Don’t fall prey to ‘service sins’ that will cost you customers.

America has an ongoing need for millions of dollars of service work. Regardless of our failing economy, what is already built must be maintained. Foreclosures and abandoned commercial buildings multiply the critical need for maintenance, repairs or replacements. Homeowners and landlords are desperately searching for dependable and fair-priced service. Why would they choose your company?

Simple as it sounds, it’s called customer relations. That means every single customer tells his business and personal friends how pleased he was with your service.

But far too many disgruntled customers are more likely to relate one or more of the following “dirty dozen” comments to anyone interested in listening. These comments are about reputable service contractors who are diligently struggling to please their customers and survive on repeats and referrals. As you know, most of those costly negatives never reach the ears of the guilty contractor - he’s the last to know.

Dirty dozen service sins

1.When I called a contractor for help, I reached a recorder rather than a live voice. I was put on hold and then asked to leave a message. It was two hours before the service manager returned my call.

2.The service manager said they were busy but gave me an arrival time tomorrow at 10 a.m.

3.I left my office early to be home at 9:30 a.m. The service tech and his helper came late at 1:15 p.m.

4.Both were wearing dirty work clothes and did not even introduce themselves. They talked to each other using some awful foul language.

5.Their truck was not clean or organized. They parked on my lawn and crushed four lawn sprinkler heads.

6.They tracked dirt through my house to check out the air conditioner’s air handling unit.

7.They searched through their truck for tools and repair parts, but then drove back to their shop for what they needed.

8.They returned without everything they needed and made another trip to their supply house.

9.When they installed the new parts, they discovered the air handler was not the problem. The air conditioner merely needed minor repairs and adjustments on the compressor unit.

10.They did not wipe down the units or clean up the mess throughout the house.

11.They billed me four hours for the service tech and four hours for the helper, plus parts they bought that they did not need.

12.Three weeks later, the air-conditioning unit shut down. I worked my way through the contractor’s recorded answering system to reach the service manager. She said there was no warranty on their service work, but she would schedule another service call. I said, “No thank-you” and called another contractor.

You’ve probably heard similar complaints made about your competitors, but I’m sure they never hear any of these about your company.

The employees making these costly customer-relations blunders are not even aware of their mistakes. From the time they entered our industry, what specific human-relations or customer-relations training were they taught? You cannot expect them to know all these critical do’s and don’ts. They must be taught. You must teach them what to do, and how to do it as well as constantly monitor how well they do it. Keep in mind, customer relations does not cost money - it makes money.

Customer relations for service techs

I have not seen a specific customer-relations training course for service techs, but you could easily write one for your company. Most people simply call it “good common sense” but, as you know, good common sense is not all that common for many people.

Let’s look at some of the basics:

1. Treat every customer the way you would want to be treated.
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. He has a problem and came to you for help, hoping for a quick resolution at a fair price. Respect his time, home, business property and equipment as though it were your own. In addition to fixing the problem, help him prevent future problems.

And always leave the property cleaner than when you arrived.

2. Customer relations begins when the customer calls for help.
He wants to talk to a live service manager with the knowledge and ability to resolve his problem - not to an answering machine or voicemail system!

Organize a team with complete data files to accommodate multiple calls. Depending on the size of your office staff, you may need to recruit retired employees, flex-time employees, unemployed workers, wives, etc. They could have an extension of your company phone and pick up on the second or third ring.

Make sure to assemble, record and continually update an accurate data file for every customer, including:   name, phone number, address and service area zone; blueprints, as-builts, punch lists and warranties for all equipment; and all service calls, site surveys and maintenance records.

Access to your service techs’ database skills inventory also is important. Your salvage center provides training opportunities to expand each service tech’s knowledge and ability. And the parts and equipment inventory provides feasible options for cost-saving repairs and replacements.

3. Customer satisfaction comes from the professional appearance, behavior and efficiency of your service techs.
Here again, you need to review your written customer-relations training course with each individual tech.
  • Maintain a proud, professional image for yourself and your company. Always wear a clean uniform with your company name on the shirt and protective socks on your shoes.

  • Wear a smile! Be courteous and speak to everyone with absolutely no foul language.

  • Maintain a clean and well-organized truck with inventoried parts and clean, sharp tools.

  • Drive courteously and park only in designated areas.

  • Never be late! If you will be delayed, always give your customer a call to explain the situation and prevent him from being frustrated from having to wait.

  • Go out of your way to help anyone whenever you can.

  •  Leave the premises cleaner than when you found it.

  • Survey the customer’s equipment, repair minor items and recommend preventive maintenance. Sell maintenance contracts whenever possible.

  • At the end of the service call, thank your customer for calling your company. Present a customer comment card with a company addressed, stamped envelope.

  • Deliver a complete service report to your office with problems, solutions and a survey of the premises.

4. Carefully control your costs to make a fair profit and give the customer a fair price.
In order to properly stock the service truck for efficient repairs, review customers’ call data and compare with their personal data file and salvage center inventory for needed parts, equipment and tools.

You should improve and expand each service tech’s knowledge and ability using their database skills inventory. And before going on the job, techs should have expertise in assembling and disassembling salvage center equipment so they are able to identity usable parts and pieces.

Offer customers a flat-rate price before work is started. Check the ads in Plumbing & Mechanical magazine for companies providing flat-rate pricing assistance.

After examining and diagnosing the problem, techs can call the office or another skilled tech for possible solutions. Determine if hiring a helper would save time and money by keeping your skilled workers available for more sophisticated and technical work.  

Should additional parts or tools be needed on the jobsite: send a helper; call the office for delivery; or call the supply house to place an order and call a taxi to pick up and deliver to you.

Service techs should keep premises clean and neat as they work to minimize final cleaning.

Try to collect final payment with a credit card to save billing the customer. The majority of mechanical, plumbing and electrical contractors provide service work but they are not really in the service business.

Our ongoing need for millions of dollars in service and maintenance has created this fantastic opportunity to build a successful profit-making service company.

Next month we will look at the many options available to build your own dream team.