I do a lot of thinking. I sit at my desk and think, and click around on my computer. I am driven by my mission: worldwide business literacy. I believe people are better off with basic business understanding, so they are free to create successful, profitable businesses. Everything I do is intended to help people start, fix and grow extraordinary businesses.

I love what I do! I talk on the phone a lot, too. Sometimes all day long. I’ve learned from some super-smart people. (Once I even had a good idea of my own.)

It’s safe and warm in the office. The weather is consistently comfortable. I can kick back in my sweats, with my feet on my desk, and conjure up some incredibly important and inspiring business building ideas.

However, there is a very real possibility that these ideas are complete crap.

So, I like to get up and out of the office and into the truck every once in a while. Do the systems we put together in the “ivory tower” help or hinder the service techs in the field? Try riding along to find out.

Once upon a time, I wrote an article about the “ride-along.” My focus in that article was how to use the ride-along to help your service techs develop communication, selling and technical skills. In this month’s column, let’s explore the ride-along as an opportunity to find out if what we ask the techs to do is complete crap - or actually helpful - and how to use the windshield time and on-the-job togetherness to connect as human beings.

Get In The Truck

I’ve spent countless hours putting together price books, presentation manuals, testimonial before-and-after pictures, coupons, referral programs, refrigerator magnets, water heater stickers - whew! These are great tools, and I recommend using them. At least some of them.

A few years ago, I rode along with a tech who was instructed - in pages of procedural detail - to make use of all of the above items as well as a 15-minute video extolling the virtues of a drain-cleaning product, toilet leak test kits and toilet paper with the company logo printed on every sheet. He was supposed to replace every roll in the house with that toilet paper.

If this service tech were to be in 100 percent compliance with the required customer-service steps, he would still be at that job. You have to pick and choose.

Consider streamlining the process. When you ride along with a really good tech, you discover that it isn’t the razzle-dazzle that sells. It’s so often the quiet, technically competent tech who asks good questions and listens who rules the sales charts.

Work with your techs and narrow down their required presentation to a few solid steps. You can fill their selling “tool bags” with useful, but optional, tools. Leave them free and clear to serve customers. And, yes, you can work together to think of a few ways to leverage the call into a few add-on sales and a referral. Just pick a few.

Finding Ways To Communicate

I went on a drain-cleaning call with a journeyman plumber named Fred. He did a very professional job preparing the jobsite, and he was using a sewer camera to investigate the drain lines. The customer and I were looking over his shoulder at the screen, checking out the insides of the pipe. Not super-exciting footage.

The customer wandered off, and then the camera hit a break in the pipe, chock full of tree roots. There was the problem! Fred continued on with the camera and investigated the rest of the line. When the customer returned, Fred was manipulating the camera, trying to find the broken area of the pipe again. To keep the customer’s attention while he searched, he started to describe the compromised area of the pipe.

“I found a broken area of the pipe. Tree roots will seek the moisture in the drain lines and infiltrate through the cracks in the pipe. These roots are nasty. They are kinky, curly and full of little hooks that can catch ‘stuff’ and clog your drains. They look like … (he was still searching with the camera; no roots in site at the moment) … they look like Ellen’s hair.”

Then, Fred pointed at my head. And the customer studied my hair with an, “Oh, I get it, and that looks BAD,” look on his face. Fred ended up selling about $1,500 worth of good work and didn’t realize that he might have insulted me until I pointed out his “good demo” when we were back in the truck. It makes for a good story.

Here are a few more hair-curling stories.

  • A Michigan plumber told me he went on a call and noticed a freezer in the basement - wrapped with a heavy chain and padlocked. “Why would the freezer need a lock?” he wondered. “Is his wife on a diet?” He forgot about it until he saw the freezer being carted out of the basement - on the 10 p.m. news. Apparently his wife was in the freezer.

  • One tech reported working with a customer who told him, “I’ll be right back.” She reappeared with a hand puppet and communicated only with the puppet for the rest of the service call.

  • Another tech told me about a job where the customer asked if he might play the guitar while the tech worked. Why not? The customer returned and stood less than a foot away from the tech. For over an hour, he sang songs of salvation, perhaps intended to save the tech?

    And these are just some of the tales. How about the goofy collectors? Model train set-ups that cover every inch of the house. The John Deere collection gone wild. Medieval weapon collections are creepy, especially the torture instruments. The most disturbing collection? Fully clothed and posed mannequins.

    Too many techs told me stories of customers who led them down into the basement - and revealed a gun stashed in a pocket or a waistband.

    There are scary people and scary monsters, too! It was late and dark, and the construction crew was trying to wrap up a job. One installer came running, screaming out of the crawl space. “There’s a bear in there!” Turns out it was a St. Bernard, which sure would look like a bear in a confined space.

    Apparently, lots of techs have been startled by the unexpected spider, rat, snake or possum. The critters who are alive smell better, but the dead ones don’t bite.

    And apparently it isn’t just in XXX movies where the service tech is propositioned by the homeowner. (For the sake of decency - and to save editors Kelly and Katie the trouble - I have removed the details from this article.) I know of a lonely housewife who always asked for the owner of the company and happened to answer the door in a loosely tied bathrobe, smelling of booze.

    When the plumber’s wife noticed the “pattern,” she fired the customer, with her husband’s encouragement. Unfortunately, in the small town in which they operated, the jilted customer started a smear campaign against the plumber and his wife that rippled into three states, and allegedly included a phone call to the local radio talk show.

    And, of course, there is the “urban rumor” about the plumber who accidentally killed the Chihuahua and carried it out of the basement in the bottom of his toolbox.

    Can you confirm or deny it? Would you share a “Truck Tale” of your own? E-mail me.

  • On The Front Lines

    I love going out in the truck. It’s always fun and I come back with a story. As we are approaching the front door, I say a little prayer: “May the person on the other side of the door be friendly and mostly sane.”

    Each day, your service techs brave the unknown and knock on strangers’ doors. And, they deliver in rain, sleet and snow.

    I recently went on a jetting call in Michigan in 20-below-zero weather. Then the wind picked up.

    I’ve peeked into attic spaces where techs had been working - all day - in a 140-degree space barely bigger than the a/c they were installing.

    Did I mention the human waste, stagnant water, moldy spaces and other dangers?

    Get out of that warm and comfy office. Yeah, yeah, I get it that you used to run calls and walk five miles uphill both ways to school. Like childbirth, you forget the pain. Tag along and create some Truck Tales together. Remember to say thank-you.