We see successful business models and admire their consistency and their profitability. We even know why they are so consistently successful. In fact, we can predict the viability of a new location before it opens its doors. Whether it is a hamburger franchise or any other business that has enjoyed repeated success, we recognize that it is the business model that makes the success. People can come and go, and, if the model is followed, the business will continue to be a proven success.

Sometimes I wonder, after seeing these types of businesses enjoy dramatic nationwide and worldwide success (you can buy a Big Mac(r) in Moscow), why aren't more service and repair business owners getting the message? And it is a simple message: consistency produces success.

More than isolated appearances of excellence, or unique value or quality, it is that one factor that permits businesses to not only survive, but to grow and stay ahead of the competition. If there is one lesson that we can learn from franchises and other successful business models, it is certainly the fact that standardization produces results. That means more customers, more jobs and, of course, more profits.

The Business Lifeline

The first contact customers have with your business is through the telephone. When your customer service representative, answers your telephone, contact with the customer is begun.

That first few minutes, or even seconds, provide the customer with his or her impression of your business. He or she formulates an opinion on whether you are going to be able to: 1) meet his or her service and repair needs; 2) perform the needed services in a timely way; and 3) charge a reasonable fee for fixing the problem. If those questions are not answered to the customer's satisfaction, your business will probably lose the sale.

Since the telephone serves as your lifeline to customers, it becomes critically important to make certain that the initial contact the customer has with your business is a pleasant and rewarding one.

Using A Script

The way to significantly increase the quality and the consistency of the phone-answering operation in your company - bringing standardization to the process - is to use a telephone script. We know standardization works, and yet there are still companies in the service and repair business letting anyone nearby answer the telephone.

The responses customers receive might be a technician talking technical jargon to them, or an untrained receptionist who may tell each caller something different, or a manager who appears busy and wants them to hold for someone else. All of these responses cost the business money: lost jobs, lost customers, lost profits. Let's look at some of the common problems and then see how following a written script avoids those situations.

  • Advice - People, typically, like to give other people advice to help them solve their problems. When a receptionist, not trained in handling customer calls, begins to chat with the caller, several events occur. First, time is wasted so other calls are not handled properly or answered in a timely way. Next, the person answering your phone begins sharing their personal opinion on what the caller should do.

    From her "experience," the receptionist may tell the caller to go to the local home warehouse store and get the parts (which I have heard call takers suggest many times). In an effort to look good to the caller, they may offer any number of ideas - none of which may be the real solution to the problem.

    The biggest danger your business faces from responses to customer questions from an untrained call taker is unpredictability. You never know where the conversation with the customer will lead.

  • Technical Expertise - When call takers begin giving suggestions on how to handle the caller's problem, your business can be in trouble. The call taker can't possibly know what the real problem is. Worse, they are getting a description from someone else who doesn't know what the problem is. So we have the untrained making a decision on information gained from the unknowledgeable. Not a good result.

    Offering suggestions or attempting to diagnose the problem over the telephone leads to the risk of legal liability for a misdiagnosis and damage to the customer's home or the people in it. Or - at a minimum - a disappointed customer when the technician arrives and really diagnoses the problem at a possibly higher expense. It will appear your company is trying to cheat them. Either way, you can't win; an unhappy customer is the outcome.

  • Biggest Danger - I have said it a hundred times: Never give a price quotation on the telephone!

    The damage from telephone quotations is much more than any possible advantage that could be gained from attempting to convince the customer to schedule the job over the telephone.

    Scripts avoid the pressure CSRs feel to give telephone quotations. And they assist in convincing the customer to schedule the service call. The script can guide the caller through the process and comfort them when the CSR tells them that a nominal service fee will be applied to the job after the problem is diagnosed by a trained professional.

    Testing Your Company

    The following comments are statements made by CSRs we tested. They are just a sample, but they are scary.
    • "I would suggest going to the local home warehouse and pick up the parts; you can probably install them yourself."

    • "We don't really specialize in that kind of work. Better call XYZ Company (competition)."

    • "That sounds like a tough problem to me. It's probably going to be expensive."

    • "You had better call back later and talk to someone who knows about those sort of problems."

    • "We are pretty busy. I don't know if we can come out to your home today, maybe tomorrow, though."

    • "There's no reason why we can't fix that for under $100."
    If you are not yet convinced that a script will improve your call taking, then I suggest you inform your CSRs that you will be observing and training them in effective call taking techniques. Have you noticed how many companies are telling callers that the conversation may be recorded for training purposes? No reason you can't do that, too.

    Better yet, have an unrecognized voice call and ask simple service-related questions.

    To be fair, it is unrealistic to expect untrained CSRs to properly and consistently respond to customers. No more fair than expecting technicians to complete service and repair jobs without having been trained. People need the training to produce the results you need. A script for CSRs will help solve the problem, but they have to be trained in its use.

    Do you know that I have mailed hundreds of scripts to businesses, and then later discovered that the companies, in some cases, just handed them to the call takers and let them figure out what should be done with them? Effective CSRs need to see and understand the benefits of a script before they begin using it.

    One of the reasons we don't always get the performance we want from our people is that we don't monitor their performance and coach them with ways to improve. So once the CSRs have been trained, be sure to monitor their performance and offer suggestions on improvement.

    Standardizing call responses in your business will work as effectively as standardizing any other aspect of the business, just as flat rate pricing did.

    (Note: If you want a copy of our script at no charge, call me.)

    Maio At ISH North America
    Maurice Maio is a scheduled speaker at this year's ISH North America trade show held Oct. 14-16 in Boston. He will present “How To Think & Grow Service” Thursday, Oct. 14 at 9 a.m. and repeat the session Friday, Oct. 15 at 8 a.m. To register for the show, visit www.ish-na.com.