“A good dispatcher can do incredible things for a business, whereas a bad one can sink a business.”
— Chisholm Brunner
Carrier National Accounts Manager Chisholm Brunner was born into a trade family in Muscle Shoals, Ala. Before finding her way to the manufacturing side of the industry, Brunner did it all—office cleaner, dispatcher, technician, and general manager.
She holds a degree in marketing management and a state master’s license in HVAC.
On the “Toolbox for the Trades” podcast, Brunner weaves through stories about grassroots marketing, the importance of specialties in the trades, and the necessity of hiring the right person to answer the phones.
Here are Chisholm Brunner’s top tips for trade business management:
Key TakeawaysHVAC and plumbing are two different things.Don’t let marketing be your downfall.Grassroots marketing works.Answer your phones!Dispatchers are a key profit center.Make sure you have a call script. Get techs to stop fixing things instead of presenting estimates or options. Take advantage of industry networking groups. Recommended research and reading
HVAC and plumbing are two different things.
Since many HVAC shops try to open plumbing divisions, and vice-versa, there is a tendency to clump them together, Brunner notes.
“As far as the ServiceTitan aspect and the way your software and your programs work, they obviously work for both trades, and for electricians for that matter,” she says. “You can really open into it. But each is a trade, a craft, and they’re different.”
Don’t let marketing be your downfall.
Brunner says you’ve got to know your market to know how to invest your marketing dollars.
“I find a lot of owners might be really good at their P&L, but they don’t track the callbacks and they don’t track their marketing money,” she says. “They throw dollars hand over fist out the door on marketing, and they never pay attention to whether or not it got them anything.
“Discover what works. Don’t do billboards because it works for somebody somewhere else.”
Grassroots marketing works.
Some of the best techniques for marketing are some of the easiest, low-cost ones, Brunner says.
“You need to be on the Little League field, in the community,” she says. “Whether it’s Habitat for Humanity or whatever the local charity is, you need to know your community demographic.”
Postcards are great, she adds, and so are door hangers. “Old-school stuff still works,” she says.
Answer your phones!
Before investing in marketing, invest in your office staff, Brunner advises.
“You can run all the marketing in the world, but it won’t work if people call and end up with a third-party lead generator,” she says. “I’ve looked the number up on the internet and then reach Angie's List or HomeAdvisor or something. And then, I’ve been transferred to the company and get an answering machine. No. This is a biggie.”
Dispatchers are a key profit center.
A good dispatcher can do incredible things for a business, whereas a bad one can sink a business, Brunner says.
“A good dispatcher is hard to find, but if you put the systems and processes in order, you can build them,” she says. “And, if you have a good dispatcher, they know their people—the technicians and their level of experience, their attitudes—and the customers. The dispatchers hold that first relationship.”
Brunner says it’s important to have a dispatcher who has a “happy but firm disposition. They have to be sympathetic but also able to handle customers—and handle technicians, too.”
Make sure you have a call script.
When a customer calls your office, you should have a call script for the person answering the phone, Brunner says.
“They have to listen to the problem and be sympathetic, but they also need to ask, ‘What is your address? Let me verify your telephone number. I need your email address.’”
Another key for the script: A reminder to ask about maintenance agreements, she says. It’s a chance to see if the agreement has lapsed and maybe it’s time to renew it.
Get techs to stop fixing things instead of presenting estimates or options.
Brunner knows techs don’t like to sell. “Technicians like to flat out tell you, ‘I’m not a salesman,” she says. “They fix things. They think salespeople are crooks.”
She recounts a time she was a GM and her tech was working on a very old unit. The tech assessed that the customer couldn’t afford a new air conditioning unit. Brunner demanded he go back and explain why she probably did need a new unit.
“Forty-five minutes later I got a call back from the tech,” she says. “He said she wanted a top-of-the-line unit and she pulled the money out from the back of the toilet to pay for it. We have to teach techs not to judge what people might want or be able to invest in.”
Plus, she adds, if you ask technicians to make a list of everything that’s wrong with the system, and then show it to the customer …
“You’re not a crook if they ask you for a new unit,” she says.
Take advantage of industry networking groups.
Before joining Carrier, Brunner was a business adviser for Service Roundtable. She’s seen how tradespeople are always up for sharing information within the industry. “You have to be willing to be vulnerable,” she says. “Don’t fudge your numbers. Don’t judge. Somebody in your group will have faced the challenge you’re facing, and they’ll share with you.”
Recommended research and reading
The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman HVAC Spells Wealth by Ron Smith The E-Myth HVAC Contractor by Michael Gerber and Ken Goodrich Lead the Field by Earl Nightingale Selling in Tough Times by Tom Hopkins