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Time is the great equalizer. No matter how big your company is, time is a commodity that becomes very limiting in terms of the ability to be there when our best clients need us. Both large and small companies are basically “closed for business” once their schedules become saturated with opportunities.
Drinking from a fire hose
In the service industry, you have to be more than quick on your toes. Especially when calls are pouring in because of some extreme weather or other phenomena causing increased customer need. This tends to happen in the summer months when the weather is hot and many residential AC systems start to fail and need repair. The spring brings flooding season, accompanied by an influx of calls for plumbers. Additionally, electricians feel the rush to fix heating units before the holidays at the end of the year. No matter what industry you’re in, there will be a time when you can’t keep up.
Having enough opportunity can quench the thirst of going through a dry spell. But when it’s too busy, it’s like drinking from a fire hose. You can literally drown your company in too much opportunity, and then pay the price in unpaid overtime expenses, employee burnout and unhappy loyal clients leading to the ultimate destruction of your business.
The system IS the solution
To begin thinking about a “systematic” priority system, consider what’s needed as a version of emergency room triage. Just like a hospital, we need to make sure that the more urgent patients get service first, while taking into account whether the patient has the right provider that’s covered in their network. Plus, we’ve got to make sure that all the proper paperwork has been completed to secure the financial obligations that go along with an emergency service like that.
In your emergency room, your CSRs and technicians need to have a system for quickly prioritizing the incoming service calls. This allows you to respond to customers and send out your field techs in an order that makes the best sense for your company, and more importantly, for the client. That’s why I want to share with you a system for prioritizing these kinds of calls and customers to make your job in a busy time much easier.
There are eight main counter intuitive questions for your customers; the answers will determine how many points total each customer is assigned. This helps you determine whose house you should visit first, second, third and so on.
1. The severity of the problem
Most plumbing systems work below the consciousness of the mind of the average person. When the system comes to a grinding halt, this can make the issue the most important thing in their lives. So, the first question involves the overall seriousness of the problem:
“Is the system operational right now?”
A range of responses could include:
• The system is working perfectly. (Perhaps just getting estimates or a maintenance call)
• It’s working, but something isn’t right. (Not working up to capacity or a strange sound)
• Is it just not working at all.
The current condition of the system in need of repair and the effect it has on the life of those using it is a key indicator pointing to the motivation of your client. So, if the client’s life has been put on hold due to not having any power, hot water or air conditioning, the decision-making process will move more rapidly since they not only need to restore the mechanical system but their way of life as well.
2. The level of urgency
Sure, you might say that if the AC (or any important) system is completely broken, the urgency is incredibly high, but not everyone responds the same. One person’s crisis may be another’s inconvenience.
Try to gain a voluntary commitment by asking a neutral question such as:
• “So, what were you hoping to accomplish on today’s call?”
As opposed to the more leading question:
• “Do you want to get the heat back on today?”
Neutral questions are a more solid commitment since the client actually thought about and made the choice without you giving them the idea. The leading question, where you suggest the outcome for the client is really no commitment since they are committing to your words and not theirs.
3. The service loyalty
History does matter in life, so while you welcome brand-new customers and treat them very well, you also show some extra special allegiance to those who have a positive history using your company — especially those who have taken out service agreements with your company.
You can start by looking at the service contract history, and see if they have a contract with your company. Or has your company ever been up to their home before? Who usually does their service? These answers also help to determine whether your customer is more likely to move forward and get the work done rather than turn this call into a shopping expedition or do-it-yourself project.
4. The presence of decision makers
Asking this simple question can make a world of difference between the ability your customer has to take action. To be clear, I’m not saying that this is a condition of performing service. However, it could go a long way to make sure the people who need to know about the problem and how to fix it are fully informed. Just ask a question like the following:
“To show everyone respect, we like to make sure that everyone has equal access to the information. Will all homeowners be available today?”
How many times have you been stopped because the decision-maker was not present? Always find out how you will get access to all of the people who are part of making the decision on what should be purchased, whether it be by phone, text, email or in person.
5. The source of reference
The manner in which your customer is requesting your service is an important factor in delivering the service that your potential client expects. For instance, if a service tech is booking the call for the client, this is a very high priority since the credibility of a team member is on the line.
If the call is generated by a referral from a current client of yours, it also ups the ante of the request in terms of the commitment you’re receiving and the exclusivity of the implied endorsement by that client. Referrals also elevate the risk since you’d be letting the client who referred you down if the job didn’t get done.
The type of advertisement that created the opportunity is also important. Discount coupons or ads that seek to give a lower price usually indicate buyers will shop competitively. Calls where the source comes from a pay per click or the phone book are usually emergency calls, which are usually more urgent.
6. Home warranty claims
Does the person on the phone with your company have a home warranty? If your company doesn’t work with a home warranty provider, simply let the customer know that they can still work with you, but they have to make the claim with their home warranty company.
NOTE: 80 percent of the people who have a home warranty don’t want to use it because it’s such a hassle. Usually these warranties get included along with the purchase of the house. Nonetheless, you still need to tell these customers with home warranties about your services and not rule them out altogether. Start by asking:
“Do you want to submit that claim today through your home warranty?”
7. Buyer purchasing trends
Many customers will ask, “How much is it gonna cost me and when is it gonna get done?” Create several price points with different response times/prioritization for the service calls, and find out where your customer lands.
Imagine having a client who has been prequalified with a credit line to purchase from your company. Now you can! All you have to do is ask the customer:
“Are you planning on using our zero-interest easy payment plan? A check? Or a credit card?”
If they would like to use the easy payment plan, you can send them a link by email. Let them know that they can even use easy financing for their service call. If they want to use a credit card, that’s also great because it gives them “instant-financing” terms without any hassle. Payments by check or cash are limited by the funds the buyer has on hand or in the account. Lastly, the worst-case scenario is when people don’t have any money or resources. As we all know, rule No. 1: “No money, no sale!”
Use the above factors to dial into what your best opportunity is when you’re busy. You owe it to your loyal clients, employees and vendors to make a profit. Making sure we are executing the highest priority client will do exactly that.
We’d like to offer you a free call prioritization scoresheet that will help you and your associates at your residential service company in getting through those high-pressure times when service calls are pouring in and need to be ordered quickly.