Improving image starts at top of company

BY BOB MIODONSKI OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. While many people talk about raising the image of the plumbing-and-heating industry, any action in that direction must come from contractors themselves, consultant Ron Collier told Quality Service Contractors Feb. 23 during QSC's Power Meeting here. "Really great companies have strong leaders," he said. "You are the ones who make things happen.

BY BOB MIODONSKI

OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — While many people talk about raising the image of the plumbing-and-heating industry, any action in that direction must come from contractors themselves, consultant Ron Collier told Quality Service Contractors Feb. 23 during QSC's Power Meeting here.

"Really great companies have strong leaders," he said. "You are the ones who make things happen. If your company is successful, it's because of you; if you're not, it's because of you.

"If you send out a tech who doesn't look nice, that's your fault."

During his keynote address, " Professionalism through Leadership and Expectations," he emphasized the importance of strong leadership and meeting customers' expectations.

"All customers have an expectation of your company before they call you," Collier told QSC members. "You can control that expectation through your values and training."

Contractors have to rely on their field people to provide the customer experience. When the customer's expectation is multiplied by his experience, the result is the customer evaluation of the company, Collier said.

Contractors should hire people based on their attitude, not their technical skills, he said. Customers are much more likely to remember a service tech's attitude than his plumbing or HVAC skills after the call.

"People don't want to deal with people with a negative attitude," Collier said. "We only hire people with a professional mind set."

Every employee should be re-evaluated every 90 days, he said. A year is too long between performance reviews and not fair to employees. The company's policy manual, however, needs to be updated and revised every year.

To promote a company's professionalism, Collier said, the contractor should let his customers know that his employees are bonded and the firm belongs to certain industry associations. The contractor should share the company's code of ethics with its customers.

Most customers want contractors to be truthful, moral, ethical, reliable and respect their privacy. They would prefer to have a long-term relationship with a stable company, he said.

"Yet you keep them locked up in a file cabinet while you look for new customers," Collier said. "We're becoming a 24-hour society, so offer 24-hour service — and mean it."

Price is important to customers, but so is value. Typically, consumers know that price and value go together.

"They associate better service with higher prices — but maybe not the highest price," Collier said. "I don't want you to lose business because your prices are too low or too high."

Being a good citizen of the community is as important as being a good industry citizen, he said. Collier encouraged QSC members to join their local chambers of commerce or Rotary Club to network with other members of their community.

"Referrals grow from networking. You give back to get back," he said. "People need to know who you are and that you're credible."

Speaking to local high school business classes about careers in plumbing and heating is a good way to upgrade interactive skills, Collier said. Leaders are lifelong learning professionals who improve their own personal skills, such as writing and public speaking.

"Professional development, organizational training and education should be mandatory," he said. "Diversify and upgrade your knowledge base, but you must implement it. I can learn to read but what happens if I never read a book?"

Company leaders have to be aware of the image they project to customers. One bad habit is fairly easy to fix.

"Stop cell phone use in the customer's presence — it says your cell phone is more important than I am as a customer," he said. "That call can wait.

"The company image equals the owner's image. Professionalism starts at the top and ends at the top."