Service contractors get recession fighting tips

May 1, 2009
Recession-fighting tips for service contractors

Daytona Beach, FLA. — Recessions happen every eight to 10 years, consultant Mark Matteson, Pinnacle Service Group, pointed out to service contractors meeting here. And those recessions typically last 10 to 20 months.

“I believe you will see the tide turn by this fall,” Matteson said at the 30th Power Meeting of Quality Service Contractors, an enhanced service group of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association.

Matteson and other speakers gave the contractors recession-fighting tips.

Contractors have to measure what Matteson calls Critical Success Factors, numbers such as dollars per truck over a period of time such as per day or per week. They have to measure customer retention and number of callbacks. They must set goals for selling service agreements.

Own your building, Matteson advised the contractors. Track sales and margins and post them on the wall. Unapplied time will kill you, so control it. Double your education budget. Celebrate successes with your people. Create a new product or service.

Matteson said the contractors should handle customer complaints through a process that follows the acronym LESTER. The letters stand for listen actively, echo the customer's emotions back to them, express sympathy, thank them for telling you about the problem, evaluate what you should do, and respond.

Matt Michel, CEO of The Service Roundtable, piled on the marketing tips.

Accepts trade-ins on equipment, Michel said. Customers are looking for value today, and paying a little bit of money for used equipment creates value.

Advertise in church bulletins, homeowners' association newsletters and political association newsletters. Speak at homeowners' association meetings.

Barter is picking up, especially if you do work for a radio station or a video company that can shoot commercials for you. Just make sure the dollar value is an even trade-out or the excess becomes taxable income.

Buy remnant advertising. Ask ad reps to call you if they have unsold airtime or a hole in the newspaper that they can give you for a discount. Keep in mind that you have to have an ad ready to go immediately. Try to get them to agree that you'll only pay if you get inquiries or orders as a result of the ad. Host your own radio home improvement show on Saturdays.

Have your techs cloverleaf door hangers, five across the street and two on each side. Pay your dry cleaner to staple your door hangers onto dry cleaning orders.

Buy savings bonds. A $100 savings bond costs $50 to buy, but they have a perceived value of $100. Your elderly customers will give them to their grandchildren.

Tell your commercial customers that you will give their employees discounts for their residential work. Put coupon magnets on the refrigerator in the office kitchen. Or have some other “keeper” magnet such as scalding information or a wind-chill chart or household tips. Put refrigerator magnets that people can take on the outside of your service trucks.

Practice affinity marketing, Michel suggested. Work with an organization that has people with common interests, such as the PTA or VFW. You make a donation for every purchase by a member of the group. Select a group, create a program, find the decision-makers in the organization and sell them on the idea. Pass out a “savings card,” so members know about the program. Print a brochure you can pass out. Create a log to keep track of purchases and write the organization a check quarterly. Michel, by the way, has written a book on how to do affinity marketing.

Join all of the service clubs — Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions and Optimists. Speak at civic clubs about water and energy conservation.

Leave your business cards on retail counters. Have a coupon offer on the back of your card to give people a reason to pick them up and keep them.

Print up a pocket calendar for your community theater or other civic groups with your name and number on it.

Sponsor 5K races. Runners are interested in pure water and indoor air quality. Sponsor the race goody bags and put one of your coupons or gift certificates in each bag.

Use yard signs. Offer $10 to the homeowner if you can leave the sign up for a month.

Have your techs park their trucks at the end of driveways perpendicular to traffic, so the signage is easily read.

Sponsor community e-mail lists, but require that you have at least three active customers from that community or organization before you'll pay for the sponsorship.

Adopt a highway.

Create a community information guide and hand it out to Realtors.

Your fax cover page should include an ad for your company and a coupon.

Buy one-truck competitors to get the mechanic, his customer list and his phone number. Search for out of business competitors and buy their customers' phone numbers.

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