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Break the Profit Vise

Service contractors, you’ve got 2 huge problems. First, skilled workers are expensive and hard to find. We call this the “Skilled Labor Squeeze.” Second, small-time competition is undercutting you on price. We call these fly-by-the-night operations “One Truck Chuck.” With expensive labor driving costs up and cheap competitors driving prices down, you’re stuck in a profit-squeezing vise. So, what are you going to do about it? It may seem crazy, but the answer is to organize your customer service data.

Not sure what I’m talking about? Take a look at this blog post from a couple weeks ago about the inefficiencies hiding in most service contracting businesses. Basically, customer service data, the information necessary to provide world-class service, is usually scattered or locked up in an accounting system and filing cabinets. Data like service history, scheduling information, equipment failure records, and customer contact information, to name a few, are stored in a hundred different places and in a hundred different formats.

Effective collaboration makes technicians more productive and helps customers understand why you are different and better. If your information is locked up and inaccessible by technicians and customers, you’re especially vulnerable to the Skilled Labor Squeeze and One Truck Chuck. Why? Let’s break it down:

Technicians
Administration, callbacks, and downtime are extreme wastes of tech time that are all caused by messy customer service data. Taking calls to answer questions about the work they performed last week is a waste of time. Calling the office or other techs to understand service history at a location is a waste of time. Going back to a location to gather data that was lost in the office is a waste of time. Coming back to the office to drop off paperwork is a waste of time.

Real-time collaboration of centralized customer service data in the cloud eliminates all of that waste. When skilled labor is more difficult to hire than ever, it’s critical to keep field technicians as productive as possible.
Customers
If your only vehicle to inform customers about what you do for them and why you’re important is an invoice, Chuck is going to steal your customers. In their eyes, you and One Truck Chuck look the same. You need to show them how you are more valuable. Queue the customer service data!

Once your data is organized and accessible, you can differentiate yourself from Chuck by collaborating with customers and providing visibility to the quality of your work. You can show them how thoughtful your program is. You can show them the pictures and videos that demonstrate equipment failure. You can show them how you save them money by keeping your techs productive working on their equipment instead of wasting time on administration and callbacks. You can show them how you help them make better decisions because they will have better information.

You will stand out against One Truck Chuck when you collect and use service information in helpful ways for the customer.
Organized customer service data enables collaboration. Collaboration makes techs productive. Collaboration creates value for customers. This doesn’t work when the data is locked up in an accounting system. This doesn’t work when data is scattered across spreadsheets, email inboxes, and paper. Organize the mess, free the data, and start collaborating.

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Fill the Stadium for Your Customer Service Features

So now what?

You’ve completed a big project to add new capabilities or value for your customers – something like implementing ServiceTrade or adding the Service Portal to your website. How do you get the word out so your customers start using and appreciating it?

If you have asked those questions, you aren’t alone. I’ve heard them half a dozen times so far this year.  While you’re basking in a successful implementation, it doesn’t take long to realize that implementation was just the beginning. So what’s next? Driving adoption is the next project – and you’ll want to jump on it fast.

Feed Adoption with Customer Marketing

Every time we talk about marketing with service contractors, I feel like the response is something like “I got 99 problems and marketing is #99.” But marketing communications will help your customers understand and use your great customer service features.

Billy said this in chapter 7 of The Digital Wrap: “The strongest benefit of the digital wrap approach to marketing is that your marketing and sales impressions are actually valuable to the customer instead of being an aggravation or interruption.”  He was writing about the marketing impressions that should be built into your service cycle, but it’s a pretty good rule for every marketing impression.

Marketing outreach is a good way to educate your customers about what you’re offering and why it’s good for them. You don’t want to send your first Service Link (online after-service report) and get a call from the customer asking, “What is this and why did I get it?” But your marketing must be seen as helpful, not annoying.  Here’s how.

Invite Your Customers to Play Ball

Since a few people have asked for our advice for bringing awareness to their new customer service features, we have assembled examples, templates, and first-draft copy that you can use. Some of the materials available in our marketing resource center are:

  • Example websites from our customers
  • Bannerstand for trade shows or conferences that you can borrow
  • Powerpoint slides
  • Example email, invoice insert letter, and handout or postcard
  • Screenshots of customer service features, and more.

Take a look at those marketing resources and use them as a starting point for your own programs. You can run a marketing communications program without dedicating a ton of time or financial resources – doing a little is more effective than doing nothing at all.

Bring Them on Home

With a little bit of thoughtful outreach and follow up, you can:

  • Get your customers to adopt all your customer service features.
  • Help your customers understand how the program they bought from you continues to be good for them.
  • Keep the stream of communication open and ongoing.

Your account managers could do this work 1-to-1, but marketing can do the same 1-to-many. Make marketing communications do the heavy lifting, and have account managers follow up with their accounts.

There was a quote in the movie A Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” Why that may be true for lost baseball legends on a farm in Iowa, it is most decidedly not true for service contractors who want customers to take advantage of their new, modern, online customer experience. Like with modern baseball, you’ve got to do some work to get butts in the seats.

The Digital Wrap

 

 

Read Chapter 7 of the Digital Wrap for free!  You’ll gain an understanding of how many valuable marketing impressions you can earn with your customers (and sometimes with prospects) during your service cycle.

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Scattered Data Could Sink Your Ship

Every day, we talk to service contractors that think the biggest problem with their business is double-data entry into their accounting system. We tell them the same thing every time. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface, it’s hard to see the hundreds of small, but cumulative inefficiencies caused by scattered customer service data. Organizing that data will lead to leaps in efficiency and bounds in customer service.

By “customer service data,” I don’t mean accounting information. I’m talking about the data necessary to provide top-notch customer service and efficiently deploy your most expensive resource, skilled technicians. Data like service history, scheduling information, equipment failure records, and customer contact information to name a few.

Where is your customer service data stored? Multiple spreadsheets and Word documents on a server? Paperwork, files, and whiteboards? Pictures and videos on phones and random computers? Even worse, an accounting system that isn’t designed for customer service that only a few back-office staff have access to? Furthermore, how is that information communicated throughout your team? Email and text? Phone calls? Fax and snail mail? Cup and string?

Let’s dive a little deeper and take a look at how scattered data makes your team slow, inefficient, and prone to error.

Back Office

Bookkeepers shouldn’t be chasing wild geese. Hunting down coworkers to get the information they need to correct invoices, complete payroll, and record costs is a waste of time. And, it’s easy to blame sloppy front-office staff and technicians for the mistakes and oversights that they have to deal with. However, sloppiness is not the root cause of the problem. Instead, consider the inevitability of data getting mismanaged or lost by the front office and technicians when there are so many systems in place to store and communicate it. That means more time spent chasing the data, and less time spent billing the customer.

Front Office

The front-office team, typically responsible for scheduling, customer service, and quoting, is the biggest victim of scattered data. Accounting systems are either unable or are poorly equipped to help them manage customer service data. In that vacuum, they implement a patchwork of paperwork, software, and processes to accomplish their goals. The resulting hodgepodge slows everyone down and is prone to error. Here’s what I mean

Q.) What did we do last time we were at that location?

A.) Let me dig up the file. I can’t read the tech’s handwriting, so I’ll send him back out.

 

Q.) What was the problem with my equipment and when can I expect a quote to fix it?

A.) Someone else takes care of quotes. They are on vacation so I’ll have them call you back in a week.

 

Q.) When is a tech supposed to be on site?

A.) Check the calendar. Oh wait, that calendar is out of date. I don’t know.

 

Q.) Can you get that file for me?

A.) No, the server is down.

Technicians

Skilled labor is the most expensive and coveted resource for service contractors. Technician downtime and missed opportunities can be attributed to disorganization and miscommunication of customer service data most of the time. The ball gets dropped somewhere in the multitude of channels used to tell techs where they need to go, when they need to be there, and what they need to do. When the work is done, the information about what was discovered or completed is slow to travel back to the office, if at all and is often unintelligible. That means more communication with the tech to find out what happened and more wasted time.

All of our customers thought that double-data entry was their biggest problem when they first approached ServiceTrade. A couple months after implementation, they gained visibility to the underside of the gigantic iceberg that was slowing down their business. However, after 6 months of using ServiceTrade, that iceberg turned into an ice cube when they were finally able to streamline their customer service data.

5 mistakes most commercial service contractors make

Dear commercial service contractors,

Your cousins, residential service providers, have it figured out. What are you doing? Why are you still acting like a company from the 90s? Why aren’t you taking a page from their book and modernizing your customer service and marketing? I get it, they play by a different set of rules, but there are 5 statements that I hear from most commercial companies that drive me crazy:

 

1.) “I don’t need to update my website.”
It’s 2017. If you don’t think that customers and prospects are judging you by the quality of your website, you’re dead wrong. Even if you initiate business through word of mouth and outside sales, prospective customers are going to visit your website and compare it to the competition. How can they trust the quality of your workmanship if your website looks like something from the 90s, it’s constantly “under construction,” or can’t be accessed on their smartphone?

Your current customers didn’t decide to buy from you because of your website, but your future customers will.

2.) “Online reviews are for residential companies.”
About 90% of consumers consider reviews when making an online purchase. Your customers shop online in their personal lives and they are beginning to expect the same experience in their professional lives. It’s not hard to get reviews. All you have to do is make sure your Google My Business page is set up, then ask your happy customers to leave a review. To start, shoot for around 10 or more reviews. That’s it.

The next generation of decision makers will care about your online reputation.

3.) “My customers prefer paper and faxes.”
Is that what your customers really think? Or, is that what you and your employees think? The fax machine is a dying technology and nobody really wants to deal with paper. Our customers that have gone paperless (and faxless) unanimously agree that the majority of their customers prefer it that way. It’s not difficult to give data to your customers electronically and in a format that they can consume on their smartphones

Don’t assume that because you prefer paper and faxes that your customers do too.

4.) “We’ve been successful for 20+ years, we don’t need to change.”
Threats to and opportunities for your business are changing quickly with the evolving technology landscape. It’s easier than ever for all types of new competitors to steal your customers thanks to new customer service technologies. Take a look at what Uber did to the taxi industry, Netflix did to Blockbuster, Amazon is doing to Walmart, and Domino’s is doing to Papa Johns.

In this era of customer service innovation, if you ain’t first, you’ll be last.

5.) “Software is made for accounting, not customer service.”
Insert double facepalm here. Yes, accounting software is critical to understanding the finances of your business. However, modern software can enable a level of customer service that will set you apart from the competition. Use a best-in-breed software philosophy instead of software communism. Buy the best customer service software and a great accounting system. Then, integrate them.

Remember, your perfect accounting process is perfectly irrelevant to your customers.

 

These statements aren’t uncommon, so don’t feel bad if you’ve ever said any of them. Just know that if I ever hear you utter these words, I’ll probably sag my shoulders, sigh, and emulate my parents by telling you “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” Learn from your cousins, the residential service contractors, and modernize your company.

Sincerely,
– Shawn

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Bust Customer Service Data Out of the Silo

Integration is a popular topic at ServiceTrade. More people are coming up with ways to integrate their customer service data with other operational programs – their website, CRM, accounting, or marketing programs. Once shared across applications, data becomes information that can be used by people throughout the company. Are you thinking about all the ways that your customer service data can be used in different departments?

If these groups don’t have access to your customer service data, give it to them and see what they can do.  These ideas should be just a beginning.

Sales

  • Create demo accounts to use in sales presentations. You’ll win new customers when you show them a demonstration of your great customer service in action.
  • Convert deficiencies into jobs and revenue. Make sure that the deficiencies and repairs your techs find on the job are turning into quotes for your customers.
  • Monitor your quote approval rate and experiment with ways to improve it. Try new patterns and methods of following up on quotes to boost your approval rate. Experiment with the number of photos or try including video. Test a few new methods to build, send, and follow-up on quotes that convert.

Account Management

  • Ensure contract SLAs are being met. Wouldn’t you rather proactively know the reality of SLA performance than wait for an unhappy call from a customer?
  • Use service history to inform renewal contracts. Studying the service history for a location can help you build a preventive maintenance contract for the following year that is based on the reality in that facility.
  • Continually share useful information with customers. Whenever the customer calls with a question on a past job, send them an online report where they can get all the information they need.

Accounting

  • Get more information about the services that were offered on a job to create complete and accurate invoices.
  • Make answering questions about invoices a whole lot easier when you simply look up the job’s details in the customer service application.
  • Speed up the time to bill when information about a completed job syncs into your accounting platform as soon as it’s complete.

Marketing

  • Email customers based on shared criteria like a particular type of asset or their location. One of our favorite examples is when there are changes in weather in a region and you want to issue some advice for heading off problems from changing conditions.
  • Email customers based on their service schedule. How about sending an email to your customers who are due for a regular inspection or service call next month and ask them to start making a list of things that they might need you to look at or take care of while you’re there?
  • Send letters or mailers to customers based on criteria in their service data: Geography, business type, asset types, services you provide, etc.
  • Publish and promote the review content that comes in from happy customers. Post this prominently on your website to entice prospects and use them as excerpts or quotes in all of your marketing communications.

Service Managers

  • Tech report cards. There are a few ways that you can measure the performance of technicians across the board – how much billable time they tracked to jobs, how many of their jobs include media (photos, videos, documentation, audio), how many customer reviews they collect. Monitor the metrics that matter most in your company.
  • Monitor completeness of job records. Techs are on the front line of that great customer experience you want to provide, and that includes building complete job records of what they do on-site.
  • Create contests or reward programs for techs based on happy customer reviews. Take advantage of their natural competitiveness to drive them to collect more reviews from happy customers.
  • Advanced scheduling allows you to better plan the use of your fleet and predict its maintenance requirements.

Owners and Senior Leaders

As an owner or leader in the company, the best thing you can do is give people access to data and encourage them to use it. Heck, if you’re a ServiceTrade customer, office users are free, so there’s no reason not to open accounts for these users today. You might be amazed by the ways they can turn data into useful information for your company and its customers.

Also read:

Lessons in Customer Service from the Utility Company – NOT

It is fortunate for the utility companies that they are protected by high walls of regulation that prevent new entrants from competing with them.  I had to call customer service at Duke Power yesterday because I need to change the service at a location where I am now the personal representative of the owner.  I assumed there would be a process to demonstrate to them my power of attorney, so I was not expecting it to be as simple as checking a box on a website.  What I did not expect was a flashback to the mid-1980s.

When I reached the supervisor who could actually give me some instructions, she told me that I needed to fax the notarized power of attorney to their legal department.  I replied that I did not have a fax so could she please just supply me with an email address.  I have a nifty little app on my phone called CamScanner, and I can quickly shoot a scanned copy to legal.  She repeated the fax number and said that I could mail it to them via the postal service if I did not have access to a fax.  I asked her to hold the line for one moment while I picked up another call.

“It’s the ’80s calling,” I told her.  “They want their customer experience back.”  She repeated the fax number for me, and we said our goodbyes.

Don’t be like the utility companies.  Take every opportunity to streamline the customer experience with your brand so that the customer is endeared to your company and never plots to leave for a competitor.  After I hung up with Duke, I told Shawn, our marketing director, that the next house I build will absolutely be off the grid.  I cannot wait to write Elon Musk checks for my Powerwall and my solar installation in addition to the check that I am willing to write for a small diesel generator.  I want to get rid of Duke at the first opportunity I can because they suck.

Now, you might think this is a crazy response to having to deal with a fax machine.  I can assure that the generation that is behind me (I am pushing 50) feels the same way and more so.  If you want to keep your customers for the next 10 – 20 years, don’t be like Duke.  As often as you can, do away with old, archaic approaches to customer service and replace them with conveniences that make the customer appreciate the thoughtfulness of your brand.  Here are a couple of pro tips:

  1. Be Mobile Friendly – everyone wants to engage from their smartphone, so let them.
  1. Maximize Self Service – no one really wants to talk to anyone in your office, so don’t make them.
  1. Take a Long View – expensive, disruptive repairs that might make a good margin for you are not good for the customer.  Find ways to charge maintenance subscription fees that smooth your revenue while minimizing customer pain from surprises.
  1. Sell the Program – emphasize to everyone that your brand is all about technology enabled conveniences.  They will remember that pitch when they encounter the stupidity of a vendor (like Duke) that doesn’t get it.

Don’t be the utility company.  You do not have the regulatory protections and you don’t want a reputation built upon 1980’s customer service.

Also read:

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Customer Interfaces: Comparing Apples and Blackberrys

Just over ten years ago, Apple announced the iPhone. Blackberry was the smartphone king with a great keyboard and wheel/ball for email power users.  Now Apple is the most valuable company in the world, and Blackberry is out of the smartphone market. More applications and a better user interface won the day by a landslide. How would your customers grade the applications you provide and your user interface? Apple? Or Blackberry?

Think about it.  Maybe you used to trade in labor rates and parts.  Today you trade in information and convenience.  Pressure readings, amperage readings, inspection intervals, flow rates – the information you manage is your stock in trade.  What type of user interface are you providing your customer for them to value your stock?  Phone calls and ad hoc emails with files attached? Uh, can you say “worse than Blackberry.”  What will happen when your competitor shows the customer an iPhone?  Oh, right.  We already know how that movie ends.

Maybe now would be a good time to figure out a strategy for giving your customer more applications and a better user interface.  Maybe your website should be something other than a billboard on a screen.  Maybe the customer should have access to the information that you collect regarding their equipment through applications that help them make decisions regarding the maintenance and repair of that equipment.  Don’t wait for the competitor to introduce the customer to iPhone.  In fewer than 10 years they will be the most valuable company in your market and you will be out of business.  

One final pro tip – this is not an accounting problem, so don’t bother asking your accounting application provider to solve it with a “customer service module.” Instead, look for built-in customer engagement features like an online customer portal and service history reports from providers who are evolving like Apple did over the past ten years that will help keep you at the front of your market.

I bought the wrong software.

Last year, I made a huge mistake. I purchased a marketing automation platform (I won’t name names, but it rhymes with harpstring) for our company and wasted a lot of time, money, and effort in implementing something that, ultimately, failed. I know I’m not the first person who’s ever made a bad software decision, but I hope that anyone who reads this blog post can learn from my mistake.

 

Made just for you.

My first mistake was not assessing the market that the product was built for. In this case, the software was designed for a completely different set of users, but I was enticed by the cool feature set. Without getting into further detail about why this product was a bad fit for ServiceTrade, I learned that you MUST consider the following when buying business software with large feature sets:

Is this software developed for a market or industry that is specific enough to support my company, but broad enough to support innovation and growth?

For example, there are quite a few field service management applications out there, but some of them, like ServiceTrade, are built specifically for service contractors as opposed to internal field service divisions of large companies like Comcast. Furthermore, some are built for commercial contractors, (again) like ServiceTrade, while others are built for residential contractors, like ServiceTitan or Jobber. Because these platforms are designed for targeted markets, new feature development will benefit their customers that fit their market definition. These target markets are also large enough to support ongoing innovation and growth.

On the other hand, there are software companies that target markets that are too niche. For example, we’ve seen broad business applications that attempt to target smaller industries like fire protection or kitchen exhaust cleaning companies. Yes, some of the features they offer are very unique and fitting for the industries they serve, but these platforms will not innovate as much as a competitors targeting a larger market. These applications also represent a risk because there is a chance that they will not make it in such a small niche.

 

All in one? The all will be small.

We’ve preached this point over and over again, yet I still got caught by this trap. The product I purchased offered CRM functionality in addition to the marketing automation I was looking for. As always it always does, the all in one was too good to be true. Because the feature set was so broad, none of the features performed at the levels of competitive products.

The idea behind an all-in-one software is interesting, but the features always fall short in practice. Take a look at your smartphone. How many apps do you have? Just one? Of course not. Why would you expect the same from your business applications?

We speak with commercial service contractors on a daily basis that are searching for the mythical unicorn that is the perfect all in one. It doesn’t exist. Any product that claims to be one will disappoint you. This includes bolt-on modules to your accounting system.

Modern applications are designed to coexist in an integrated ecosystem that allows them to communicate the necessary information with each other while excelling at their core competencies. In other words, best-in-breed applications that can integrate will outperform all-in-one software.

 

What’s the big idea?

When considering a software application that my company would be using for years to come, I failed to consider the long-term vision of the product. As it turns out, the vision for the product was completely misaligned with my expectations which led to disappointment when I realized new features didn’t benefit me.

Service contractors often reach out to us after having had a similar experience. They purchased an application because of the features it had and didn’t consider how the product may change, if at all, to help them tackle evolving challenges. Here are a few red flags to look out for:

  • Software products that are at the end of their development life. These products receive little to no ongoing R&D and the owners are simply trying to sell as much as they can before the market catches on. Even though these products may have many of the features you are looking for, they will fall short of the competition quickly. Server-based software ALWAYS falls into this category.
  • Customer service software that doesn’t actually improve your customer’s experience. If a company tells you that their grand vision for their customer service platform is only to help you operate more efficiently, you need to reconsider. Efficiency is important, but software that fails to meet the evolving expectations of your customers will leave you at a competitive disadvantage.

 

What happens WHEN it breaks?

Ultimately, the straw that broke the camel’s back with the marketing automation software I purchased was the complete lack of support I received for some technical issues I encountered. For weeks, I was stuck without a system because they refused to answer my calls and emails. During the sales process, I had no reason to think that the support was going to be so bad, but then again, I never asked.

Like many business software buyers, I assumed that I wouldn’t need support. I figured that good software doesn’t need support, right? I’ve never called Uber or Google for help, why should this be any different? I was wrong.

Good business software will have lots of features that require in-depth understanding to fully utilize. You and your team shouldn’t expect to know every little detail. Support through online documentation, courses, and training are important, but responsive phone support is a must. Case in point, ServiceTrade. Despite being ranked as one of the most user-friendly field service management applications on Capterra and having an average “Ease of Use” rating of 4.5 stars across 136 reviews (as of the time of writing) on Capterra, our customers that receive training and take advantage of support far outperform those that don’t.

Expect good support. You’ll need it. If you’re considering a product, give the support line a call before you buy to see how responsive and helpful the support team is. If it’s not available, or you have any concerns about the quality, buyer beware!

 

Yes, a reference please?

Before I purchased this infamous marketing automation platform, I was smart enough to ask for references. However, I should have put my guard up when, after nagging them, it took several weeks for them to provide me with a couple contacts. After all that time, the references I spoke with weren’t able to answer some of my most important questions. I should have dug deeper and requested more references.

Learn from my experience. Good references and reviews are important. We love providing prospects with reference customers because we work hard to

  1. ensure that customers will be a good fit for ServiceTrade before they ever buy and
  2. make sure all of our customers are happy, as is reflected in our numerous positive reviews.

 

If you happen to make a bad software purchase, don’t become a victim of the sunk cost fallacy like me. Instead of realizing that I made a bad decision, I dug my heels in deeper and wasted months of time trying to make it work. Eventually, I “saw the light,” but after wasting more time than I’d like to admit.

Learn from my mistake! Buy great software.

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It Actually is Rocket Science

Sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected places. Like space and a government agency.

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is shrewdly launching (pun intended) the GOES-16 satellite and sharing their excitement with the public.

Service contractors can learn from two things that NOAA did exceptionally well:

  1. They engaged their audience throughout the process of adding new technology
  2. The way they shared data made it meaningful to their audience

NOAA has been building awareness of GOES-16 for months. The communication picked up when the new weather imaging satellite was nearing launch in Nov 2016. Now that GOES-16 is in orbit, NOAA shared the first images from the new satellite.  

Follow the GOES-16 Launch Sequence

You can build a lot of goodwill and interest in new customer service technology you’re putting in place if you include customers early in the process.

  1. Tell customers it’s coming
  2. Give them updates throughout the launch
  3. Once you’re up and running, share information and give it context
  4. Give examples how the new technology will help you do better work for them
  5. Repeat #3 and #4 liberally

Then answer their question: What’s in it for me?

Like NOAA’s shiny new toy, great customer service technology can help your company provide customers with rich information, like photos, to help them make informed decisions. However, like the images collected by the GOES-16, the pictures you can collect in the field require technical expertise to understand. Fortunately, NOAA has provided another great example of customer education to overcome this technical hurdle.

NOAA smartly used photo captions to explain their new technology: How it’s better, what it tells us that it didn’t before, and what they’ll do with this information. They did a great job of this in just a few simple words. Click through to their website for the full article, or here are some examples that you can click to enlarge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos from your service calls are critically important, but a lot of times they aren’t enough to tell your customers exactly what you want them to know.

  • Don’t just share raw data, tell people what they’re seeing
  • Don’t let them draw incorrect conclusions, apply your expertise to explain the current situation and how it could impact their future
  • Tell them why it’s better than what you gave them in the past
  • Share your enthusiasm and excitement! 

Also read:

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If You Ain’t First, Yer Last!

These words of wisdom were imparted by Reese Bobby to his son Ricky Bobby in the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (clip and clip).  Winners get more than their fair share, and a loser is just a loser.  No one cares about second place.  In our fast moving world, the winners often take all of the profit, and the losers are just losers.

Ten years ago last week, Blackberry was the world’s number one smartphone.  It had a keyboard that was awesome.  Apple introduced the iPhone with its innovative user interface, and ten years later Apple is the most valuable company in the world.  Apple takes over 100% of the profits in the smartphone market, and Blackberry does not even make smartphones any longer.  If you ain’t first, yer last!  The winner takes it all, and a loser is just a loser.

Ten years ago, Blockbuster was number one in the video rental market.  Today, Netflix is number one with a market value of over $57 billion.  They introduced an innovative user interface for renting movies over the Internet, and Blockbuster went out of business.  If you ain’t first, yer last!  The winner takes it all, and a loser is just a loser.

Ten years ago, taxi companies were protected, regulated operators in the local markets they served.  They proudly paid huge sums of money for their operating medallions.  Today, Uber is an enterprise worth over $80 billion – more than all of the taxi companies in the world combined.  They introduced an innovative user interface for hailing a car and paying for the ride, and the taxi companies have been decimated in their local, protected markets.  If you ain’t first, yer last!  The winner takes it all, and a loser is just a loser.

How good is your user interface to the customer?  Is it still phone calls and triplicate forms?  Is it ad-hoc emails with files attached?  No organization or intelligence, just a dump of PDF files?  What happens to your business if you are not the first in your market to introduce an innovative interface for customers to receive your services?  Are you going to be first or last when the change comes to your market?  Will you be the winner that takes a bigger share?  Or a loser who is just a loser?

Maybe it is time to start thinking about technology as a way to please your customers instead of simply a way to seek operating cost leverage.  The lesson of Apple, Netflix, and Uber is also the lesson of Blackberry, Blockbuster, and the taxi companies.  It does not matter how long you have been around or how good your internal operations may be.  An innovator in your market can turn your business into a loser.  So, are you going to be first in your market to innovate with a better customer interface?  Or will you just become one of the losers when someone else innovates first?

This blog post is part of our Business Lessons From Rednecks collection. Also see Don’t get gigged by software.

The Digital WrapRead ideas about how to be first in Billy’s book The Digital Wrap: Get out of the Truck and Go Online to Own Your Customers.