s the secret? Should you completely change the way you do business?

For some companies that may be a good idea but, generally, the secret is not a secret at all. It’s a return to the basics — fundamental business practices that demonstrate to your customers they are the most important person you do business with.

When people perceive they have more spending money or are less worried that they may face a setback financially, they are willing to get service work completed that they may have deferred during rougher times. However, they want the best work for the money they are going to spend.

They tend to be more particular in their selection of a service company. They want (and are willing to pay for) the best. That’s what makes a market leader — a company that repeatedly demonstrates that they are willing to perform at the highest levels, every time.

How can the customer know whether your service technicians do the best work in the business until they hire you? Good question; often they can’t. Even more challenging is the fact that they can’t tell if the work was performed better than what competitors would have done, frequently, even after the job is completed.

So how can a company set themselves apart and get the message out to the customers that they are the market leader?

Customers typically use means they are familiar with to measure the quality of the work. It means that, at a minimum, the work must be professionally completed, but customers today want — and demand — excellent customer service.

Long before your technician tightens the last bolt on the job, your company has to prove to prospective customers that their confidence in selecting your company for their service and repair work will be justified. The image your company presents and maintains begins even before the first contact with a customer.

For example, you have to persuade the customer to call your company instead of other companies in the Yellow Pages. The way you accomplish that is to use state-of-the-art technology and artistic skills to have Yellow Page ads that are so compelling they “jump” off the page.

Since the telephone book is probably the first place a new customer may look for companies to fix problems with their home, you have to be there with the best visual “hook” available.

When I travel, I look in the local Yellow Pages. It always surprises me to see ads for service companies that haven’t changed in years. I see the same old clip art from the 1980s and ’90s. It’s disconcerting to see how much these companies spent on a large ad, when you know it won’t produce either the volume or kind of customers the business needs.

You would never skimp on a budget for a professional for medical, dental or any other serious service work you needed. And yet owners, managers and companies are willing to spend large sums for advertising space and then skimp on the actual ad design and budget for talented design people.

I have spoken and written about the need to use people with the best high-tech skills and artistic talents to design ads. These ads produce your bread-and-butter business. If they don’t work, your business suffers. This is one area where you can’t skimp on talent.

More Than Ads

It takes more than ads to convey a professional image today. Any contact potential customers have with your business or the people who work there influences those potential customers — positively or negatively.

Aside from signage, the general condition of your trucks can influence customers. Make sure they are clean and in good operating condition. No customer wants to see a rundown truck appear at their home. Paint them if you need to. Those trucks portray who your company is to prospective customers. Do yours give the message that the company is clean, neat and prosperous? Or rusty and in need of repair?

And as always, if your technicians are going to represent one of the finest companies in the business, they will have to be trained in the latest customer service procedures. For example, they need to know how to present a price to a customer so the customer accepts it.

Owners aren’t exempt from training either — as the 12,000 owners and technicians who have attended our Maio Success University have discovered. Owners need to know how to track the effectiveness of their advertising and their billable hour efficiency. They also need to be able to understand better methods to figure the correct selling prices.

Any possible contact from your company with a customer must shout, “professional company!” Naturally included in this group is call takers or customer service representatives (CSRs).

The instant a potential customer contacts your company, they must be completely convinced that the company they called is the best to do the job. CSRs must be trained to follow a predetermined script so calls are professionally handled; that includes never quoting prices on the telephone.

How the CSR handles the call can, by itself, determine whether the caller schedules service and repair work. Your technician may never get to demonstrate his expertise with a wrench if the CSR taking the call doesn’t handle it properly. Knowing what to say and how to keep the call moving are skills the CSR must have. Good training is the only way to ensure this part of your team is showing customers what a market leading company does.

While business is building is the time for improvements in the back office, too. Specific considerations would include software upgrades and new packages to streamline office procedures.

Companies are adding cost and profit computation packages, like our Thunder Pro software, to swiftly calculate what their prices should be to generate sufficient margins.

If you haven’t adopted policies and practices that position your company as a leader in the business, it may be too late when business picks up, as it is expected to do soon.