Running a successful commercial business in the skilled trades basically requires three things:
Building trust with your customers, so they become customers for life.
Growing organically with those customers, as they expand and need more services.
Creating a culture of ownership and accountability, to ensure a white-glove customer service experience from start to finish.
That’s the recipe for success that Ian Goldberg follows in his new role as president of the commercial division at Frank Gay Services, a Central Florida-based provider of commercial HVAC/R, plumbing, and electrical services.
Despite losing revenue from some commercial customers during the coronavirus shutdowns, Goldberg says Frank Gay Services simply took the time to look internally, examine its systems and processes, and come up with a plan to strengthen its relationships with new and existing commercial clients.
The company is on track to earn $20 million this year, exclusively for its commercial services.
“Covid-19 changed everything. Our business has shifted, and it’s changed the way we think about things, which I think is great,” Goldberg says. “I think our business is going to come out stronger, from a process standpoint. When a lot of these commercial businesses recover, we’ll be able to take full advantage.”
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While Goldberg started his career on the other side of the table in asset management for real estate, he later joined Apex Service Partners, “a best-practice sharing organization” of investors who partner with some of the best service businesses across the country. Apex acquired Frank Gay Services a year ago, and Goldberg leads its commercial division.
Now as a service provider, rather than a services user, Goldberg wants to bring those best practices he learned at Apex to help other industries in the trades.
“We realized just growing our existing customer base, we could more than double the size of our business, especially with our current customers,” he says. “As we acquire new businesses and provide these best practices, it’s almost a plug-and-play mentality. It’s a very exciting opportunity for the person who masters winning and owning the customer.”
In a recent webinar hosted by ServiceTitan, Goldberg unlocks top customer service tips to win over long-term commercial clients and establish yourself as a strong commercial player in the skilled trades. Here’s an overview:
Know what customers look for in a commercial contractor.
Map a customer’s journey, then follow through to strengthen relationships.
Use cloud-based software to facilitate the commercial customer journey.
What customers look for in a commercial contractor
The No. 1 thing? Trust, Goldberg says.
A commercial client hires your company for its expertise in HVAC, plumbing or electrical services. They don’t want to solve the problem on their own. They simply want to trust your company to do the job right the first time, and they depend on you to identify and offer solutions.
That means training your team to do a full analysis, identify all potential problems, and communicate that information clearly and succinctly to the client.
“You want your service provider to call you and walk you through what that solution is, so by the time they’re done with the explanation, you kind of nod and just give them the go-ahead,” Goldberg explains. “If you do a great job, build trust with that customer, they really just care that the problem goes away, and not so much any of the other things that go on.”
Working with property managers in his previous real estate role, Goldberg says the process of walking the property each year to identify the top 10 problems, the solutions and estimated cost for each, and classifying them from most urgent to least urgent, easily transfers for a commercial business offering HVAC, plumbing or electrical services.
If you show commercial clients what’s going on and why they need to spend that money, then they’re more likely to:
1. Not question line by line what went into the job estimate. “It’s never a perfect science, we’re just trying to do things for a fair price and make sure we can afford good quality technicians,” Goldberg says.
2. Have full reasoning when they explain the problem and solution to their boss. “The more information you give people, the fewer questions come back later on. And the questions are always where you have friction with your customers,” he says.
Why does it matter? In the commercial world, contractors often play a bidding game to win a client’s job by responding to general inquiries or RFPs (request for proposals). Goldberg says that can be a “dangerous game,” complete with a winner’s curse.
“If you win, you start wondering, ‘OK, I was the lowest price … did I miss anything?’ I never want to be competing on that,” he says. “You’d rather be competing based on work quality, establishing a relationship, and getting calls. You want to own something from start to finish.”
Beyond avoiding the bidding game, contractors who build trust with a customer often win a recurring relationship.
“They are calling you,” he says. “It’s a different kind of relationship. Those are the customers who take the least amount of our time, we do great quality work for them, and they just kind of fit right into where we’re trying to go as a company. On the commercial side, everyone is trying to figure out how to build that recurring revenue base.”
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Customer journey mapping for commercial services
Following a brainstorm meeting with the Apex leadership team, Goldberg says Frank Gay Services rolled out its customer journey mapping process about a month ago to create a better sense of ownership within the company.
“We realized there was a huge gap from when we finished that first job, to how we dealt with that customer in the follow-up process to turn them into a lifetime customer,” he explains.
The gap occurred because there was no sense of ownership on his team, and everyone simply pointed the finger at someone else when a customer reached a certain point in the process, Goldberg says.
To create a sense of ownership, Frank Gay Services mapped the customer’s journey from the moment they became aware of the company, to performing the service, then to the follow-up process and regaining that customer’s business in the future.
The result? The company created the new role of Account Manager, an employee who owns a customer’s account and provides greater accountability. Goldberg says it’s a shift toward working proactively, instead of reactively.
“We’re definitely not done,” he says. “We could go through this for weeks and spend time perfecting it, but it’s been a great start.”
Goldberg sold the idea to the Apex leadership team by using a Disney World analogy.
“Coming from the Land of Disney, we use a term, ‘on stage or off stage.’ When you’re on stage, that means people who are visiting the park can see you and you are doing everything you can possibly do to make sure they have the greatest day they’ve ever had. When you are off stage, you are enabling the people on stage to succeed,” Goldberg says.
“That’s how we look at our business.”
The “on-stage” workers include the salesperson, service tech, or manager walking the property, whereas the “off-stage” support personnel include your account manager, CSRs, or finance people. By understanding how each person interacts with the customer (at each step), you can optimize the entire process.
“That’s the beauty of this exercise,” Goldberg says. “It has changed the way we do business.”
The customer mapping journey often involves five touchpoints:
Salesperson contacts the client to offer services.
Manager or senior sales technician performs a property walk-through to identify problems and solutions.
Account Manager steps in to onboard the customer, then coordinates all points of contact throughout the lifetime of the contract, including overseeing all billing and following up on any questions or concerns.
Service technician performs the work.
Finance department may be the last touchpoint, if collections become an issue.
Before mapping the customer’s journey in a matrix-style format, Frank Gay Services operated in more of a silo-structured format.
“We lost a lot of that,” Goldberg says. “Before we had an HVAC group, a plumbing group, an electric group, and they were handling their own little kingdoms. But, it stifled communication.”
When the coronavirus outbreak shut down the office for several weeks, the management team quickly identified who responded to emails, and who didn’t.
“That’s what came out of this process,” he adds. “Communication was 99 percent of our problems.”
It also highlighted how necessary the follow-up process is for strengthening relationships with commercial clients. By assigning ownership of a client to an account manager, follow-up becomes seamless, communication improves, and a happy customer drives more business.
“It has just changed our outlook. I’m so excited about what that culture of ownership and accountability is going to deliver long-term,” Goldberg says.
How ServiceTitan facilitates the commercial customer journey
When Goldberg took the reins of Frank Gay Services a year ago, the first move he made was to shift from pen-and-paper to cloud-based software to run the business more efficiently.
Luckily, he says, the company finalized its contract with ServiceTitan in January and February, before Covid-19.
“Covid forced us to shut down the office and go virtual. Thank God, we implemented ServiceTitan and Intacct, which allowed us to run our business virtually, dispatch technicians from home, and offer touch-free service,” Goldberg says. “It’s been a huge blessing.”
As a 100-tech operation, Frank Gay Services performs work for local governments, property management companies serving senior living communities, as well as the grocery, restaurant, and hospitality industries.
While work slowed down for senior communities, restaurants, and hospitality businesses during the pandemic, Goldberg says work increased for groceries and government clients.
“We’ve changed gears a little bit, we’ve changed our marketing. With commercial, we had to focus a lot more on outside sales,” he says. “We changed the way we went after customers, so we could be a lot more targeted in our approach.”
The company’s new account managers use ServiceTitan to pull data from the dispatch board for all jobs performed the day before, then they follow up with the customer to make sure the job is completed to their satisfaction and no open work orders remain. The account manager then checks the final bill for accuracy, sends it to the client, and follows up for payment.
“Now, we can pull our on-hold jobs out of ServiceTitan, and see why this was not completed. Has the bill not been sent yet or is the customer waiting? ServiceTitan really allows us to communicate across the company and keep our customers in the loop,” Goldberg says.
ServiceTitan is a comprehensive home and commercial services business software solution built specifically to help companies streamline their operations, boost revenue, and achieve growth. Our award-winning, cloud-based platform is trusted by more than 100,000 contractors across the country.
Ready to learn more about what ServiceTitan can do for your business? Contact our team to schedule a demo today.