Scheduling a service repair for something mechanical in the home can cause anxiety with customers, and it's up to your service techs to immediately put them at ease.
Techs also need to take the time to inspect the entire mechanical system, ask questions, show empathy, and clearly articulate solutions that quickly turn estimates into converted sales.
But, customer communication may just be the most important tool in your toolbox, says Joe Cunningham, a lifelong HVAC tradesman and founder of the Technical Arts Center in Houston.
In a recent webinar hosted by ServiceTitan, Cunningham shares advice for helping service technicians improve their communications skills, and offers strategies for overcoming customer apprehension when providing an estimate or proposal.
To begin, Cunningham lists some “undeniable facts” about home service customers, regardless of trade:
80-85% of customers are women
Most know little about the trades
Most are home alone or with kids during a service appointment
Many feel apprehensive with a stranger in the home, or previously experienced poor service with an in-home provider
He says service technicians face initial skepticism for a number of reasons, and the key is understanding how the customer feels, and using proven strategies for overcoming apprehension.
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4 tips for overcoming client apprehension and primary concerns
Cunningham says overcoming apprehension begins the moment the technician leaves the truck. Customers quickly form opinions on appearance and whether a technician shows confidence and empathy.
He suggests the following tips to help technicians connect with customers while preparing an estimate or completing a service call.
1. Professionalism is paramount: “The No. 1 one thing you have to remember is people are visual creatures, and the appearances of the provider when they show up can either make this client really comfortable or uncomfortable,” Cunningham says. “They can make the customer feel safe or not safe. They can make them feel willing to believe and trust or not willing to believe or trust.”
He says many techs sell high-dollar solutions, and the customer has only a few seconds to form an opinion and decide whether the service provider and company appear credible. But it takes more than a tucked-in shirt and pleasant report to overcome customer apprehension during the estimating process.
2. Confidence is key: “Clients want to deal with professionals who show concern, but speak with certainty and clarity and are able to communicate with visual aides,” he says.
Cunningham says it took years of working in the field to perfect his communication skills, which he now teaches to prospective HVAC techs at his Technical Arts Center. He says people feel comfortable looking at descriptions and diagrams because it helps them clearly understand the problem.
3. Show empathy: “When you show up, if you don’t act like you really care, the customers aren’t going to care about you, because they want to know if you're empathetic with their situation,” he says. “And they as a client are appreciated and valued and that you truly care and want to help them.”
Cunningham says it's easy for techs to feel burnt out and downplay a customer concern, especially when it’s an issue they see frequently. It may seem like a minor problem to the tech, but for the customer, it’s often a life-disrupting problem. He says customers are more likely to accept your positions, ideas, and solutions when they feel appreciated and valued.
4. Establish a service protocol: Cunningham says home services businesses need to establish company-wide protocols clearly articulating customer service policies, so all techs offer the same level of customer support.
“Anytime you're trying to build a service department for success, it's really important for all technicians to treat their customers the same exact way, to follow the same processes and procedures, and to show the same level of empathy and care,” he says. “That way, this customer knows no matter what tech comes from your company, they'll receive that level of service.”
Cunningham compares in-home support to eating in a restaurant, saying many people return to their favorite restaurants because of the exceptional service and experience. “They will love you if you treat them well,” he says. “And our goal is to go back again and again, and the way we build companies is through repeat customers and that's what we're really after.”
What do home services customers really want?
While giving an estimate, setting the stage is the first step toward making a good first impression and establishing trust, but Cunningham says you have to offer solutions the customer really wants.
When it comes to the psychology of the typical home services customer, Cunningham suggests a book by Dr. Frank L. Luntz: What Americans Really Want ... Really. “It hits every point if you want to grow an exceptional service business,” he says.
According to Dr. Luntz and Cunningham, home service customers typically want five things:
Cunningham says many techs mistakenly address a single issue instead of inspecting the whole HVAC, plumbing, or electrical system, making it difficult to provide the customer with options for saving money and reducing hassle.
“You’ve got to give them the options, you’ve got to give them the choices, and you’ve got to help them make it work,” he says.
How can service providers give the client what they want?
After considering the customer’s needs, Cunningham offers the following advice for giving them what they really want.
Create a favorable first impression: “If you don't look like a professional, you're not going to get the impression that you want from the customer,” Cunningham says. “They're not going to perceive you as being somebody they can really make a credible option with, because one of those options could be incredibly expensive in my mind.”
Assure the client you are there for their benefit: Cunningham says you need to show empathy and assure the customer you’re there to solve their problem.
Fully explain every step of the call upfront: “There should be no surprises,” he says. Technicians can find themselves in awkward situations because they didn’t explain their need to work in a bedroom or access the attic.
“When a customer doesn't know where you're going or what you're going to do, they're usually very surprised what you're doing because they don't understand the steps that it takes to properly find the issue,” he says.
Find any and all problems related to your trade: Cunningham stresses the importance of inspecting the whole plumbing, HVAC, or electrical system when making a service call or providing an estimate. Otherwise, he says a customer will blame you when something else goes wrong and question why you didn’t discuss the issue during your initial visit. It also builds trust and provides opportunities for additional business.
“We can't give them options to solve problems if we don't know what the problems are,” he says. “So, you have to find all the problems in the house in relation to your trade. This is going to actually make your customer have far more trust and confidence in you when you look.
Educate the customer on how the problem impacts daily life: Cunningham says a customer won’t accept a solution to their problem if they don’t understand how it impacts their daily life. Again, he recommends using diagrams to demonstrate the problem and suggested solutions.
Explain the consequences of putting off the repair: More customers will buy a solution to prevent a future problem, Cunningham says. It frees up their time to do what they really want, lessens the hassles in their daily life, and saves them money.
Tell the customer about your company’s guarantees and assurances: “A lot of you have fantastic guarantees, but you don't tell the customer about them, so they don’t know,” he says. “They don't know you provide service 24 hours a day. They don't know you give 100% money-back guarantee on everything you do.”
Provide different levels of solutions: By providing different levels of solutions, Cunningham says, you’re educating the customer on the full scope of the project and providing multiple solutions. The customer may not want the additional service today, but it increases the chance of future business and helps fill your pipeline.
While Cunningham says all of these strategies give the client what they want, he says service techs need to make it easy for the customer to say “yes.”
“It has to be an offer they can't refuse—a quote from a great movie,” he says. “But your options have to be good. They have to be able to say ‘yes’ to one. And they are able to say ‘yes’ to one when you make it easy to understand and fit their needs and wants at that time.”
How to make it easy to say yes
Cunningham has trained more than 35,000 techs and sales reps, and he says they often believe they can't close a sale because they don’t have a “magic phrase” or sales pitch.
In reality, he says it's because they don’t address the customers' needs or offer solutions to solve their problems.
When giving an estimate, use the following tips to help home service customers say “yes.”
Set the stage, build trust, and create confidence: Customers aren’t looking for a cheesy sales pitch. They want professional-grade help, top-notch customer service from a confident and empathetic technician, and multiple options for solving their problem.
Find any and all issues related to your service. Cunningham suggests asking questions to help uncover problems the customer may not think to mention, such as “What’s the most uncomfortable room in your home?” or “Does anybody in your family suffer from allergies?”
Provide best-choice levels of solutions: He says you should never pitch services a homeowner doesn’t need, but recommends educating the customer to the point they understand all available solutions. When providing good-better-best service options, Cunningham always considers how a repair will save the homeowner money, enhance their life, and create less hassles.
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Bonus estimating tips to help home services customer say “yes”
Cunningham offers some additional tips for helping clients feel comfortable and empowering them with the right information to close a sale, and hopefully gain a repeat, life-long customer.
Don’t confuse customers with too many options: Likening it to a 10-page restaurant menu, Cunningham says the more options you provide with an estimate, the more confused the customer becomes. He prefers a good-better-best model, keeping estimates and proposals to three to four options.
Use visual aides to inform and build trust: Cunningham says taking the customer directly to the furnace or electrical panel is often effective, but not always viable as some homeowners may experience mobility issues. He suggests bringing along easy-to-read diagrams, such as handouts or a PowerPoint presentation.
Follow up on unsold estimates: Cunningham says email is ineffective for following up on unsold estimates, because they’re easy to delete. He prefers to direct mail a letter to the home and follow up with a phone call. He suggests running a campaign near the end of the season targeting unsold estimates.
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