5 Things Plumbers Do That Drive Customers Crazy

January 14, 2010

By Adams Hudson

Ever wonder why the most irritated people always call you? Actually it could have less to do with you than it does with the kind of contracting business you're in. (Plus, there's actually good news in the call which we'll cover in a moment.)

Let's be clear: Plumbers get irritated callers because that person is usually: a) very wet or b) very dry. Usually, an untimely breakdown has happened in their plumbing world, and the caller's panic button has been pushed.

From this point, the service you provide can either soothe - or increase - these feelings of panic and irritation. A better understanding of common complaints can help you both. Any reduction or elimination of the following can add thousands of dollars and hundreds of customers to your company, usually for little or no money.

1. Not scheduling the appointment fast enough - Put yourself in the customer's sometimes-soggy shoes. Maybe they're looking at funky brown drinking water, and call only to hear you might get there a week from Tuesday. The fact is that if you can't provide quick relief, your customer will find it elsewhere. Sorry, nature of the business.

I realize you may have scheduling issues in a busy season. But you must educate customers and offer assurance on what you can do to alleviate their problem. (A CSR training course can work wonders.) Give a specific time, and keep it.

Powerful Technique: Contractor clients have gotten great results with "emergency solutions" that lock in the customer. From the earlier example, you'd leave behind a company-logoed dispenser of Safe Drinking water, resolving the immediate issue. This buys you time to assess and resolve more permanently. But you may not get to solve anyone's problem if you commit this next error...

2. Not showing up on time or at all - Chances are, you've got a customer who left work to sit in his drippy home and wait for you. The longer he waits past the appointment window, the more irritated he gets. And since techs aren't often trained in social graces, you've got a recipe for a negative relationship from the start. (Note I didn't say "job"; I said "relationship". Powerful distinction.) And if you don't show up at all, this "ex" customer will likely be in strangulation mode if they call again. No matter, his friends and neighbors will get all the updates they can stand. Three options: Either keep the appointment, keep them informed, or lose the customer.

Powerful Technique: The confirmation call. It takes about 2 minutes to confirm the appointment and/or reschedule if running behind. No one expects you to be 100% punctual, but this is a dramatic improvement beyond the currently low expectations. If the appointment window will be more than 1 hour delayed, give the customer the option to reschedule. This brings to mind another no-no...

3. Not finishing on time - Your customer perceives that slowness or dawdling is costing him in money (a non-issue with flat-rate) but it still reeks of inefficiency. I recommend abbreviated rapport-building, get to your work, get it done. Then go over the invoice, offer options and upsells to maximize your and the customer's time. Customers want the problem solved and - at that moment - are most receptive to avoiding the problem in the future. One option where most plumbers lack aggressiveness...

Powerful Technique: Maintenance Agreement programs are very attractive if packaged as time and money-savers. This is the Number 1 upsell (takes 2-6 sentences to close) and can guarantee future sales, referrals, faster sales cycles, and better relationships.

Yet this option will likely go poorly if you're clumsy or are perceived as...

4. Breaking their stuff. Who hasn't taken their car into the shop with noise "A" and left - after paying - with noise "B"? This perception also pervades home services. Yet, often with plumbing, it's more than coincidence. For example, if a plumber fixes a low water pressure problem, it may seem like the drains are much slower. Likely they were slow to begin with. A great plumber will note this before he starts, helping eliminate the perception and opening the door to an upsell.

Powerful Technique: The pre-sell mentioned above is good, along with a list of "Related Problems" on a "Green Sheet". The Green Sheet is something handed to your customer at the beginning of the call, introducing services, expectations, and differences with your company. It's a marketing message and an educational piece that, for example, relates low pressure to disintegrating pipe which helps eliminate "surprise" stories to homeowners.

However, if you're regularly putting your Size 13 through sheetrock or backing over the begonias and letting the dog out, you've got a discipline problem. Just ask your wife.

5. Not cleaning up - If you fix the problem, but track mud into the home, you've created another problem. Ideally, when you leave, your customer won't even be able to tell that you were there - except for having fixed the problem. Cleaning the equipment and the surrounding work area is an essential part of good service. Besides, telling your customer the importance of keeping the equipment clean is an open door to discussing the importance of regular service and maintenance agreements. (Another opportunity that many waste.)

Powerful Technique: Several here: 1) Shoe covers. 2) Logoed drop cloth. 3) The old part goes in a plastic bag to show the customer. 4) Wiping up all spills. 5) Valves and tank get company tags and stickers. 6) "Emergency Call" Plumbing magnet for the fridge. Basically, a "neatness package".

All the above are just as fixable as any plumbing problem. Make your entire staff memorize the following: "Don't just fix the plumbing, fix the customer." This is where most contractors create a poor perception that you can trounce.

Want more solutions to these and other Plumbing challenges? I'm out of room, but you can get a free 16-page booklet called "How to Get More Plumbing Leads in Less Time" just by asking. Email freephccstuff@hudsonink.com to get your report.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Readers can get a copy of the free 16-page report, “Get More Leads in Less Time” to help you market more effectively.  Fax a polite request on your letterhead to 334-262-1115, or email freephccstuff@hudsonink.com.  Call 1-800-489-9099 or visit www.hudsonink.com to subscribe to his free contractor marketing newsletter.

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