Customer retention starts in the field

Most contractors are surprised how often field service employees destroy relationships. Most field service employees are surprised how easy it is to damage the service company/consumer relationship.

The plumber dropped so many swear words, I finally got up and reminded him that while I understood it could be frustrating working on an old mechanical system, women worked in our office and could hear him.

He said he wouldn't use any foul language again. Darn tooting! Once the call was over, he won't get the chance. As much as I might like the owner, I'm unlikely to risk letting this guy, or someone like him, deliver a repeat performance in my home or business.

Most contractors are surprised how often field service employees destroy relationships. Most field service employees are surprised how easy it is to damage the service company/consumer relationship.

Your call takers and dispatchers represent the public voice of your company. Your field service personnel represent the public face. If either does a poor job or slips up, all of the money you've spent to attract a customer is flushed down the drain.

Unfortunately for our trade, standing out from the crowd isn’t difficult. Reinforce the need for your plumbers to perform the following simple acts and not only will your repeat business increase, your referrals will as well.

Treat the customer with respect: The customer should be treated as the most important person in the world, as a celebrity, with courtesy and no small degree of reverence. Ultimately, the customer pays everyone’s salary and benefits. A person like that should be treated courteously and respectfully.

Dress like a professional: After respecting the customer, the plumber should respect himself (or herself). Want to be regarded as a professional? Look like one. Wear a uniform. Tuck in the shirt. Wear a company cap or none at all.

Show respect for the home or business: You should show more care and concern for the customer's home or business than the customer shows. After all, you’re a guest. Wear shoe covers. Use tool mats and drop cloths.

Clean yourself: Shower and shave every morning. Keep hair groomed and neat. Use deodorant.

Wash your hands: If possible, wash your hands at the end of every call. At the very least, keep wipes in the truck and use them between calls.

Eliminate tobacco: Since a growing segment of the population is repulsed by tobacco, plumbers who light up should smoke outside to keep the smoke off clothes. Both smokers and snuff dippers should use breath spray.

Clean up: It should be obvious to any plumber that he should recoil and rehang a customer's hose if he has to use it. Likewise, it should be obvious that the work area should be cleaned and trash should be picked up. It should be obvious, but it's apparently not. Remind your plumbers on the need to clean up.

Look the customer in the eye: When a plumber fails to look the customer in the eye, he appears untrustworthy. Make eye contact, but don't stare. Look at the customer when speaking to her and pay close attention when she's speaking.

Smile: Even if it's a bad day, smile. A smile is friendly. Smiles reassure people. A smile tells the customer everything is going to be alright.

Take the time to explain things: It's easy to get in a hurry and neglect to offer a good explanation. After all, the problem's solved. The homeowner doesn't really need to know how, just that it's fixed. Yet offering an explanation of the work helps build rapport with the homeowner and returns to her a sense of control over the situation. It helps her to feel better about the money she just spent.

Identify and fix the problem: Duh... Of course "fixing the problem" should remain on the list until callbacks disappear.

Show appreciation: Thank the customer for choosing your company over all of the other plumbers in town. Express a hope that the customer will call again and will tell friends and neighbors to make your company their plumbing company.

These are simple acts, like blocking and tackling in football or shooting free throws in basketball. Yet, professional athletes never ignore the simplest acts that improve performance. Neither should you. Remember, customer retention starts in the field.

Matt Michel is the CEO of the Service Roundtable, a business alliance of plumbing, HVAC, electrical, and service contractors. Learn more about the Service Roundtable at www.ServiceRoundtable.com, or e-mail Matt at: [email protected].