Take on business improvement projects bite by bite

April 24, 2017
You may have embarked on the long, arduous overwhelming project of business improvement. You’ve decided that you will no longer sacrifice your body, mind and fortune on a losing business. You are committed to a total overhaul. Good for you! As you dig into that project, it may look more and more like an elephant. Let’s take it bite by bite.  

“How do you eat an elephant?” The elephant is, of course, a huge overwhelming project. You know the answer: A bite at a time.

Image: iStock/ThinkStock.

The next question may be, “But where do I start?” The answer: It doesn’t matter. If you keep biting and chewing and swallowing you are going to finish that elephant. 

You may have embarked on the long, arduous overwhelming project of business improvement. You’ve decided that you will no longer sacrifice your body, mind and fortune on a losing business. You are committed to a total overhaul. Good for you. As you dig into that project, it may look more and more like an elephant. Let’s take it bite by bite. 

You can’t go wrong by looking at your business from your customer’s perspective. Ultimately, no matter what you charge, no matter who works for you, no matter how many booties you put on, if you don’t serve the needs and wants of your customer you are going to lose the business game. 

Let’s pretend your customer, Mrs. Fernwicky, has a drippy faucet. From her perspective, consider what it is like to go through the process of finding and hiring a good service plumber to solve the problem. 

Mrs. Fernwicky spends a sleepless night, tossing, turning and listening to a drippy faucet. (Right out of the gate, she has got to be a bit cranky. Wouldn’t you be?) Let’s imagine what happens next.

On the left side of the chart below is everything that could go wrong from Mrs. F’s perspective. Look through each item. Could that happen with your company? If so, what few things could you do to fix that and keep it from happening…at least 95 percent of the time? 

Mrs. F can’t remember or find your name.  

Embark on a formal branding initiative and determine to find an impossible-to-forget identity.  Explore franchising and capitalizing on a national brand. Consider crafting a new name, logo and message for your company. 


Initiate a “where’s the shut off?” emergency valve identification program with your service plumbers. 


Get over your fear of on-line marketing and sign up for a webinar.   


Clover leaf the neighborhood with refrigerator magnets and other useful trinkets with your company name and number on them. 

She calls your shop and gets a recorded message.

Put a budget together. Plug in the costs of hiring a real live person to answer the phone. Raise your prices accordingly. 


Consider forwarding the phones to your phone. 


Do like Jet Blue does. Hire a mom with school age kids to answer your phone at her house…while her noisy kids are at school. 


Until you employ a real live person to answer the phone, record a snappy, attention getting message:  Do you just hate voice mail? Me too! Please don’t hang up. I will call you back within the hour. I promise. Then, I will come to your house and make your plumbing problems go away. I’ll bring lunch. My lunch.  OK. I will bring an extra cookie for you. 

She calls your shop and a real live person answers the phone and is rude

Send your customer service reps (CSRs) to a formal sales and communication training class. 


Don’t let your mom answer the phone anymore. 


Call your shop every day and role play with the CSR who takes your call. Have fun with different scenarios. Help! My husband’s wedding ring is in the disposer … and he is still wearing it. 

The live person is not prepared to write or type Mrs. F’s contact information.

Have the CSRs create a “Ready, Set Answer” checklist. Assemble all the items needed to successfully record customer information and hand off to the dispatcher. 


Provide headsets for all CSRs and require that they use them. 


Consider recording phone calls.  Look into the legal and logistical requirements. 


Incorporate basic literacy testing into your hiring procedures. 

Mrs. F never gets a return call. 

Initiate a stay-in-touch policy that requires that every call in gets a call back within one hour. 


Send an “Ooops, we goofed” card with a slice of cherry “humble” pie. 

She finally gets a call back and is told that the plumber will arrive somewhere between 8 am and Judgment Day.  Hmmm…  The carpet cleaning company she used yesterday committed to a 15 minute time window, and they showed up on time

Contact the carpet cleaning company who did a great job of on-time dispatching. Ask the owner if he would share his dispatch procedures with you in exchange for new faucets at his shop. 


Insist that the dispatcher contact every customer who is waiting for service once an hour until the plumber is dispatched. 

When the plumber arrives, he parks his leaky, rust bucket truck in the driveway, right behind her son’s car.  Of course her son is already running late for work. 

Ditch the rust bucket fleet. Update your budget to include all new vehicles. Raise your prices accordingly. 


Demonstrate the best way to approach your customer’s home with your service vehicles. Use Matchbox cars and Lego houses.


Park service trucks on the street in front of the house. 


If the driveway is three miles long, ask for permission to park closer to the house. 


Compliment Mrs. F’s son for having a job. 

The plumber is scary dirty. 

Implement a grooming policy at your shop. Have everyone promise to shower daily, use deodorant, brush teeth and scrub hands and nails. Write people up for being dirty. Send them home to clean up. 


Stop hiring messy people. 

Mrs. F doesn’t get two words in before the plumber says, “You know what your problem is…” 

Commit to mandatory, formal sales and communication training for all service plumbers. Use written trouble shooting checklists complete with situation appropriate questions to help the plumber make a good diagnosis considering technical as well as lifestyle issues. 


Ride along with each of your plumbers at least once a month.  Watch, listen and learn how they communicate with customers. 


Incorporate daily role play sessions. Pretend to be cranky, frustrated Mrs. Fernwicky. Take turns asking good questions and listening before offering any solutions. 

Mrs. F cringes as the plumber trots mud all over her new carpet. 

Provide protective floor covering and shoe covers and require that the plumbers use them. 


Be willing to write up and let someone go who won’t comply with the policy. 


Arrange to have a carpet cleaner follow up on larger service and installation projects. 


Ask for the best route into and out of the house. 

She feels corralled when presented with only one super expensive option for solving the leaky faucet problem. 

Insist on offering at least two choices on every invoice. Review the invoices daily to spot check. 


Follow up on all service calls that result in a no sale. See if you can gain understanding on why they declined service. Mrs. Fernwicky, I understand that you want to have your leaky faucet fixed. May I ask you a favor? Would you please tell me what made you send our Plumber away and call someone else? 

She feels overloaded when presented with 101 faucet options, 35 service agreement plan opportunities and her choice of sour cream, butter or chives on her baked potato. 

Review all the information you are currently requiring the plumbers to deliver to customers. Empower your plumbers to customize the information presented to best serve their customers. 


Commit to a few great product lines.  Offer product knowledge training programs to help your plumbers learn the features and benefits of each product.  Role play offering better and best solutions to common plumbing problems.   

She gets panicky when the Plumber announces he needs to run to the store for parts. Is the meter still running? 

Have customers initial the proposed service work and price prior to beginning the work. 


Revamp your truck stock to include the parts needed to complete the 25 most popular repairs and replacements. Replenish truck stock daily, using a simple PO system. 

And so on…




Get the idea? Bite by bite go through Mrs. F’s possible experiences, from the discovery of her plumbing problem to her morning after buyer’s remorse.  Consider how to solve each mini-problem. You’ll create a useful Master To Do list. Bite by bite you can energize the mini-projects on the right hand side of the list. Bite by bite you will build a better business. 

“In all human activities, practically in all matters of business, times of stress and difficulty are seasons of opportunity when the seeds of progress are sown.”

— Thomas F. Woodlock

Ellen Rohr, president of ZOOM DRAIN, a drain & sewer franchising company. She’s the author of four business books, including “Where Did the Money Go?” – accounting basics, and "The Weekend Biz Plan.” Ellen’s a member of the EGIA faculty, sharing her snappy, helpful, and usually irreverent insights on business planning and financial clean-up. 

EGIA Contractor University has assembled the most experienced and dynamic faculty ever put together. Faculty members have personally built some of the most successful contracting companies in America. During Contractor Leadership Live, Ellen will be leading an Exclusive Workshop, Tuesday, Sept. 12, From 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm. This Exclusive Workshop is only available to the first 500 Contractors who register for the All-Access pass. Visit Contracting Business for more information and to learn about the Contractor Leadership Live event. Reach Ellen at www.EllenRohr.com

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