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Snakes on the Roof!

Every popular book or movie generally hues to a typical formula.  A hero faces a daunting challenge and makes a big effort to overcome trouble.  The reason this formula works is because humans are captivated by trouble and drama.  Jonathan Gottschall, the keynote speaker for the Digital Wrap Conference, documents in great detail the human attraction to dramatic story in his book The Storytelling Animal.   

Here are a couple of the money quotes from the book:

“Human minds yield helplessly to the suction of story.  No matter how hard we concentrate, no matter how deep we dig in our heels, we just can’t resist the gravity of alternate worlds.”

“Stories the world over are almost always about people . . . with problems.  The people want something badly – to survive, to win the girl or boy, to find a lost child. But big obstacles loom between the protagonists and what they want.  Just about any story – comic, tragic, romantic – is about a protagonist’s efforts to secure, usually at some cost, what he or she desires.”

If you want to keep the attention of your customers and get paid a premium for your services, you need to give the customer some trouble.  That sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  “The customer doesn’t want trouble!” you retort indignantly.  “Quite the opposite, in fact.  The customer really just wants nothing!  No breakdowns, no disruptions, no aggravation, no hassles.”  

And I couldn’t agree more.  But the problem with delivering nothing is that your service is taken for granted, and you will get unplugged from the account by “one truck Chuck” when he promises a lower price.  You can almost hear the customer now responding to Chuck’s low price pitch:

Nothing ever happens around here!  Why am I paying these other guys so much?  Chuck, thanks for saving me some money!  You won the business with your low price!

Of course, Chuck will screw it all up, and pretty soon the “nothingness” that was taken for granted will become a series of disruptions, breakdowns, hassles, and aggravation.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

 

You can give the customer what they want, which is nothing, as long as you are regularly finding snakes on the roof, snakes in the riser room, snakes in the ductwork, snakes in every nook and cranny of their critical equipment.  Of course, these are figurative snakes, not literal snakes.  The snakes are the equipment deficiencies that your technicians are recording with photos, audio, and video for the customer to review online via your Service Link. The deficiency snakes are clickbait that constantly reminds the customer how your diligence keeps them from getting bitten by disruptions and breakdowns which inevitably lead to hassles and aggravation.

The customers are only human.  They can’t resist clickbait.  Clickbait is a good story that shows how you have charmed and corralled the threatening snakes to save them from trouble.  When they open your online quotes offering all manner of snake traps and snake killing repairs and upgrades (mind you, no snake oil for the customer!), they are practically gleeful that the hero of the story (that would be you) has again prevailed over the devious equipment snakes that were plotting to harm them.  Approved! If you want to keep your customers for the long term, give ‘em some trouble by finding some snakes on the roof!

Also read:

Celebrating Five Years of ServiceTrade

Earlier this week on Tuesday, September 26, ServiceTrade turned five years old. If you don’t know our origin story, the roots of ServiceTrade go back to a national service company called DunnWell. A couple of smart, entrepreneurial fellas saw that the technology that DunnWell created was strong enough to evolve into a product that could help other commercial service contractors. That technology became a company on September 26, 2012, founded by Billy Marshall and Brian Smithwick.

What Billy said in the first blog post that introduced ServiceTrade nearly 5 years ago remains true today:

  • We were created to help service companies deliver better service, grow faster, and be more profitable.
  • Services still remain an underserved market for integrated SaaS applications – though it is improving.
  • Our application will always be better next week than it is this week.
    (Read 5 years of release notes here.)

Some members of ServiceTrade at one of Billy’s famous Low Country Boils.

  • Today ServiceTrade employs 21 full-time employees in 3 states.
  • We have more than 300 customers in 45 states and 4 Canadian provinces.
  • More than 14 million photos and documents are stored in ServiceTrade.
  • About 23,000 photos and PDF docs are added each day.
  • Around 2,600 invoices are created each day.
  • Over the life of our app, our customers have sent 240,000 quotes representing $483,000,000.

One of the earliest subscription contracts has a $3 per tech per month rate. Being first had its advantages. (Everyone in sales wants me to tell you that this rate is no longer available.)

Our first beta testers are now our oldest customers — these folks shared our vision and saw the opportunity for their businesses early on. They have become good friends and some of our most trusted advisors.

ServiceTrade’s first customer appreciation event and fishing tournament at the Outer Banks in 2014 was attended by 11 people. This year we’ll have 150 at the Digital Wrap Conference.  

2016 Digital Wrap Conference

 

Storytelling has been part of the fabric of ServiceTrade since the earliest days. Our blog has been active since early 2013. The five most popular blog posts for our first five years are:

Now is the most exciting time in our five years. Everyone on our team believes strongly in our mission and that they have a part to play in making our customers’ businesses more successful. Our customer roster has always held the most innovative service companies across the U.S. and Canada who push themselves – and us – to do new and better things. Let’s meet back here in 2022 to see how things have changed for our 10th birthday.

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Keeping Score is Not the Same as Winning

Every major sports venue has a prominent scoreboard so that fans and participants alike can easily review the score with a glance to the outfield or upward at the jumbotron.  Knowing the score is a critical element in decision-making.  No point in running the ball up the gut in football when you are behind by 3 touchdowns with five minutes left in the game.

Imagine trying to coach the game, however, by looking at the scoreboard instead of watching the action on the field.  Ever notice what is happening with the coaches on the sidelines during the game?  Doesn’t really matter what sport.  The coaches are riveted to the action on the field or on the court, right?  They may glance at the scoreboard occasionally, but most of their attention is directed onto the field of play.  So that they can make adjustments during the game to accentuate what is working and compensate for what is not.

Why is it, then, that commercial service contractors so often obsess over the accounting systems that measure the score while completely ignoring the customer service systems that provide real-time feedback regarding the action on the field of play?  Keeping score is not the same as winning.  Winning means that everyone is executing the plays for the business to the best of their ability and in the interest of great customer outcomes.  Accounting systems and accountants have almost zero impact on the game, and yet they are often placed at the very center of decisions regarding how to execute a winning game plan.  That’s like asking the statistician to draw up the winning play on fourth and long with the game on the line instead of entrusting it to the offensive coordinator.  The score at any time in the game matters, but it is a small element in a winning coaching strategy.

To be fair, customer relationship management systems, electronic commerce, and customer service applications (along with marketing automation) are newer applications on the market relative to the older and more established accounting and enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications.  It is worth noting, also, that these newer applications focused on sales and customer service are the fastest growing breed of applications on the market.  It makes sense.  If you are going to compete in today’s fast-paced and online markets, you have to observe and measure what is happening on the field – play by play – instead of just waiting for the score to be tallied.  How are the salespeople performing on their calls and quotes?  How are the technicians performing identifying opportunities for repair?  How are the customers grading your customer service via online reviews?  How often is the service level agreement being met or exceeded?  None of these items register in the accounting system, but all of them will have a profound influence on your ability to win the game.

There is nothing wrong with glancing at the scoreboard a few times every quarter to tweak the playbook.  Winning consistently, however, means a relentless focus on the play by play action in the field while making constant adjustments.  Keeping score is not the same as winning.  Remember this maxim when you prioritize how you invest in applications for running your business.

Better techs, better service? Try a better experience.

Do you have a “Papa John’s” sales pitch? They claim to have better ingredients, better pizza. Whether it’s true or not, the financial markets have spoken and Papa John’s is getting crushed by its biggest competitor, Domino’s. Here’s the stock growth for Papa John’s and Domino’s since 2009:

Does your sales pitch sound something like this: Better techs, better service? Even if it’s true, why should your customers believe it? Your competition makes the same claims. Who should the customer believe? It’s your word against theirs. The same goes for any other platitude you may use in your pitch. We care more. We work harder. We have more integrity. Prove it!

If it doesn’t work for Papa John’s and their multi-million dollar marketing budget, do you think it will work for you?

On the other hand, we have Domino’s. Obviously, they are doing something very right. In 2009, they moved away from slogans and hollow talking points when they introduced their mobile app and pizza tracker. They did so to harness the power of the Experience Economy, which is summed up nicely by the Harvard Business Review like this:

“An experience occurs when a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event. Commodities are fungible, goods tangible, services intangible, and experiences memorable.”

In other words, successful companies like Domino’s are winning more customers, making more money from each customer, and keeping them for longer by creating a memorable customer experience. And now more than ever, that experience is increasingly digital with fewer in-person interactions. For another example, consider Amazon’s convenient shopping experience compared to the chaos of a trip to Walmart. That alone explains Amazon’s wild growth compared to Walmart’s lackluster stock performance.

The problem with a great customer experience is that most of it happens after the customer buys something, making it difficult to incorporate into your marketing and sales pitch. It’s difficult to convince someone that’s never used Domino’s or Amazon just how awesome it is until they make the leap and try it out. Here are a few tips to overcome that barrier:

  • Adopt a modern customer experience: If you don’t have one, you can’t sell it. This blog post is a great starting point to build your service company’s customer experience: Customer experience is more important to your business than customer service.
  • Use language that describes the experience: Convenient, transparent, modern, accountable, and data-driven are all words that mean a lot more when you can back them up with a sleek, digital experience that offers these benefits. They stand out compared to what your customers are hearing from your competitors.
  • Give prospects a taste of the experience: As quickly as possible, show prospects what your customer experience is like. For example, you can give them access to a demo account in your online service portal or send them a sample online job summary (in ServiceTrade, send them a Service Link) or quote with pictures and videos from a real job. They won’t get the full experience, but they’ll quickly see that you’re a cut above the competition.

Platitudes won’t get you anywhere. Until you align your sales pitch with a valuable customer experience, you’re going to continue losing to the competition. Drop the Papa John’s slogan and try to offer a Domino’s experience.

 

Learn how to sell a service program with a modern customer experience: Webinar – Sell the program
Read more about Domino’s strategy as it relates to service contractors: Domino’s Dominance – There’s an app for that

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Get Busy Growing

“It comes down to a simple choice, really . . .  Get busy living or get busy dying.”  

            —  Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption

Growing your business is a simple choice.  And if you are not growing, the business is in decline, whether you realize it or not.  Equilibrium is dangerous, and it is also difficult to maintain.  The slightest perturbation will knock the system out of balance and cascade it toward its natural inclination.  If that natural inclination is growth, growth will continue.  If that natural inclination is a decline, the decline will hasten.  Growing is the better of the two choices, and it is actually easier and more fun than the alternative – grinding away just to keep what you have already.

Why do I say that growing is easy?  It is easy for many reasons, but foremost among them is because talented people gravitate to growth.  And the opposite is true as well.  If your business is growing, talented people will come aboard and stick around to advance their interests, while using their talent to build your brand.  If you are not growing, you will find yourself surrounded by dead weight on the payroll that you must lug around to achieve the results you desire.  You will work harder and achieve less, and that is no fun.  Less work for more pay is a better alternative.

So, how are you going to grow?  So that you can attract better talent, work less, and earn more pay?  A good place to start is simply committing the organization to growth.  Say it out loud to everyone.  “We are going to grow!”  Then set targets and build a plan, because it won’t happen just because you say it (although saying it helps). Here is a simple set of ingredients that I find work well in a growth recipe.  You can modify and add others, but these make a good start.

Choose Your Customers – It is difficult to grow when customers are a source of aggravation and heartache in the business.  Who wants more of that?  Choose customers that you actually enjoy serving, and who appreciate what you do for them.  Fire the others as quickly as you can, or raise their prices until they are forced to fire you.  The simple act of choosing good customers will give you miles and miles of credibility during your organization’s journey to consistent growth.

Keep the Customers You Choose – Great service businesses are built upon long lasting customer relationships.  Set up your service programs to maximize the outcomes for your best customers.  If you can eliminate customer churn, your growth every year will simply be the additional customers you add through the sales cycle.

Add New Customers – If you know the type of customers you want, and you also know how to serve them well, and you have a sales team that you pay to go sell to them, you should grow every year.  Simple logic, right?  If you cannot add customers, then you need to determine if your salespeople are ineffective or if your service program somehow is not attractive.  If you have already been successful in the first two principles above, you might need to replace your salespeople.

Commit to an Apprenticeship Program – If you know you are going to grow, you will need skilled labor to service the customers.  In case you have not noticed, there is a skilled labor shortage. It can be very difficult to hire quality trades people to deliver the service in the manner that keeps the customers you choose.  Go ahead and commit the resources to hiring, training, and developing talent to support your endless growth cycle. Always be hiring. The pressure of the growing payroll will add urgency to the sales efforts of the organization.

Offer a Branded Service Program – It is far easier to rally an organization around your branded service program than around platitudes like “integrity, honesty, hard work, motherhood, apple pie.”  Be specific in the creation of service programs and features that define your brand.  Commit to technology innovations that establish the bedrock of how you deliver service so that the organization can actually enjoy growth instead of being crushed by it.  “Work harder and care more” is NOT a sustainable growth strategy.

It may feel risky to you to strap on a bunch of ambition and commit to growing your company year after year after year.  It is far riskier, in my opinion, to grind away with mediocre people just to keep what you have already earned. Go ahead and be ambitious.  Get busy growing and enjoy the best things in life.

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Build a Services Brand that is Worth Something

ServiceTrade talks a lot about using technology and great customer service to increase the value of a service contractor’s brand. It is worth exploring what we mean when we talk about a brand.

What do we mean when we say brand?

As your personality makes you different from everyone around you, your company’s brand is a collection of characteristics that make it unique. Your brand is the truth about your company and what makes it special. 

ServiceTrade’s mission

I used to work at a branding and marketing agency that helped companies define and communicate their brand. Brands are the fabric of the business – what it does, what it values, and how it engages with the world around it. A genuine brand should reflect what’s happening in the business during normal operations —  not the aspirations of what anyone thinks should be happening now or in the future.

At the agency, we used an employee survey to help discover the truth of a company’s brand. One of the questions is “If <your company> was a car, what kind of car would it be?” I know it sounds like a silly question but it revealed so much. It wasn’t uncommon for owners and executives to claim high-end, high-cost luxury vehicles while people in the trenches in the lower reaches of the organizational chart identified with affordable, four-door family sedans. It was one of the strongest indicators of consensus or uncertainty across the company about the brand. For a fun exercise, ask this question of your employees and look at the range of responses.

Why is branding important?

A clear, engaging brand is as important as a person’s winning personality. Your brand sets expectations for what it’s like to work with you. Your brand is your reputation. It is what you are known as or known for. Your brand reputation should be protected as a valuable asset.

Besides establishing who you are, your brand defines what makes you different from your competition when someone cares to compare. Your brand helps people feel a connection to your company by understanding what it stands for and how it can help them. Your brand’s mission also directs your company’s initiatives and your employees in their work.  The next time you face a tough decision or a rough patch, take a look at your brand promises and see where they direct you.

Elements of your brand.

Hopefully, it’s clear that your brand is more than marketing, it is how you work every day. But there are some tools in your marketing toolbox that help you communicate your brand:

  • Logo
    • There are countless logo styles. Putting your brand into words can help a talented designer create a logo that reflects your brand.
  • Color palette
    • Choose a suite of colors to use on all of your materials and use them consistently. Creation of a brand color palette is usually part of a logo design project.
  • Imagery
    • Here we’re mainly talking about the style of photos, videos, or illustrations that you use on your website and in your sales and marketing. Do you have a cartoon character or set of iconography that you rely on? Do you prefer photos of environments over photos of people? Give this some thought, and use these elements consistently.
  • Tone of voice
    • If you were in a law firm instead of a services company your tone would be formal business language. But in services, you can be more casual and talk in direct, simple language to your audience. Be thoughtful about how you write on your website and in your proposals. If you’re easy to talk to (or read), maybe they’ll also think you are easy to work with.
  • Mission statement
    • Mission statements are usually for internal use to make sure that everyone agrees with what kind of car the company is (going back to my favorite branding survey question.) Craft a short mission statement. Share it. Repeat it. Let your mission drive everything you do. ServiceTrade’s mission is in the image at the top of this post.
  • Elevator message and key messages
    • Your elevator message is used externally when someone asks “What does your company do?” If you ask any employee in the company, you should get a similar response that could be delivered in the short amount of time of an elevator ride.

Who cares about your brand?

Everyone who has a relationship with your company.

  • Employees – Employees know what is expected of them as they deliver on your brand promises in their work.
  • Customers – Customers reap the benefits of your brand promise in every interaction with you.
  • Prospects – Your brand tells prospects if the things that matter to them matter to you.
  • Community – The communities where you do your work should also see you living your values in visible ways.

Live your brand.

I have four tips for you for living your brand to keep your company focused on the things that matter.

  1. Be genuine about your brand and your mission.
  2. Use your mission as a touchstone for your daily decisions.
  3. Talk with your customers to learn if their perception of your brand matches yours.
  4. Don’t stop building up your brand. It should evolve as your business grows and moves forward.

Increase the value of your brand.

Let’s be clear – adding to the value of your brand means adding to your bottom line. Here are three things you can do to increase the value of your service contracting brand:

  1. Stop competing on price and sell a premium program that provides better outcomes to customers.
  2. Give your customers a modern, online customer service experience that reduces their risk and aggravation and makes them want to work with you forever.
  3. Enable and encourage your employees to make decisions that support the mission and the brand so they can embody it fully.

Here are some resources that can help you increase the value of your service contracting brand.

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Case Study: Ressac Implements Sage Intacct with ServiceTrade Integration

For more than 85 years, Ressac has established itself as a high quality, low-cost commercial contractor for heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems. Specialties include low-rise office parks, mall retail, and big box retail sites.

 

THE CHALLENGE

Ressac recently implemented ServiceTrade to improve their service management and customer service. While this solved their challenges on the service side of their business, they were still using an outdated version of Dynamics NAV, a server-based accounting platform, to maintain financial records. “We were so focused on making improvements to the service side including customer service and earning more revenue that accounting was an afterthought,” explains Nick Rohan, CEO at Ressac. “We lacked real-time visibility into our financial information,” he says, “and we had to double key everything.”

With no transparency into financials such as working capital and cash flow, decision-making was more like guesswork. In a very competitive industry, and with a profit margin as low as 5-7%, it was critical to know the current situation when making business decisions. And since data wasn’t being shared between the accounting system and ServiceTrade, the finance team carried a large time burden related to too many AP and AR manual processes.

“Connecting to the old accounting system was cumbersome,” Mr. Rohan explains, “and we had a lot of issues getting into the system.” And with no AP approval process in place, service managers had to approve purchases, which took them away from more strategic job-related activities and created time-consuming invoicing of their clients. Additionally, data siloed within spreadsheets led to inefficient and time-consuming reporting processes throughout the organization.

Ressac desired a cloud solution that could streamline its AP workflow and approvals and provide real-time visibility into its multiple locations’ financial results. Sage Intacct’s financial management software was selected and was seamlessly integrated with ServiceTrade to eliminate many hours of manual data entry and reduce costly errors inherent in their old system.

 

THE SOLUTION

Nick recalls, “We relied heavily on ServiceTrade’s recommendation of Sage Intacct. When we looked at various systems,” he says, “what sold us on Sage Intacct was the reporting.” And selecting Wipfli as the service partner was easy. Wipfli provided full-service implementation, integration assistance, and ongoing support through a collaborative team approach as Ressac navigated through the process. “We liked the feeling from Wipfli, and had confidence in the team we were talking to,” explains Nick.

Everyone worked together to ensure a smooth integration. “The ServiceTrade integration is behind the scenes, so you don’t really notice it,” reports Nick. “With the Sage Intacct and ServiceTrade integration, we’re operating differently now,” he says. “The time we’ve saved on double data entry allows us to code our transactions, which allows for better financial reporting.”

With real-time visibility and transparency into their financial results across their multiple CA locations, Ressac now has the “right information at the right time” to make critical business decisions. “We’re getting more information out of our systems and doing a lot more meaningful work,” he says. The improved financial reporting means Nick Rohan and his team can easily see where their financials stand on a day-to-day basis.

What’s more, according to Nick, “the thing we really enjoy with Sage Intacct is our ability to access it anywhere from a browser, whether we’re at home or out of town. We can get in and see our daily runs and see how cash is doing,” adding, “it’s been fantastic!”

Overall, with Sage Intacct in place, Ressac taps into deeper financial and operational insights and is able to tackle more strategic issues, keeping the whole organization focused on their customers. Now the pressure of competition is less of a burden as Ressac has the insights its team needs to “grow strategically in existing markets and into other regions.”

 

LEARN FROM RESSAC’S EXPERIENCE

Key Requirements

  • Implement cloud-based financial solution to automate and streamline workflows and provide financial visibility
  • Integrate their new system with ServiceTrade to allow for one single set of data to run the business reliably and remove the guesswork

Key Challenges

  • Remove data from spreadsheet silos and make it available for decision-support across organization
  • Save time and reduce costly errors associated with manual data entry
  • Enable managers to focus on strategic initiatives

Key Outcomes

  • Gained real-time visibility into their financial results across locations
  • Saved time, money, and effort through automating processes, enabling greater focus on customers
  • Positioned to make long-term strategic plans for company

 

EXPLORE INTEGRATIONS

ServiceTrade can help whether you’re looking to integrate your current accounting system with our application or explore a new accounting solution. Call your representative to talk about the best way to start weighing your options and understanding the scope of integrating ServiceTrade with your accounting or other operational applications.

Read more:

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Are your services significant?

Significant objects are worth more than regular objects.  At least that is the conclusion arrived upon by the significant objects project and its team of researchers.  Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker, a writer and a journalist respectively, set out to prove that stories can increase the value of objects.  While it is tempting to view the goal of the exercise as justifying the existence of the writing class, the results of the experiment are unequivocal. Humans value stories, and they become invested in the life objects that reinforce the stories they enjoy.

Joshua and Rob purchased one hundred pieces of stuff from garage sales, thrift stores, and related trinket outlets for a grand sum of $129.  They then enlisted professional writers to conjure stories related to each piece of stuff to accompany the auction of said stuff on eBay.  The auction value of the storied stuff as measured by sales price on eBay was $3,612 – a return of 2,700%.  Pretty good margin, huh?

So what is the return on your services?  How much are you able to charge above what it costs you to deliver?  Somewhere between 30% and 50%?  Maybe your services would be more significant, and therefore more valuable if you delivered your services with the story describing what happened.  I don’t mean an invoice.  The story is what you saw, what you did, why you did it, and what likely trouble the customer avoided because of you.  It is also the photo essay of images that reinforce your story.  And I am not suggesting you type it all out.  Record it as a video or audio memo.  It will take all of 2 to 4 minutes extra, and it could be worth a lot over the course of the relationship with the customer.

Humans learn from images, story, rhythm, and rhyme.  It is programmed into us since the days of the cavemen and the campfires.  Since you are not going to insist the technicians become poets or rappers, you should at least insist that they relay their good work to the customer in the form of images and stories.  When you teach the customer something about their facility, it reinforces the good decision they made in contracting with you. Over time, the accumulated review of your work will imprint your brand in a manner that is not easily supplanted by the “one truck Chuck” competitor that is always willing to go lower on the invoice.   You will be able to raise prices because your services have become significant through the power of story.

We have seen this phenomenon time and again at ServiceTrade as our customers are surprised and delighted by how easy it is to get customers to approve online quotes when the photos demonstrating the reason for repair are literally viewed inline with the quote.  They are likewise surprised at how much customers value the Service Link feature that presents the “story” of the services delivered online with a gallery of photos, video, and audio for review.  They shouldn’t be.  Humans sharing photos and stories is the basic power behind the growth of Facebook into a company valued at $500 billion in a little over 13 years.  Maybe some of that Facebook photo and story magic will work for your brand.  Can you think of a better way to make your services more significant?

Is your service company’s training program missing something?

“I read the book and followed the instructions.” These words from Samwell Tarly in the third episode of the seventh season of Game of Thrones stood out to me. Sam is a student in a university where he’ll gain an education in medicine, science, and history. In the real world, students gain a general understanding of basic subjects in our school systems and universities.

In technical schools, relevant educational teaching is augmented with specific skills-based training. With the growing skilled labor shortage, figures like the immensely likable Mike Rowe challenge us to shift the pendulum back from pushing everyone to seek a four-year degree to encouraging skills-based training for a large number of students.

On the job – especially in service companies where a lot of training occurs – is teaching about the interconnectedness of every role in the business being skipped in the effort to get people working productively as fast as possible? Are staff members being taught only about the trees and nothing about the forest?

I bet you have a pretty well-defined training program. How much teaching goes on during that program? Do you take the time to teach your employees why the tasks they’re performing are important? Does everyone understand how the quality of their work affects operations, customer service, and overall profitability?

Sam is in a long-term educational program but was feeling the urgency to learn a few skills. He took a simple approach to learning these skills when the structure of the long-term education program wasn’t getting results fast enough – he read the book and followed the instructions. The lesson for us in Sam’s going rogue is to balance teaching and training.

At ServiceTrade we offer both teaching and training. In our blog posts, at conferences, and in The Digital Wrap we teach about the value of customer engagement in a service business. We teach service managers why online engagement is the best medium for informing and engaging customers. We teach business owners how it’s possible to give their customers an experience that has characteristics of the great customer service we all enjoy from Amazon and the convenience we find in the tools from Google.

When ServiceTrade offers training, it is specific task-oriented instruction in how to use technology and our application to efficiently run a service organization, provide helpful information online to customers, and earn more revenue for providing good outcomes for a predictable price. Training takes the form of online courses in ServiceTrade Certification and in live training sessions led by our services team either in person or online. But even our task-oriented training has teaching moments so that students understand the why behind the tasks we’re about to show them how to perform.

You can’t only teach and you can’t only train. Success comes from a foundational understanding through teaching and training specific skills atop of basic learning. Read the book and follow the instructions. Sam is the most unlikely hero, but with the right learning and a surprising amount of courage, he is just that. What heroes can you uncover in your skilled labor when you help them learn?

Looking for a good book to read? You’ll find helpful instructions in The Digital Wrap.

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Amazon Prime Lessons for Service Contractors

Everyone knows Amazon has been on a tear lately.  Here is their stock performance over the last 5 years as compared to the broader S&P 500.  Wow!  A big part of that success has been the Prime subscription program.  

Amazon customers who subscribe to Prime to receive the following benefits:

  • Priority shipping.  It varies by area and items from FREE 2-day shipping to FREE 2-hour shipping.
  • Prime videos, music, and books.  Certain titles are available to stream or borrow for FREE.
  • Photo storage.  Amazon will store your photos so you don’t have to worry about losing them on a device.

And there is a long laundry list of other Prime benefits that you can review here.  Most folks probably only care about one or two of the benefits, but which parts of the bundle are valuable to which customers probably varies considerably.  So Amazon just includes a bunch of stuff to cast the widest net into the market.  They are committed to the costs of most of these things anyway, so why not maximize the revenues across their most attractive customers while getting the glow of a great customer service reputation?  It also leads folks to spend more time and money with Amazon products.

So, what are you doing in your service contracting business to get more by doing more for your best customers?  Do you have a Prime program?  Is there a tier of service that includes the basic preventative maintenance program PLUS a bunch of extras that get them to pay upfront?  

Here are some suggestions for how to form a program that pays you similarly to how Amazon is paid.

  1. Give it a name.  Sales people cannot talk about your program and customers cannot reference it if it doesn’t have a name.  Amazon chose “Prime,” whose root is from the Latin word prim or primo, meaning first, as in first in line.  This is a good name because it conveys some meaning while also being easy to remember.  You should do likewise.  Obvious choices are names like “Premium” or “Platinum” or “Gold,” which are unimaginative, but at least connote value easily.  Ideally, you can name your program in a way that has both meaning and rhythm and rhyme so it is easy to say and easy to remember.
  2. Charge a subscription fee.  You should collect a monthly or quarterly or annual fee in exchange for the program.  Angle for annual for the obvious reasons, but offer other options that might appeal to different customers.  Try to price it where the average customer would happily pay for the benefits and you would make a decent margin on average.  Some customers will be more profitable than others, but maximizing profit is not the angle for the program fees.  Locking the customer into your services as the preferred vendor is the goal.
  3. Offer expedited service response.  Everyone likes the idea that they will get priority (hence the “Prime” name) service relative to others.  If you are committed to great service, go ahead and make the promise to your best customers that you will respond with skilled technicians to any problem within 1 or 2 hours.  Maybe there is also a promise to return a call or web inquiry within 15 minutes.  You are probably committed to it anyway, so why not get credit for it?
  4. Include basic maintenance services. If there is a PM protocol for the equipment that will be under your care, and you are committed to delivering the work, go ahead and build it into the program.  It makes it easier to schedule the maintenance when it is included (you don’t have to ask or wonder if they will pay), and you will get opportunities to upsell based upon the maintenance reviews.
  5. Offer a lower rate on all planned services. It is good for both you and the customer for all services to be planned instead of emergencies due to failures.  When you quote repairs and upgrades that can be scheduled instead of emergency, the rates will be cheaper.  The more customers you get into proactive mode instead of reactive emergency mode, the more efficient you can be with your scarce technician resources.
  6. Offer an online account. Give your customers a reason to come to your website.  Show them online details of their plan, history, equipment, quotes, etc.  It lowers your cost and makes your company stickier and more memorable.
  7. Offer a performance guarantee. After you get their equipment into good order AND you have a regular maintenance routine or remote monitoring to expose any risk, offer emergency service response at the subscriber program rates.  It shows your confidence in your plan, and it incentivizes the customer to approve your quotes for planned repairs so that the equipment stays in the program.  Any equipment exhibiting failure symptoms that are noted and quoted by you comes off the plan if the quote for planned repair is rejected or ignored.

When customers feel that you have been thoughtful in meeting their needs with a premium customer service program, they will happily pay a program fee to claim their membership.  You can use the steady cash flow and predictable schedules to hire and grow and expand the program.  Then you can put the Amazon python squeeze on all of your competitors and laugh as they wiggle and squirm in the grip of your escalating capability and brand value.