Make more by marketing maintenance

WHAT IF YOU could make money while possibly saving your customers thousands? That'd be a pretty sweet deal for both of you. So it's obviously too good to be true, right? Wrong. Contrary to the old belief that people won't call a plumber unless something breaks, busier people now want to: a) Avoid unnecessary breakdowns; b) Get "bundled" services; and c) Streamline vendor sources. All this adds up

WHAT IF YOU could make money while possibly saving your customers thousands? That'd be a pretty sweet deal for both of you. So it's obviously too good to be true, right? Wrong.

Contrary to the old belief that people won't call a plumber unless something breaks, busier people now want to: a) Avoid unnecessary breakdowns; b) Get "bundled" services; and c) Streamline vendor sources. All this adds up to selling preventive maintenance.

Maintenance agreements are a great source of "mailbox money." They get your techs into your customers' homes twice a year for plumbing inspections, which brings income for the service itself plus any upgrades. Tankless water heaters, anyone?

Plus, you lock in customers with maintenance agreements, giving you the opportunity to offer them increased services without concern that they'll "migrate" elsewhere.

You new service mantra to customers is really an old one: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In this case, an ounce of maintenance is worth 100 gal. of water cascading down the hallway. OK, that doesn't roll off the tongue as easily, but the point is that each door you enter has two sales: The need you were called in for and the one to help prevent the next one.

Postcards are easy to use to stay up to date with your customers.

This can effectively double your sales, halve your acquisition effort and increase retention.

By marketing maintenance as opposed to just being there for emergency service or large repairs, you solve both your problem and that of your customer. You need predictable income to run smoothly and efficiently. Your customers need homes free of leaks and plumbing "surprises." By providing preventive maintenance to homeowners you not only secure funds for your business, you save them potentially thousands of dollars in major, yet avoidable, repairs.

The preceding sentence is not only to help you sell to customers but to people who must be sold before the first customer ever hears about preventive maintenance: your technicians and CSRs. Then and only then can they "convert" (don't use the word "sell" in your training) customers.

It's not that hard. Converting a service customer to a maintenance agreement customer is as simple as presenting its undeniable value. With maintenance agreements, you're never "selling." You're simply delivering to your customers the highest service and the greatest value in a cost-effective package.

The process works like this: You're called into the home for service or a repair. The first thing you do is address exactly what the customer has called you out to do. You act professionally and, through your interactions with the customer, you demonstrate competence and integrity.

Just as you complete the job, and before you shove an invoice in their general direction, you show customers:

  1. What you did (either on the invoice or maintenance agreement form). Keep it simple and to the point. Using terminology that the homeowners don't understand isn't going to score you any "boy, is he smart or what?" points. In fact, it may actually hurt you.
  2. What you found. Was there a large blockage in the drain system? Were there supply line leaks? Don't exaggerate the problem, but be sure that homeowners are aware of the exact issues you encountered with their system.
  3. What this service can help prevent. You've performed the needed repair, which solves the immediate problem of being either too wet or too dry. But what did you do that will keep this problem from recurring? Stress the value of this service to the customer.
  4. How they can be better at preventive maintenance. Give customers a quick list of things they can do to maintain peak plumbing performance. This can be as simple as turning off the water while brushing teeth or periodically checking seals and grout in bathrooms. By telling them what they can do to save money on repairs, you increase your likeability and your credibility.
  5. The price for today's services. Present the price for the repairs or services performed. What you've done and why has already been thoroughly explained in easily understandable terms. The barrier of resistance is, therefore, naturally low.
  6. Next — after they agree and understand the value — you utter the following question, which will change your conversion rate dramatically, "Would you mind if I showed you a way to save $10 in 10 seconds?" You will almost certainly get a "yes." At this point, you begin discussing your maintenance agreement.

The way to be successful is to show customers that a maintenance agreement doesn't cost them money, it saves them money through discounts, less breakdowns and improved energy efficiency. Not only that, they get priority service when something does go wrong.

The message you're trying to convey is that you're not trying to sell them anything; you're trying to give them a discount. That's something you can believe in, and soon your customer will too.

How do you let your customers know this service is available before they have a problem? Two inexpensive, effective and yet surprisingly easy ways are newsletters and postcards.

Newsletters allow you to connect with homeowners not as just another advertisement but as a reward for simply being your customer. For instance, burst washing machine hoses are cited as the No. 1 "Most Preventable Homeowners Claim." These hoses flood entire rooms and often ruin carpet, floors and even walls. By offering replacement washing machine hoses in your newsletter as an incentive to sign regular-maintenance agreements, not only have you locked in predictable earnings for your company, you have also established a reputation for efficiency and excellence in customer service.

Your newsletter can also:

  • Increase sales from current clients. A marketing newsletter is an effective way to inform all clients of any new services you offer, or reminding them of benefits they may not know about, such as maintenance agreements.
  • Educate. Newsletters work well when people must be educated about your products or services before they will buy from you. How many times has one of "your" customers bought something elsewhere because they "didn't know you did that"? Once is too often, and those are just the ones you find out about!
  • Establish credibility and professionalism. This industry could use it. How many plumbers even have a newsletter? (Our estimates are about 4% to 6%.) You want to be an instant standout over the other 95%?
  • Spur word-of-mouth referrals. Newsletters have pass-along value. A good newsletter will be shared with an average of three other people.

When you're not sending newsletters, postcards are inexpensive and easy to use to stay up to date with your customers. A postcard sent to your entire customer base with a friendly reminder to check and maintain seals around showers and tubs remind customers that you are looking out for them before there's a problem. This makes a huge impact on company image and future sales, especially since leaks around tubs and showers are the No. 2 "Most Preventable Homeowners Claim" and are rarely covered by homeowner's insurance.

With vacations and holidays such as the 4th of July, summer provides the perfect opportunity to send these cards, with low cost to you and high benefits.

Janet Paulson, PEMCO Insurance's claims manager, says: "Preventive maintenance is one of the best investments a homeowner can make. One hour of work to fix a leaky tub, for example, can prevent several days of work from costly contractors."

By marketing prevention, you have, with a minimal investment of your time and budget, shown established customers that you care beyond the money large repairs bring in. This is turn has established your credibility and integrity as a service provider, making both referrals and testimonials for your company more likely. By helping the customer win, you and your company win even bigger, every time.

Adams Hudson is President of Hudson Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Get a free copy of his biweekly newsletter for contractors, Sales&Marketing Insider plus a 12-page copy of "Your Plumbing Marketing Makeover" by faxing your letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115, or a polite e-mail to [email protected] Call Hudson Ink at 800/489-9099 or visit www.hudsonink.com

TAGS: Marketing