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In my early days as the plumber’s wife, I fielded a few rough questions from customers. And as a business consultant and franchisor, I’ve been on ride-alongs with techs and side-by-sides with call takers and cringed as a rough question caused a top-notch team member to fumble and falter.
Here are suggestions for smoothing over a few rough situations.
‘Could you do the job for less?’
Since the beginning of our industry, plumbers have often done a poor job of communicating the value of their services. As a result, customers are more likely to challenge your prices than they would in other buying situations.
A smooth answer to this rough question starts with implementing a formal sales training system at your company. A good sales system involves these basic steps:
1. Opening. A chance for your team member and customer to connect as human beings.
2. Discovery. Finding out what’s needed and wanted by asking questions and making a thorough diagnosis.
3. Offering solutions. Presenting options and prices and asking for the sale.
4. Delivery. Fixing the problem and collecting the money.
5. Follow up. Making sure all is well.
Yes, there is a lot to unpack in each step. Engage a professional sales trainer and implement their process. If your call takers and service techs follow a professional sales procedure, your customers may come to the inevitable conclusion that:
• You are the experts.
• You are premium-priced.
• They will make good decisions if they follow your team members’ recommendations.
As a result, your customers may not ask you to drop your price. Still, some might. So, for the service tech or the call taker, the smooth response could go something like this:
“Mrs. Fernwicky, it sounds as if you want to get the best value for your dollar. Is that why you are asking?”
“I get that. Our prices cover the costs of putting our top-notch operation on the road: insurance, training, safety equipment, PPE, software, apps, the trucks and tools and parts. And the price includes me. I will make sure this job gets done right, and our whole company is there to back us up. Would you like me to get started?”
Of course, the customer’s response will depend on the relationship and communication between her and the service technician, so one generic response will not work for everyone.
Sometimes you don’t need so many words.
Last fall, I was at a local home center store looking for a weedwhacker. Mine was wearing out and I wanted one that was a little more substantial, the next model up. As it was the end of the summer, I noticed they were shifting the floor inventory from garden tools to chain saws and snow removal equipment. Only one weedwhacker was on display. Luckily it was exactly the model I was looking for.
A young man approached me, offered his help and inquired about my gardening expertise. I cut him off and said, “I’d like to buy this weedwhacker. How much is it?” He replied, “$550.”
Now, this fellow must have taken some sales training classes because he didn’t say another word. As I know something about sales, I also knew it was a good time to be silent. I wanted to see if the silence would make him uncomfortable, and he might follow up with a lower price. The two of us looked at each other, silently, for several minutes.
Finally, I said, “It’s the end of the season. I’ll give you $500 for it.”
He said, “No.”
That was it. He said one word. “No.”
So I said, “OK. I’ll take it.” He took my credit card and charged me $550.
The obvious moral of this story is that less is more. He didn’t have to explain. He just stated the price and told me the truth. $550 was the price, not $500.
As I walked out of the store, I felt good about the purchase. I respected the young man. He stuck to his guns. Dropping the price would have made me wonder, “What would have happened if I hadn’t asked for the discount? Should I have asked for less? Does his boss know he is wheeling and dealing?”
He demonstrated integrity and I ended up with the tool I wanted. Did I want to spend less? Sure. Was I willing to pay more? Obviously. And I would do business with a straight shooter like him again.
‘Can you give me a price over the phone?’
There was a time not long ago when I would have suggested that you never give a price over the phone. Alas, the times are changing — and so are our buying patterns. Video chats may be an appropriate way to do sufficient troubleshooting for some basic pricing. Tread carefully here. More on this in a future column.
For most jobs, you will want a plumber or service tech to conduct an in-person diagnosis. These words may be helpful for your call taker:
“Mrs. Fernwicky, I understand it’s no fun spending money on home repairs and I suspect you don’t want to waste your time, or ours, if we are not a good fit. Does that sound about right?”
“Got it. When you receive a quote for service over the phone, keep in mind that the price may change once the technician arrives. Perhaps the current plumbing isn’t to code or maybe there’s a problem that wouldn’t be discovered without a closer look. We don’t like to give you a price that we can’t hold to.
“That’s why we don’t charge a dispatch fee. Mrs. Fernwicky, I can send a technician to your home. He can diagnose the situation and give you a firm price before any work is done. You can say yes or no at that time. There’s no cost to you for the visit and the diagnosis. May I schedule you for a service appointment?”
I’m in favor of skipping the diagnostic or dispatch fee. It’s just one more thing to get in the way of booking the appointment. Let’s take the rocks out of a rough road.
‘I’m your mother, pastor, friend, etc. Can I get a discount?’
The nicest people I know are plumbers and service techs, so I understand you will help a brother or sister out on occasion. Your smooth answer depends on whether you are the boss or a team member.
As an employee, make sure your friend or family member knows it is not OK to do a side job. They know better and so do you. And even if you are the boss, you put your team members in a rough spot if you ask them to do work outside of standard operating procedures. So you are also well-served to adhere to company policy.
“Yes, we have a friends and family plan. I’ll make sure our service tech knows you are eligible for a 10 percent discount. Rest assured that we won’t skip any steps. We like to care for all our customers as VIPs. That includes you, insert friend’s or brother-in-law’s name here.”
And depending on previous experience, your smooth answer may be:
“Oh, Mom (or Dad or Sis or Reverend), I value our relationship. I am not comfortable doing this job because the last time I worked on your house, we didn’t speak for a year. I am going to Venmo you $500 and give you the name of a great competitor.” Just sayin’.
I encourage you and your team to explore these questions and possible answers. Share stories and ideas and role play. They will come up with some awesome responses, so feel free to share them with me at email@example.com
Next month, let’s tackle tough questions from team members!
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