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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:

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


Give the people what they really want

If you asked people in the 1890s about personal transportation, they’d say “Give me a cheaper, faster horse.” Instead, they got cars and they happily spent more.  If you asked people of the 1990s about entertainment, they’d say “Give me more selection and cheaper rentals at Blockbuster.” Instead, they got Netflix and they happily spent more. If you asked people about retail in the 2000s, they’d say “Give me more selection and cheaper options at big-box stores.” Instead, they got Amazon Prime and happily spent more. If you asked folks about their pizza in the early part of this decade, they’d say “Give me better, cheaper pizza.” Instead, they got the Domino’s mobile app and they happily spent more. If you’re scratching your head about the last one, check out Domino’s stock growth since the introduction of their mobile app in 2011:

Domino’s stock growth of 644% since they introduced their mobile app

If you’ve been reading my blog posts, you know that Domino’s is using their customer mobile app to dominate the pizza wars. Every time I write about them, I have to pull a new stock graph to show just how much they’ve grown. Their success boils down to one word:



That’s all customers really want. They’ll bark about price and quality right up until someone innovates and makes their life easier. At that point, they’ll happily fork over more money. When cars were introduced, they cost far more than a horse, but they didn’t have to be maintained on a daily basis. When Netflix hit the scene, it had a small selection, subscription services were unheard of, and it seemed to cost more than the occasional Blockbuster rental. But, Netflix didn’t require multiple trips to Blockbuster to watch a single movie. Amazon has shipping delays and costs more than big-box stores, but customers don’t even have to leave the comfort of their own home.

In this era, you don’t have to be a technology company like Netflix, Amazon, and Uber to be a game changer. Domino’s shows that you just have to think like one. Use scalable technology to give your customer a convenient experience and they’ll happily give you more money. It’s that simple.

What does this mean for B2B service contractors? Make customers’ lives easy with technology. Give them better information so they can make better decisions by providing convenient online:

  • Visibility throughout the service process
  • Access to detailed historical records
  • Quotes for issues that need repair

This may not seem like much, but neither does an app that makes it a little easier to buy pizza and track deliveries.

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Whole Foods Whole World

I bet the grocers that had a bad day when Walmart got into groceries about fifteen years ago are having a really bad week now that Amazon has announced their intention to buy Whole Foods. The innovations Amazon is going to bring to grocery buying go well beyond low price and internal operational tweaks. Amazon is going to use technology to transform the grocery buying experience, and the old competitors focused on their tired, old, internal metrics will be toast.


Marc Andreesen, a famous internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist, once said: “Software is eating the world.”  You can read his editorial in the Wall Street Journal here.  It’s true.  Customer service innovations driven by software are transforming every industry.  Netflix to Blockbuster.  Uber to taxis.  Amazon to booksellers, hosting companies, and now grocers.  When will it be your turn?  Which side of the statement will your company be?  The eater? or the eaten?

Do you suppose the first innovation Amazon is going focus upon is how Whole Foods does accounting?  Is that where they are going to put their innovation muscle?  I ask the question because it seems that accounting remains the first priority of service contractors when they think about how to apply technology to their business.  But it sounds really silly in the context of the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods, doesn’t it?  As I have said before, your perfect accounting process is perfectly irrelevant to your customer.  You should have a good one, but it will not save you from an innovative, customer-focused competitor.

I am not going out on a limb when I say that Amazon understands that accounting is irrelevant, and their focus with Whole Foods will be transforming how customers buy groceries.  They will eliminate aggravation and uncertainty for the customer through technology.  I bet there will be an awesome mobile app for pricing your groceries in the aisle and eliminating the checkout line.  I bet you will use that app to find the groceries you seek without wandering up and down the aisles.  I bet you will get interesting recipe ideas based on the ingredients you buy often.  I bet your buying preferences will lead to deliveries to your house via drone for the items you buy on a regular basis.  I bet the best customers with the most money to spend on groceries will gravitate to Amazon and their innovations. I bet I cannot even imagine the things they will do to make grocery shopping more convenient, and none of it will relate to how they do accounting.

So when will it be your turn?  Will you be the eater, or the eaten?  Are you considering how to upgrade your customer’s buying experience with your services?  Or are you piddling around with how to extend your accounting to wring a small bit of extra margin from your internal processes?  Are you building an innovative and growing brand that attracts customers to you?  With an experience that they cannot easily trade for the low price guy? Think about it.  Who do you want to be in your market?  Amazon, Uber, Netflix?  Or the other guy?

Real Deal Customer Service Saves the Day After a Flat on I-95

A flat tire on my boat trailer on Interstate 95 ranks high on my list of things that suck most in life.  Of course, it has to be on the traffic side of the trailer to really suck.  It sucked on Saturday morning at 8:50 when I heard the blowout and looked in the driver’s side mirror and saw rubber spewing out from the wheel well.  The rear tire on the left side had blown, and I needed to get onto the shoulder quickly before the other tire on that side also fell victim to the load from my Grady White fishing rig.

I was en route to West Palm Beach in preparation for a run to the Bahamas and a week of fishing and diving. Not going to get there with this flat tire, so might as well suck it up and get out in the South Carolina heat and mosquitos and change the tire and get back underway.  Fortunately, I planned for this problem because it has happened before and ruined my day.  I pack a ramp in the back of the F250 that allows me to avoid the hassle of a jack.  Just pull forward (or back up as the case may be) with the ramp in front of the good tire, and presto, the back tire that just blew outcomes off the ground to be changed out.  I also packed a bicycle pump because I did not take the time to get the spare filled to 65 lbs of pressure.  After 15 minutes on the changeout (most of which was spent detaching the spare from the trailer) plus a 10-minute workout with the pump, I am ready to roll again – sweaty and greasy but happy with my ingenuity.

Now the problem is that the spare is a different brand tire and it is 9 years old.  I still have 550 miles of road to travel, and I do not like the idea of being without a spare.  I buy all my tires from Discount Tire, and now I am going to put them to the test.  Will I have a good customer service outcome?  Fortunately, the story has a happy ending because Discount Tire is the real deal when it comes to great customer service.  How do they do it?  

Let’s look at the lessons service contractors can learn from my experience.

First, Discount Tire offers a premium program.  If you buy tires from them, they will rotate and change all the tires in your household for no extra charge.  Why?  Because they want to see you in the shop as often as possible so they stay top of mind with you. They also provide air pressure reminders via email – again to stay top of mind.  I can never forget who takes care of my tires even if I only buy tires every 3 to 4 years.  I know who to go to with tire problems.  Do your customers know what brand they rely upon for servicing their critical equipment?  Are you constantly in their inbox with valuable information and reminders?

Second, I opened Google Maps on my iPhone and zoomed in on Jacksonville, Florida – the next big city I was going to hit.  A search for Discount Tire yielded six hits.  Sure enough, one of them was right off the highway.  One more tap on the iPhone and I am speaking with Jeff.  Can they take care of me today?  “Absolutely. We will figure it out. When will you be here?”  Are your locations registered with Google?  Do you have reviews to push you up the listings?  Can they tap to call?

When I pulled into the store, Mike took care of me (not certain where Jeff went, but it didn’t matter).  He pulls up my record on their system and stares hard at the screen for about 4 minutes as he reviews my history relative to his capability at this store.  “Look, you have a warranty on that tire that blew, but the spare is 10 years old.  Also, someone in our shop made a mistake and mixed a 10-ply tire in with 3 other 8-ply tires when you had your last change.  We need to make that right.  I suggest we warranty replace 2 of your tires, have you buy 2 new ones, and put the best current tire as your spare.  It will be $289 and I can have you rolling in 90 minutes.”  SOLD!  Now I have 4 new matching tires, and I am writing about Discount Tire (and giving them backlinks on this post).  Do your people have access to the customer information they need to help the customer buy more from you and become so happy that he/she writes about you online?  If not, why not?

You cannot deliver good customer service without great information that is accessible and easy to use by everyone in your organization.  You cannot deliver good customer service if the customer cannot find you easily (i.e. online, not in the phone book).  You also need a premium program that puts your brand in front of the customer over and over again as part of your service cycle (read The Digital Wrap).  Do you have one?  Is it branded?  Do your customers rave about your service?  Do you have a digital wrap?

A blowout on Interstate 95 became a very good thing for Discount Tire.  Do your customer’s challenges (or lack thereof) regularly become good things for you and your company?

The Digital Wrap


Learn how a Digital Wrap makes your happy customers evangelists for your brand like Billy is for Discount Tire. Go to digitalwrapbook.com.

Good Enough is not Good Enough for Commercial Services

There’s a new article on forbes.com by customer service consultant Micah Solomon that’s worth every commercial service contractor’s time.

Read Is ‘Good Enough’ Customer Service Good Enough For Your Business?  I’m sorry to steal Micah’s thunder, but anyone who wants a profitable, growing service business already knows that the answer is no.

Micah Solomon’s five elements of extraordinary customer service are:

  1. A perfect product or service
  2. Caring delivery
  3. Timely delivery
  4. An effective problem resolution process
  5. Anticipating and serving unexpressed wishes and needs

They’re especially relevant for companies like yours that are competing for commercial service contracts. What would these look like for a service company?

#1 – A perfect product or service. Perfection in services means predictability – providing predictable outcomes for a predictable price. Reacting to unexpected breakdowns, system failures, or emergencies is bad for everyone and can be minimized by proactive maintenance and early warnings about potentials problems.

#2 – Caring delivery. We don’t often use the word caring in the rough-and-tumble world of facility services. Your customers will know you care when they have visibility into what’s going on in their facility. Sharing photos or videos online where the customer can refer to them anytime is part of #5 below. Not every vendor does this, and the ones who do stand out.

#3 – Timely delivery. Ensuring that business operating systems are in place to keep you on schedule is a job for technology. Timely delivery is dependent on a web-based application that is available to people who need it in your office and in the field.

There’s another element of timely delivery where service companies often fall short, and that’s setting the customer’s expectation. Do your applications inform customers about scheduled appointments or when they can expect you’ll be performing future inspections or contract service calls? You may be focused on an operational scheduling system, but be sure that it puts customers in the know, too.

#4 – An effective problem resolution process. We don’t talk about this one with you much, but Micah is right that things will inevitably go wrong. After an apology and making the situation right, take the time to analyze the source of the issue. You’ll probably find it fitting into one of the three buckets: Work not done to standards, operational inefficiencies, or human error. Solutions might be training or revamping business processes or updating your application infrastructure. What’s most important is recognizing when you have an issue that requires a solution.

#5 – Anticipating and serving unexpressed wishes and needs. Micah says this is the one that moves your service beyond good enough to exemplary. We think this is where you earn distinction as a leader in your space and can command prices above the lowest labor rate.

What conveniences do your customers enjoy from online retailers or banks, but don’t think about getting from you? Maybe the convenience of getting online reports, an online quote with a picture of the problem for repair, or a self-service online account where they can access all their records and service history.

Be sure that you make #5 an everyday part of how you work with your customers when #1-4 might pass for good enough. Here’s another link to the Forbes article.


Say “yes” to the quote

Are you worried that customers are going to “shop” your repair or upgrade quote around to other service contractors? If so, you failed earlier than you may realize. Getting customers to a “yes” on quoted work starts well before you ever find a problem and send a quote. It starts with trust. I’m not talking about the kind of trust built through personal relationships and old-school customer service. That’s not scalable or reliable. I’m talking about trust built on a technology-enabled, convenient customer experience. I’m talking about giving your customers the Amazon experience so they won’t consider buying from anyone else.

Amazon is dominating its competition because it innovated for the customer instead of focusing on backend efficiency. Now, they don’t have to compete on price. Walmart, on the other hand, focused on efficiency and logistics. They are the low-price leader, but the markets have spoken and you can see from the stock chart below that consumers will pay a premium for convenience. I, for one, will happily pay a few extra dollars to avoid:

  • Fighting for a parking spot
  • Wandering around looking for products
  • Waiting in line to check out

It’s not just the brick-and-mortar retailers that Amazon is dominating. Other e-commerce retailers struggle to compete with Amazon’s innovations. Even though other sites have lower prices most of the time (just check Google shopping), Amazon customers are loyal and don’t consider buying from anyone else. Why? Two reasons. Amazon’s order process is more convenient, reliable, and transparent than any other e-commerce site. From beginning to end, Amazon’s customers can trust that they are ordering the right products based on pictures and reviews and that their order will arrive on time based on notifications received throughout the process. Prime is the second reason Amazon customers don’t shop around.

Amazon sold the program when it introduced Prime, a service that gives customers free, 2-day shipping on most orders for an annual fee. It’s not like 2-day shipping is a new concept, and customers are still effectively paying for expedited shipping with the annual fee, but the concept built loyalty. Prime customers are bought into the program so they feel obligated to buy exclusively from Amazon and buy more to get their money’s worth. It’s brilliant.

Service contractors can take a page from Amazon’s playbook. First, sell the program to build customer loyalty from the beginning. Your program won’t look exactly like Prime, but here’s a webinar showing what it means to sell the program as a Service Contractor. Once they are in the program, use technology to give your customers a convenient, transparent, and reliable experience. Then, when you send a quote for an upgrade or repair, customers will trust that you are the only option to consider.

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Service Hazard (Infographic)

What’s holding your service business back? Is it double data entry and other accounting inefficiencies in the back office? If you solve those problems, are you going to create more value for your customers, make your techs more productive, and differentiate yourself from the competition? Nope. Accounting doesn’t drive better customer outcomes. So, why do accounting issues get all of the attention? Well, it’s easy to fall into the trap of prioritizing those back-office problems because they are in your face every day. They are like a thorn in your foot; very obvious. However, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Under the water is something much more deadly.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I decided to show you what I’m talking about:

Field Service Management Hazard


Hiding under the surface is what’s really holding you back. Scattered customer service data slows everyone down. The symptoms are pervasive, and the costs are enormous. Why do you think the front office is always behind, techs waste time on callbacks, and sales is struggling to win new customers or make upsells? Well, when service history, customer quotes, contact information, recurring service schedule, and asset details are all stored in different places, it’s no wonder there’s so much confusion and so many slowdowns. Instead of a central system that helps your team collaborate, you’re stuck with ad hoc calls, emails, conversations, txts, and paper.

On top of that, when your service information is disorganized, it’s impossible to give your customers any visibility to the value you provide. When you don’t even know exactly where your techs are, what they are doing, or what work they’ve completed, how are you supposed to share that information with your customers? Remember what it used to be like to schedule a taxi? It was miserable. Calling the taxi dispatch took forever, you’d have no visibility to where the taxi was, no idea what they were going to charge you, and they may not even show up. It’s no wonder Uber is dominating that entire industry. All it took was a change to the process that removed risk and aggravation for customers.

Icebergs perfectly demonstrate what’s going on with most commercial service contracting businesses. It’s easy to get stuck thinking about back-office problems. They are the tip of the iceberg. But, hiding below the sea is a mess of customer service data that is slowing down the entire organization and limiting your ability to provide a better experience to your customers. When you organize that data and move it to the cloud, you can cut your costs and Uber your competition.



Write your Vows to your Premium Program Customers

We’ve mentioned (here and here) how much more profitable it is to sell a premium program that gives the customer better outcomes than it is to negotiate on labor rates.

 You’ll need a few things to sell a premium program:

  1. Technology-enabled differentiators
  2. A proactive maintenance and/or inspection plan
  3. A defined service level agreement (SLA)

The goal of your SLA is to clearly state your customer service promises that will reduce their pain and indicate how easy you’ll be to work with. Your SLA should cover:

  • Your commitment to respond. Be specific about how quickly you will respond to emergency work.
  • A promise of a priority response. Give your attention to them first for maintenance or inspection work over customers that haven’t committed at the premium level.
  • How you’ll share the risk. Explain that by buying into the program, they’ll receive a valuable customer rate and/or eliminate some additional charges that non-plan customers pay like trip charges or OT labor.  

You don’t have to go so far as to promise to love, honor, and cherish your customers, but let them know what you promise in return for their agreement to buy in at your premium program level.

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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:

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.
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.