Contractor Corner

As a home service business, you want your phone to be ringing off the hook. You want people to be calling you, inquiring about your services. If nothing else, that proves that your marketing efforts have been doing their job.

But getting calls isn’t the ultimate goal. What you really want is to turn calls into customers—and the first step in that process is getting an appointment set with each lead who dials in.

The question is, how can you train your customer service representatives to make the conversion? One thing you should be doing is preparing those reps to field common questions and objections, leading potential customers to make appointments.

Here are five such questions/objections to prepare for.

A customer calls you with a particular problem.

Say you run a plumbing company, and someone calls to tell you that their faucet is leaky. The best response here is to ask questions and gather more information: “Can you tell me where it’s leaking from? Is it leaking from the spout, or is it leaking from the around the handle?”

By asking these questions, you’re doing a couple of things. One, you’re earning trust; you’re proving that you were the right company to call, and that you know what you’re talking about. And, you’re building a relationship. Talk your potential customer through some possible scenarios, prove that you know your stuff, then invite them to set that appointment with a service technician.

A customer calls asking for a price.

“Can you quote me a price for ____?” Every service business gets some variant of this question; the only thing that changes is how you fill in the blank.

The best way to address these inquiries is by first explaining that you understand the question; restate it, so that the customer knows you were listening and understand what they’re really asking. Then, assure them that they called the right place. Let them know that, yes, you do work on those kinds of problems.

Finally, explain that there are many different situations and it would not be fair to give them a diagnosis or price over the phone. Explain that a trained service technician is needed to evaluate the issue, then secure an appointment with them to offer them the options for the repair.

A customer says they need someone today and you are booked due to high demand.

It’s hot outside and your schedule is full.  Your phone is ringing with urgent calls from customers that have No Cool situations. So, what do you do?  Explain that with the peak demand, you are servicing others with the same repairs. Offer to put them on an Urgent List and if there is a cancellation or a spot opens, you will call them to get them serviced.

And that’s not all. Offer to book an appointment on the first available time on your schedule and provide them with peace a mind that they at least are on the schedule.  In the closing of the call, ask them to call you back if they do secure another service company so you can offer those times to someone else with this urgent type of call.

The goal of handling this call is to offer the service with transparency and to be empathetic to the needs of the customers.

A customer calls asking for a “tune-up.”

Many times a customer calls with a vague request for “maintenance,” or for a “tune-up.” Your job here is to clarify—because they may need repair work done. Ask if they are having any problems right now. Get them to describe any symptoms that make them think they need maintenance work performed.

From there, you can schedule the appointment with the right technician and be prepared to service the customer properly.  Of course, how you describe your fees in this scenario is important and knowing what the true need is for the customer sets the right expectation for what your technician will do and how your company will charge for the repairs.

A customer calls and doesn’t have a maintenance agreement.

One final tip for nurturing incoming calls: Train your service reps to educate new customers about your maintenance agreements. As you set an appointment, always ask: “Will you be paying full price for this, or do you enjoy the benefits of our maintenance plan?” If the customer doesn’t have the maintenance plan, let them know that the service technician will make some time to go over it with them

These are some tips that can help you translate call volume into real appointments—closing deals and winning business. All of this takes real skill, persuasion, and diplomacy, however; understanding the types of calls you receive from your customers and incorporating a script as a guide will improve your success for booking appointments every time.

One alternative is to outsource your customer service to our virtual office team. We work only with home service businesses and know how to convert calls into appointments on your behalf. To learn more about our virtual office solutions, contact Contractor in Charge today.

Maintenance agreements are critical to the home service industry, offering ample benefits for customers and companies alike. And yet, maintenance agreements don’t support themselves. For your company’s maintenance agreements to prove beneficial, it’s important that you have a system in place for actively managing them.

Understanding Maintenance Agreements

But let’s back up for a minute. When we talk about maintenance agreements, we’re essentially talking about customer loyalty programs. Customers who enroll in a service agreement will pay a fee—usually on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis—in exchange for a certain number of preventive maintenance visits, and/or discounts on service calls. This provides the customer with peace of mind—their needed service professional is always just a phone call away—and it provides the company with recurring revenues. HVAC companies can especially benefit from these recurring benefits, given the seasonal nature of their work.

Creating Touchpoints with Your Customers

Again, though, to get the most value out of your maintenance agreements, it’s important that you have a systematic approach. That approach should create multiple touchpoints with your customers, reminding them of the value of the maintenance agreement and gently nudging them to set up an appointment for any repair needs they may have.

As you consider different strategies for creating these customer touchpoints, here are some specific things you can do.

  1. Educate and inform. For this first tip, you’ll need to make use of digital marketing channels. This might mean a blog, an email newsletter, social media, or all of the above. Using those channels, provide your customers with some general tips and strategies for maintenance and upkeep, focusing on the simple tasks they can do themselves—changing HVAC filters, for example. At the same time, remind them that, for more complicated tasks, they’ll want to call in the professionals.
  2. Listen to what your customers say. If you have customers asking you questions on Facebook or Twitter, try to respond in a timely and helpful way—showing them that you’re both knowledgeable and caring. You might even go a step further and solicit feedback. Send out a survey or questionnaire to your maintenance agreement members, and ask them to tell you the pros and cons they see with the program.
  3. Provide special offers to maintenance plan members. Allow them to feel like they are part of a special club. Provide coupons, discounts, or other special offers that are only available to maintenance plan members. Consider making them time-sensitive promotions, adding a sense of urgency.

One of the primary goals of a maintenance agreement is to turn customers into raving, lifelong fans of your home service trade. That doesn’t happen by accident. It happens when you focus on creating these key touchpoints.

Learn more about the best ways to use a maintenance agreement to grow your home service trade; reach out to Contractor in Charge and let’s talk.

As you begin your Profit First journey, one of the setup steps you must take is creating new bank accounts. The Profit First system requires you to have a dedicated bank account where you deposit your profits, as well as separate accounts for your company savings and your operating expenses. But not just any bank will work: As you begin your Profit First journey, it’s important to find a bank that does not charge minimum balance fees on checking or savings accounts.

Finding a Bank That Works for You

That can be easier said than done—but here are some steps we recommend.

  1. Check with your existing bank. Assuming you already have a bank that you like, let them know you wish to set up some additional accounts—but before you do so, ask about minimum balance fees. If the bank does not have minimum balance fees, then your job is mostly done. All you have to do is explain to your bank what you’re looking to do—it’s always good to make them aware that you may sometimes have zero-dollar balances in certain accounts—and then set up the five Profit Frist accounts: Income, Profit, Owner Comp, Tax, and OpEx.
  2. Ask if your current bank can waive its fees. If your existing bank does charge minimum balance fees, take a minute to explain to them what you’re doing, and ask if they can help your business by waiving these fees. Sometimes, banks will prove willing to do this in order to keep your business.
  3. Look for a new bank. If you have to search for a new bank or credit union, it’s usually best to look for a smaller community one—simply because these banks are less likely to charge minimum balance fees. Once you find a bank that accommodates, set up your initial accounts. If you’re limited in the accounts you can set up at the beginning, start with Income, Owner’s Comp, and OpEx. You can always add the rest later. You can also ask your new banker to help you transfer over your accounts in the simplest, smoothest way possible.

Working with a Profit First Coach

Of course, setting up these accounts is just the beginning. From there, it’s important to know how to use them, and when and why to transfer money between these accounts. That’s something your Profit First professional can help you with.

Contractor in Charge has certified Profit First coaches who can guide you through this entire process and show you how to make your home service trade into a true money-maker. Contact us today to set up a free Profit First consultation.

Quality versus quantity. It’s a familiar dichotomy, and one that impacts your service trade business in ways you might not realize.

Take, for example, the idea of a call answering service. In order to field incoming customer queries, more and more service trades are outsourcing to call centers—a move that does indeed allow them to handle a higher quantity of calls. The question is, does this higher quantity come at the expense of customer service quality?

Before you choose to outsource your customer service needs to a call center, it’s important to understand how these call centers actually work—and how the virtual office services of Contractor in Charge compare.

Different Models of Customer Services

The important thing to understand about call centers is that they have one primary virtue—and that’s efficiency. A call center involves a big room full of people who have a single job, and that’s to push through as many calls as possible. These call centers are focused solely on volume, and if your service trade business merely wants to handle a huge number of calls, that’s fine.

But chances are, that’s not all you want to do. Yes, you need someone to help you field calls, but you also need those customers to be treated warmly and respectfully. You want them to feel heard, their needs understood; you want to ensure that they have a genuinely good experience with your customer service team, not one that will leave them feeling sour toward your brand. Most importantly, perhaps, you want as many of these calls as possible to end with actual appointments. You want to help the people who call in, but you also want to get them booked for your services.

The Contractor in Charge Advantage

That’s the approach that the virtual office model allows for, particularly as practiced by Contractor in Charge. We’re not here to push through calls as quickly as possible, but rather to ensure quality customer service for everyone who calls in—helping you build customer loyalty, close sales, and extend your office hours without taxing your current employees.

It’s not only a more robust solution, but also a cost-effective one; certainly, our virtual office services cost a fraction of what it could cost to hire even a single full-time phone operator or customer service representative.

We’d love to tell you more about the benefits of choosing our virtual office model. Reach out to Contractor in Charge to start that conversation.

Overhead creep is subtle by its very nature; you may not notice it at first, but over time, overhead creep can take a significant bite out of your profitability. In some home service trade companies, it can lead to major cash flow problems.

But what is overhead creep, exactly? Essentially, it’s the gradual increase in your operating expense. Most business owners will find that, the longer they are in business, the costlier it becomes for them to keep their company up and running. If you’re not aware of overhead creep—if you’re not actively working to control costs—that’s when the problems arise.

The Causes of Overhead Creep

There are a number of potential causes of overhead creep, but let’s start by ruling out some of the things that probably aren’t causing the problem. Fixed expenses—things like your rent or your insurance, which should remain fairly static from month to month—are seldom at the root of overhead creep.

What you have to watch out for are the variable expenses. The most common of all is payroll. If you have too many employees for your volume of business, that’s sure to cause overhead creep, resulting in cash flow obstruction. If that’s the boat you’re in, it’s imperative to trim your payroll costs wherever possible, without compromising the efficiency of your team.

Closely related to this is overtime. If you’re required to pay higher rates for overtime hours, then it’s vital to control these extra working hours as best you can, perhaps by staggering your employee shifts throughout the day.

Equipment and supply costs are ever-changing. Have a process in place to review pricing on the key equipment and supply costs on a monthly basis. Don’t assume the price of something is the same as the last time you purchased it to be resold. Actively review and negotiate with your suppliers to make sure you are getting the best prices available in your market.

Why Overhead Creep Matters

Overhead is one of the key factors you consider when making your budget and when pricing your jobs; indeed, every job you price should take into account overhead as separate from the profit you’re going to set aside. So, if overhead increases and your prices don’t reflect that, it directly impacts your profits.

We’d love to sit down with you, look at your pricing and your operating budget, and help you get to the bottom of any cash flow problems you may be experiencing. To speak with one of the accountants and Profit First professionals at Contractor in Charge, reach out to us directly.

Every customer, every job, every person who calls you for an estimate represents real opportunity for your business—a chance to generate revenues. By the same token, though, missed opportunities represent real loss—money you should be making, but aren’t.

Among home service trades, these missed opportunities can come in several different forms. In this post, we’ll highlight just a few of them—failed connections that detract from your bottom line.

Missed Opportunities and Your Home Service Trade

A few of those common missed opportunities include:

  • Lack of follow-up. You should be following up with previous customers at least once a quarter, if not more often—whether that’s via a phone call, an email blast, or a newsletter. Don’t let your past customers forget you! Keep your company name front and center, should they need additional projects at a later date.
  • Not asking for referrals. There’s no reason not to ask each happy customer for at least one referral—whether that means providing them with your business card or even leaving a personal message on their invoice or receipt.
  • Poor customer service. This one is huge: When someone calls you and can’t get through right away, do you call them back right away? If you wait until the next day to return a phone call, you’ve likely lost that lead to one of your competitors. Consider having a service where a live agent will answer your phones.
  • Not keeping appointments. Show up when you say you will. Don’t be late or do anything to jeopardize those potential referrals!
  • Obsolete website. If your website doesn’t have a clean, professional, and contemporary look, combined with up-to-date contact information, you’re definitely missing out on potential leads.
  • No business cards. When you meet someone for the first time, hand them a card. It’s a simple way to spread the word about your business.

All of these points represent opportunities for you to get customers and jobs—and missing any one of them could result in lost profit.

Making your business profitable means being smart about the revenues you bring in, and always putting Profit First—but at an even more foundational level, it means taking advantage of all the big and small opportunities that come your way.

We’d love to talk with you more about the steps you can take to make your home service trade business a money-maker—including coaching you through Profit First! Reach out to Contractor in Charge today, and let’s talk about the opportunities you have to grow your business.