How To Optimize Training and Marketing for a Post-Covid World
As more states begin to flatten the curve on Covid-19 and the economy starts to reopen, workers in the skilled trades must prepare for what comes next, as we all adjust to the new normal of doing business in a post-Covid world.
“We need to start thinking about the permanent effects of what’s happening,” says Josh Campbell, President of Rescue Air in Texas. “People are going to be thinking about this stuff differently forever. I think it’s a new process.”
Rescue Air started thinking differently about HVAC services they provide, which helped the company grow by 70 percent in the first quarter despite concerns over Covid-19.
Campbell attributes the growth to Rescue Air’s partnership with Patriot Carbon, a private brand label for air scrubbers. He buys the UV-C germ-killing devices in bulk and Rescue Air offers to install them with each new air purifier installation.
“The conversation has completely changed now,” Campbell says. “Where we used to talk about allergies, now we’re talking about air sanitation and air quality from a whole different perspective.
“You’re putting in a healthy home system. That’s a completely different thing than what any other guys are offering out there. It’s not an upsell. It’s what we need in our homes.”
To learn more about what’s driving growth for the trades, Campbell and Susan Frew, President of Sunshine Plumbing Heating & Air in Colorado, joined Tom Howard, Vice President of Customer Experience for ServiceTitan, for a webinar conversation on how to prepare for a post-Covid world.
They talked about the ways they are moving their companies forward through the pandemic, including:
Whether hiring is a good idea in this economy.
How training concepts have changed because of coronavirus.
How they are using financing to drive average ticket size.
A marketing tactic that has paid off handsomely.
Here’s what we learned:
Are you hiring right now?
Rescue Air just hired 6 new technicians, a new CSR and a couple of installers. “We have a lot of talent coming at us right now, because people know we’re busy,” Campbell says.
Frew, a public speaker who consults with companies in the trades, says today’s technicians expect to receive a sign-on bonus. Some of her competitors offer as much as $10,000.
“That really hurts a lot of us who are smaller,” she says. “We will do a $5,000 sign-on bonus, but we pay it quarterly. That guarantees, for the most part, they’re going to stick around for a year.”
Frew, whose company lost all of its techs in one month after a former office manager failed to pay payroll taxes to the IRS, recently ran ads to hire new employees. The job postings resulted in only a trickle of new applicants, she says, mostly from laid-off workers at large commercial HVAC operations.
“I thought when we ran these ads, we would be inundated,” says Frew, but then she realized some of those unemployed workers are getting up to $640 in unemployment from Colorado and an additional $600 from the federal government.
“The lazy guys are saying, ‘Oh, I can make just as much money sitting home on my sofa, than I can going back to work.’ I think the $1,100 to $1,200 a week is the stopgap right there,” Frew explains.
Campbell uses that kind of attitude to weed out applicants for his company.
“The last place I want to be right now is on my couch,” he says. “I like my job, and I like to work and build stuff. If someone’s not coming to you and applying because they want free money, those aren’t the kind of people you want on your team.”
“The last place I want to be right now is on my couch”
Are you training new applicants differently?
Rescue Air employs a lot of young talent, Campbell says, and training presents one of the company’s biggest challenges, especially because of the need for social distancing.
“We hire based on attitude and people skills, so we’re already used to somebody not being plug-and-play. I’m not hiring somebody who I can stick in a truck right away.
“The best way to train somebody that I’ve found, outside of those leadership groups and tons of online training, is to do ride-alongs. That gets a little tricky, so we have to be very intentional about who we pair with who.
“We’re doing the best we can, and trying to give them all the training we can.”
For Sunshine Plumbing Heating & Air, Frew says most of the commercial HVAC applicants express little interest in working on a straight commission basis.
“They sort of weed themselves out,” she says. “We ask them to rank their sales skills from 1 to 10, and if it’s 5 or lower they’re probably not a good fit here anyway.”
Even though many companies are transitioning to performance pay, Campbell says, Rescue Air seems to get a lot of recruits who want “the security” of hourly pay.
So Campbell works on the why. He allows some techs to be hired on an hourly basis, but then requires them to ride along with a higher-level tech who receives performance pay. He uses ServiceTitan’s payroll system, which easily shows the tech what they could be making with performance pay.
“You just let them see it for long enough, get them to buy in on the why…why it’s good for them, why it’s good for the customer, why it’s good for the company,” he says. “Usually, you can make that transition…it just takes some time to embrace a little bit of change.”
Are you offering financing or new promotions?
Both Frew and Campbell say their techs often struggle when it comes to offering financing plans to customers.
“It’s not that they don’t understand financing or see the value in it, it’s that they’re scared to death to use it,” Campbell says. “You’ve got to get them super-duper trained up on how easy it is to just pull out your tablet, and finance someone quickly and easily.”
Contractors like Mario Campriano of Express Electrical Services in California are adopting a “buy now, pay later” mentality by offering customers financing plans, Howard says. Working through ServiceTitan’s GreenSky financing partner, Campriano offers customers a 12-month, no-interest, no-payment option as a way to be helpful in a time of need.
Howard, who also owns Lee’s Air in Fresno, Calif., says many customers need financing options.
“Most people don’t know that the average American can’t write a $1,000 check out of their bank account. If they say we’ll think about it, they don’t have the money,” he says.
The integrated financing app with ServiceTitan works well for Lee’s Air techs, especially on residential plumbing service calls, Howard says. The techs only need to ask four questions: 1) stated income 2) desired loan amount 3) Social Security Number and 4) birthdate.
To broach financing with a customer, Howard’s team simply asks them if they want to hear about promotions, such as no-interest, no-payment for six months, he says. Once they see the different payment options clearly laid out in the ServiceTitan app, they usually go with the upgrade.
To make sales happen during the Covid-19 pandemic, Campbell asks his techs, CSRs and sales people to close on as many sales as possible.
“Homeowners don’t want a bunch of people in their house. Every opportunity is easier to close on if you do get a foot in the door,” Campbell says.
The no-interest, no-payment options seem most popular.
“Rarely do we find ourselves talking about payment right now, because our customers are just happy there’s a no-no, and the interest rate makes sense,” Campbell says. “The rest of it doesn’t seem to matter.”
Are you marketing to previous customers?
Rescue Air just closed its second-best month in April, Campbell says, since starting the business in 2014.
He hit the gas on marketing to previous customers with a couple of videos on social media, and sent the right message to the right customers with targeted email marketing through ServiceTitan’s Marketing Pro.
“We don’t take care of marketing to our previous customers as an industry the way we are supposed to,” Campbell explains. “That is your most valuable customer.
“They trust you, they like you, you’ve already been in their house, and they’re willing to let you back in. These are the people who are easier to close. The closing percentages go up and the dollars per ticket goes way up.”
Build your presence on social media, send email blasts, mail postcards, and then do the outbound calls to previous customers. You’ve planted so many seeds by that point, the customer remembers you and knows you’ll take good care of them, Campbell says.
While Campbell says he’s also experienced great success with marketing on Yelp and HomeAdvisor, both Frew and Howard say finding marketing success with either depends on the region and which platform customers will use. All three say they’ve cut spending on Pay-Per-Click advertising, because it’s not generating any revenue.
“If something’s not working on one campaign, it could be the message,” Howard says. “People are not going for $49 tune-up specials right now. Check your messaging and see if it needs to change.”
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