Proper communication with customers is critical today.

On the business agenda today…how can we make things harder than they already are? How about no more tech training? That would do it. They would drag jobs out longer, make more mistakes, callbacks would increase and customers would soon exit. During this time, profit per job would dwindle due to runaway excesses. Cutting your prices to get more jobs would only speed up bankruptcy, which could actually be a blessing.

Crazy, right? Well, not really since it happens every day with thousands of plumbers who “endure” business, but never quite get to that next level. These same folks say they can’t “afford” training, yet they pay for it dearly as noted in the single paragraph above, to varying degrees.

So, in truth, they’repaying morefor lack of training than for providing training.

The opposite also would hold true. Proper technical training speeds jobs, increases efficiency and aids your profit picture accordingly. Customer-service training gives you a professional edge and builds relationships. Training in sales proficiency drives higher ticket sales. Marketing training means more leads in less time with higher image and consistency.

Yet training budgets, like marketing budgets, can get slashed when economic times are tough. We’ve seen that under-trained staff will cost you and under-marketing chokes off the lead flow. When you cut both, you have a downward spiral.

The evolving role of techs

You know your technicians are the sales front for growing your business. There was a time when any growling technician with a tool belt who showed up “whenever,” had some idea where the plumbing problem was located and handed the customer an illegible invoice was enough. Not anymore.

The days of social media and the instant ability to publicly humiliate unprofessionalism or mistreatment has changed the rules. Customers now have the checkbook, the chopping block and a little tool called the Internet to insist on compliance to their expectations.

Yet techs well-versed in customer service and sales skills can elevate their jobsandget better marks from customers. “Oh wait!” you reel back. “No technician of mine is ever going to stoop to being a pushy salesperson!” And that’s why the industry lags in profitability. When you make selling a service, you do the customer and yourself a favor.

A little over a year ago, our plumber wanted to “save” us money by fixing a leaking galvanized line that ran under a brick patio. Two months later, another leak, another visit, another attempt to “save” us money by fixing it.

Finally, on trip three with another leak, we were pulling up the brick pavers to replace the entire line, which was a mess. To my utter dismay, he says, “Yeah, I pretty much knew that this thing would look like this. Once they start crumbling, that’s pretty much it.”

Mouth agape, I retorted, “You know, if you’d have told me that on the first trip, I’d have gotten it done then, spent less overall and not had the ongoing problem.” He looked back at me as surprised as I was looking at him, for totally different reasons. See, I - and countless others - want to be sold if it fixes the problem.

Yet for this and other equally backwards thinking, I no longer call that company for plumbing service. Recently, I heard it’s almost nobody’s plumber anymore, having let go of half the staff. The harsh truth is they are perfectly competent plumbers, but far less competently trained to stay in the plumbing business. Big difference.

We trust you to do the right thing, so sell us the right thing.

Any salespeople out there?

Often a “people person” can learn technical skills. But not all technically gifted people are keen to develop communication skills. And that, dear readers, will hurt your business.

If I were making the choice, I’d choose the trainable people person, rather than the unwilling but skilled technician.

With increased competition, consumer demand and changing social roles, plumbing companies must actively seek ways to enhance their image and sales skills. In my estimation, they can be the same thing. What we’re talking about is the customers’ own best interests. Service equals sales. That makes techsnaturalsat selling.

“Service” is more than “fixing.” It’s about identifying needs, presenting solutions and communicating the same.

How product knowledge boosts sales

When a technician internalizes and understands plumbing products and services, in addition to how they benefit homeowners, he already has several qualities that will serve him well.

  • Communication foundation. Knowing the product allows easier communication of the practical benefits and helps convey enthusiasm. The customer senses that confidence and knows he’s in good hands to move forward. Grumbling or an “I don’t know” gets you the equivalent pushback and “Let us think about it” from customers.

  • Tailor solution to the need. This is huge. There are very few “one size fits all” plumbing solutions. Superior knowledge helps the tech hone in on the best solutions and package those solutions at higher margins. Put these together for your techs and give them the tools to offer them to eager customers.

    See? Your tech already has these. Customers will buy based on this alone, but what your techs probably don’t have is the confidence to communicate the benefits. And that comes from simple training. Here’s a crash course.

    1. Personal presentation. Appearance matters. I don’t get all giddy buying from a pierced, unshaven dude with a tattoo of a vulture on his neck. I don’t care how skilled he is. People pay professionals more. This means a neat uniform, photo ID, clean work habits, pleasant demeanor and an understanding, conversational tone.

    2. Communication style. Words matter. Teach them the words they should use and those they should never use. Don’t say “buy” or “spend” when you can say “investment.” Instead of “our price” or “our discount,” call them “your discount” or “your savings.”

    These tiny changes add up.

    “I trained my techs (and myself) to quit saying, ‘We have’ and changed it as you suggested to ‘You get,’” noted Huntingdon Heating and Plumbing’s Bob Zahm, one of our clients. “I also changed from saying, ‘When you sign the contract’ to ‘Once you OK the agreement.’ To my amazement, our closing ratio went from 34 percent to 58 percent virtually overnight. I still can’t believe it.”

    Anyone can do this. Sadly, most won’t.

    3. Listening skills. Customers want their story heard. Teach techs to ask pinpointing questions and to just listen. Listening is not just hearing, it is understanding.

    4. How to handle objections. A customer might object to your best solution. Techs need to know how to overcome it. A simple method is to listen to the objection, repeat it as a question and restate the solution.

    “So, if I’m hearing you correctly, you’d rather patch your water heater than replace it? (Pause.) I can do that, as long as you know a new one will save you more in energy each month, comes with a five-year warranty and will deliver more hot water on demand.”

    5. How to close. It’s hard to say this skill is more important than the others, but unless techs are trained in closing sales, all the talk matters very little.

    In this day and age when social media-savvy consumers are turning more to the F-factors - family, friends and fans - in making their purchasing decisions, the in-home tech has an opportunity to become a trusted source.

    Make sure your techs are trained with both technical and communications tools to provide solutions that work for all of you.

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