My wife and I love hiking and camping with our dogs. It’s our escape. So, last year, we took a trip up to the beautiful Grayson Highlands in western Virginia for a quick weekend trip with a couple friends. Hiking along those exposed ridges at a relatively high altitude provide some of the best views you’ll find in southern Appalachia. The first day was absolutely gorgeous. After a long day of backpacking, we decided to set up camp just off the ridge in a little patch of woods. Not long after we set up camp, we had to turn in early because of a constant drizzle from a small storm. We were all wiped out, so it wasn’t a problem. At least, not for the first couple hours. That small storm turned into a massive thunderstorm and it was blowing right over the ridge we were camping on.

My wife, Jessie, shook me, but I was already awake. Nobody could sleep through that noise. “It sounds like lightning is right on top of us!” she said. It was loud, but I wasn’t concerned. “Count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder. The lightning is a mile away for every 5 seconds.” I recalled from my time in the Boy Scouts. At this point, we were at 15 seconds. 3 miles. No problem. It was loud, but we were safe and that put Jessie at ease. The dogs, not so much.

Unfortunately, that 15 seconds quickly turned into 10, then 5, then 3. “Half a mile? We’ll be fine. At least we’re not out on top of the exposed ridge!” I thought to myself. Jessie, on the other hand, was not feeling great about the situation. She gets sweaty palms when she’s anxious and, at this point, they were sopping wet. That’s when it happened. CRACK! The light was blinding and the sound deafening. Zero seconds. It was right on top of us. Then again. CRACK! This one was different. It was followed by a long, low creaking moan and hard, leafy thud. A tree just fell in the forest and we heard it.

The next day, we were a little shaken up, but everyone was OK, even the dogs. We found the fallen tree about a hundred yards away and decided that we’d never camp on a ridge during a storm again. We hiked back down to our cars and couldn’t wait to get home to sleep with a solid roof over our heads.

This is a true story, mostly. The trip, the storm, and the nervous wife all happened. The falling tree, not so much. It seems like a plausible story, but it’s fiction: The same kind of fiction that your customers receive from other, less-reputable contractors. Your customers have been burned by bad contractors that told them plausible stories about their building assets just to, ultimately, be disappointed by bad outcomes like unexpected equipment failures and exorbitant expenses for unnecessary work. They are wary of touching that hot stove again.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? An age-old debate. Sorry, I don’t have an answer for you on this one. I do, however, have another question for you. If you tell your customer a tree falls in a forest, will they believe you? Those other contractors have made it difficult. How about if you show them this?

Absolutely, they’re going to believe you because those disreputable contractors have made your customers skeptical. You can write pages describing the work you perform for them or spend hours on the phone with them, but they’ll still question you regardless of your company’s reputation. Instead, show them. Show them pictures of the leaking system. Show them videos of the failing asset. You should even show them when things aren’t broken just to reassure them that their equipment is in good condition. Show them everything. You’ll stand out from all the other contractors as transparent and trustworthy and they’ll be happy to pay a premium for your reliable services.

Sound like a lot of work ot show pictures and videos from every job to the customer? It’s not. Technology makes it easy. All of your techs are used to taking pictures and videos with their smartphones. Getting that rich media in front of your customers is another challenge altogether. Ad-hoc emails with attachments are not the answer. Instead, let software like ServiceTrade, solve that problem in a scalable way. ServiceTrade logs every picture and every video your techs take and automatically organizes them against jobs and quotes that are effortless to share with your customers. For example, after your tech snaps a couple pictures and a quick video of an equipment issue and collects the customer’s signature, all of that information, the pictures, the video, and the signed work order, will automatically be sent to the customer’s inbox. That’ll show them!

Who has better pizza, Domino’s or Papa John’s? I do a lot of presentations about these companies and when I pose this questions to audiences, usually they’re split right down the middle. Personally, I’m a Domino’s fan. From a value perspective, however, our opinions about who has better pies don’t really matter. Here’s what really matters:

Domino’s is CRUSHING Papa John’s and they have been since 2009. In fact, Domino’s stock has outperformed Amazon, Apple, and Google in the last 9 years. For every dollar you invested in Domino’s in 2009, you’d have $36 as of the writing of this blog post. Compare that to $10, $5.50, and $2.75 for Amazon, Apple, and Google respectively. Papa John’s, on the other hand, would be worth a respectable $3.75, but it’s been on a steady decline for the past two years.

These numbers are surprising considering how ubiquitous Papa John’s marketing is. It’s practically impossible to watch sports without hearing their slogan, “Better ingredients, better pizza.” They’re everywhere. Domino’s spends plenty of money on advertising too, but their marketing strategy went a very different direction starting in 2009. It’s best summed up by their CEO, Patrick Doyle, who said:

“We are as much a tech company as we are a pizza company”

What technology do you think he’s talking about? Their accounting platform? Their point of sales systems? Their pizza ovens? No. He’s talking about their customer-facing technology like their Pizza Tracker and mobile apps. While Papa John’s has been pouring money into billboards, radio ads, and TV spots, Domino’s hired the best web and mobile developers, built an incredible R&D team, and took a massive risk on the future of smartphones. In fact, an interview in 2015 revealed that around 300 of their 700 employees at their corporate headquarters were focused on technology, not pizza (or accounting). Here’s another one of Doyle’s quotes:

“We believe by transaction counts we’re in the top five of e-commerce companies in the world.”

That’s unbelievable for a pizza company. On the other hand, Papa John’s sales are sinking and their stock price is sliding. They’re trying to blame their poor financial performance on the recent drama and viewership decline in the NFL. The reality is that they got left in the dust. Nine years later, they’re trying to catch up to Domino’s with Papa Track, their answer to the Pizza Tracker, but it’s too little too late. They’re sitting at the starting line coughing up dust while Domino’s is off to the races.

Domino’s figured out how to differentiate their offering with something more valuable than close-ups of melty cheese and empty platitudes like “Better ingredients. Better pizza.” Really? Does anyone buy that Papa John’s really has superior ingredients and better pizza? Can they prove it? Sadly, I’ve heard a lot of service contractors use a very similar line. “Better techs. Better service.” Really? Do you think anyone is buying that? Even if they do, it’s impossible to convince the customer that it’s true. So, why bother? Instead, take a page from Domino’s book. Offer customers a better experience with service certainty.

Domino’s thoughtful investments in technology are cutting edge because they focus entirely on the customer as opposed to logistics and accounting. Everything they build is for the customers’ express benefit. In some cases, they even added administrative work for their in-store employees to improve the digital outcome for the customer. Their Pizza Tracker is semi-automated, but Domino’s employees still have to manually update the system a couple of times to alert customers about the progress of their pizza. For example, every time a pizza is ready for the oven or put in the car for delivery, whether or not the customer is actively using the Pizza Tracker, some Domino’s employee has to update the system just in case a customer decides to check in on their order. They sell more than 2 million pizzas a day. If we assume an average of 1.5 pizzas per order, that works out to almost 1 billion manual system updates a year. That’s a lot of Domino’s data entry! And, for what? The customer. It’s that simple.

Obviously, Domino’s has limited the cost of these billion customer updates substantially with a technology-enabled process. They’re not picking up the phone and calling their customers multiple times per order to update them on the progress. That would be ridiculously cost prohibitive and annoying for the customer. Yet, that’s exactly how most service contractors think about solving the same problem! Better call the customer or send them an ad-hoc email to let them know what’s going on with their service. That’s an expensive approach so it’s either reserved for premium clients or doesn’t get done at all. Why not give every customer a great experience and let technology solve that problem by incorporating it into the standard workflow? For example, instead of having techs call, email, or text to alert the office and customer that they are on the way to a service call, incorporate technology (like ServiceTrade) that will, with a few clicks, log the techs drive time, update the office staff, and send an en route notification to the customer with a picture of the tech and estimated time of arrival. Or, instead of signing a paperwork order, waiting for it to get back to the office, scanning it, and emailing it to the customer with an ad-hoc summary and picture attachments, how about incorporating technology (like ServiceTrade) that will automatically send all this information to the customer the moment they sign the digital work order? Even if it adds a few new points of quick data entry, it’ll remove a boatload of calls and emails.

For Domino’s, however, there were no cost savings with their new workflow. They weren’t calling or emailing the customer to update them on their orders in the first place so these billion data entry points were a net new expense. Despite that, they don’t even think twice about the cost because they understand the value of MIPS, or Marketing Impressions Per Service. MIPS is the heart and soul of Domino’s customer experience strategy. For each service (or pizza) delivered, a series of useful notifications are sent to the customer updating them on their purchase. In Domino’s case, customers receive push notifications on their mobile device throughout the process. From prep to bake to delivery, customers are notified about every step and each notification links back to the Pizza Tracker, the visual manifestation of MIPS.

When you order a pizza for an office full of hungry coworkers or a house full of famished kids, you want certainty about your order. Hangry and anxious, they’ll look to you for one answer: When will the pizza arrive? At this point, you can either be a zero or a hero. If you’re in the dark and you leave your compadres in limbo, the anxiety will escalate and you’re going to be a zero. Compare that to the certainty of “it just got boxed up and should be here in 12 minutes.” That’s more like it! You’ll be the hero. Next time you want a pizza, who are you going to call? The company that made you a zero or the one that gave you certainty and made you a hero? When your customers have failing equipment or systems in their building that impact their tenants, customers, or coworkers, do you think they’d rather have the hero or the zero? This doesn’t just apply to emergency service work. For standard maintenance or inspection work, they’d rather be certain about what’s going on so they can keep their colleagues up to date, make arrangements on their end, and have peace of mind about the work being performed.

At the end of the day, all facility owners and managers really want is certainty. Strategically, that means certainty about their facility budget. Tactically, that means certainty about the facility services they receive from day to day. They want certainty about everything from when the tech will arrive to how they should resolve equipment issues. MIPS give your customers tactical certainty by giving them the information they need to make good decisions on a service-by-service basis. Service certainty can distinguish you from the unpredictable, unreliable competition.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is the wealthiest person on the planet. He owns about 17% of Amazon, and that stake is worth about $115 billion. Amazon was founded in 1994, so Jeff has amassed this fortune in just 24 years. Wow. I bring up the example of Jeff Bezos as a wealth-building machine because he has some unique views regarding how to apply technology to build a company that are directly orthogonal to sentiments that I often hear expressed by the management of service contracting companies.

I have had countless executives and managers in service contracting companies tell me over and over again that the most critical feature for a customer service technology platform is how seamlessly that platform integrates with their accounting system. My sarcastic reply is that the most important feature of a customer service technology platform should be how well it enables amazing customer service. Sarcasm aside, the prevailing wisdom in most service contracting companies is that accounting is the function to be optimized using technology, and, therefore, accounting is the most important function in the business. Poppycock.

The most important department in the business is customer service, and the most important person in the business is the customer. They are the people with the money that you want. Customer service is everyone’s job, so there really should not be a department that is solely responsible for customer service. However, some departments in the business are closer to customers than others, and I believe that accounting is not one of the ones that is especially close to the customer.

For a service contracting business, the employees that are closest to the customer are the technicians. Second in line are probably the sales team, or perhaps the service managers and administrators. Executive management is probably next closest, with accounting bringing up the rear. Jeff Bezos would likely say that a company should focus technology investments first on the customer, then the technicians, then the sales and service administrators, and on down the line. Last and least is accounting. Here are a couple of quotes from Jeff to illustrate my point:

“If there’s one reason we have done better than of our peers in the Internet space over the last six years, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience”

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”

“The best customer service is if the customer doesn’t need to call you, doesn’t need to talk to you. It just works.”

“We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.”

And my favorite Jeff Bezos quote of all time is:

“Amazon has become an amazing company because our accounting processes are far superior than those of our competitors, and great accounting is what our customers really care about above all else.”1

More sarcasm. Seriously though, I bring all of this wisdom from Jeff Bezos to you because I see so many service contractors who are paralyzed in their technology decision making because they are afraid to rock the boat in accounting. Why is accounting relevant at all? Accounting practices have not changed for decades, and if great customer service leads your customers to spend ever larger sums of money with you, I assure you that the accountants will figure out a way to stuff all that dough into the ledger in a GAAP-compliant manner.

My advice is to focus on the customer. If the accountants get thrown overboard with all of the waves generated by a customer-focused strategy, then I sincerely hope that they can swim. The good ones will hold their seat on the ship, and then help you set a course that safely navigates the waves and yields a customer-centric organization. All the rest that believed accounting was more important than the customer needed to be replaced anyway.

 

1 In case it isn’t obvious, I made up this quote for comedic effect.

What’s the worst customer service experience you’ve ever had? Think about that for a second.

How would you describe that experience? Was it inconvenient? Was it a waste of your time? Did a lack of transparency or information lead to a bad outcome? These are the calling cards of a bad customer service experience.

My recent experience with Monoprice, an online retailer, nearly caused me to have multiple aneurysms. I ordered some speakers and a small amp for my living room and the day they showed up, I was so excited to set them up that I forgot to eat dinner. It was better than Christmas. The problem is that one of the tubes on the amp was damaged during shipping. Not a big deal, right? Any reputable retailer would take care of this in no time.

After waiting on hold for an hour to speak with a customer service rep, I finally gave up and tried their online chat tool which lead to even more frustration and wasted time. When I finally reached someone, they told me they would ship me a new part. They didn’t. This happened 3 more times before they finally replaced the entire amp. 5 months. That’s how long this whole process took. WTF? What an opaque, inconvenient process. This was not the easy way.

Changing gears, what’s the best customer service experience you’ve ever had? This question always takes longer to answer because most of us don’t mentally catalog our good experiences. How about the first time you used a good app to make a purchase with something like Amazon, Uber, or Domino’s? Even though you didn’t speak with anyone to make that purchase (except your Uber driver), you probably had a great customer service experience that was convenient and transparent. That’s the easy way.

Service contracting is hard as hell, but it shouldn’t be for your customers. It should be as easy as ordering a pizza from Domino’s or buying products from Amazon. Pull that off and your brand will stand out from the competition. Customers will be loyal and happy to pay you a premium if you can take the hassle and worry out of their lives.

My Amazon order history tells a pretty interesting story that starts back in 2011. That’s the year that I finally decided to create an account because I realized I was probably going to be purchasing a few more items from this Amazon company and I was sick of retyping my credit card information. At this point, I didn’t realize what an impact Amazon was going to have on my day-to-day life.

It’s not like I immediately started ordering everything from Amazon. Quite the contrary. Between me and my wife, we made one order on our Amazon account in 2011, four in 2012, and fifteen in 2013. You see the trend. Later that year, we subscribed to the Amazon Prime program to get fast, free shipping for an extra $80 a year. That changed everything. Our Amazon use skyrocketed to the point where we made over 70 orders to Amazon last year. And, a quick poll of my co-workers suggests that we’re light users.

Here’s the kicker, Amazon is not the cheapest option. I price shop all the time and find better deals. But, those cheaper options either mean ordering from some sketchy online retailer that might take my money and run or a stressful, frustrating trip to a big box store. I’m not dealing with that mess. There is almost nothing as inconvenient as a trip to Walmart or Best Buy. It’s a waste of precious time. I don’t mind waiting 2 days for a product to ship from the Amazon Warehouse if it means avoiding the hassle of those madhouses.

That’s how doing things the easy way can make a loyal customer for life. Amazon is the easy way for me and for that, they’re making a killing. Compared to their most dominant competitor, Walmart, they’re absolutely cleaning house. As of the writing of this post, Amazon’s stock has increased in value over 2,600% since 2005 to a market cap of nearly $700 billion. Not bad for a company that started as a little bookstore. Walmart’s stock price, on the other hand, has only grown 82% to a market cap of $260 billion. Would you be happy with 82% growth in the value of your company over 13 years? How about 2,600%?

Now, I know you’re probably not running a multi-billion dollar company, but this strategy isn’t unique to megaretailers. Ever heard of Spiffy or FilterEasy? These aren’t big companies, but they’re growing like crazy by doing it the easy way. These two brands are built on the premise that customers want convenience and transparency and are willing to pay a premium for it. Check out my last blog post for details about their convenience-first strategies.

Could you imagine if all of these successful companies only used employees equipped with spreadsheets, phones, and email to provide this level of customer service? A concierge for each customer to update them on the progress of every purchase, answer their every question and resolve any issues. It would be a rat’s nest of communication. Of course, this is preposterous. The costs would be astronomical and the results would be a mess.

So, why is that how most service contractors solve the same problem?

Instead, Amazon, Spiffy, and FilterEasy use scalable customer service technology to make their customers’ lives easier. They cut human costs and provide a better, more convenient, and more transparent experience with applications that differentiate their brands. Of course, there are still people involved, but their cost to deliver customer service doesn’t increase with each new customer. In fact, the cost per customer goes down as they grow.

What technology are all of these companies using on the backend to manage accounting and logistics? It doesn’t matter. Their customers don’t care how they manage the business. Customers just want their lives’ to be easier. In their customers’ eyes, Amazon’s warehouse software doesn’t differentiate them from Walmart. Spiffy’s accounting system doesn’t set them apart from Jiffy Lube. FilterEasy’s payroll system doesn’t help them sell more filters.

So, why is that most service contractors think their backend and accounting systems will help them grow?

I’ll never buy from MonoPrice again and I avoid Walmart like the plague. I’ve never spoken with an Amazon customer service rep, yet I’ve been a loyal customer for over 7 years and spend more with them every year. Good customer service is convenient and transparent but great, scalable customer service can only be achieved with technology.

This doesn’t have to be hard. Give your customers the easy way.

The Eagles didn’t win the Super Bowl. Nope, Tide won it with their amazing ad campaign. Everybody is still talking about the Tide ad campaign. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could generate that kind of buzz with your customers and prospects without spending anywhere near the estimated $15M Tide spent on their ads? It’s possible. Take a page from Tide’s book: impress customers, steal the spotlight, and reinforce your value to make your brand memorable:

Make an Impression

That ad is impressive. Instead of exceeding our expectations, it transforms them. For that, it will leave a lasting impression on us, increase Tide’s sales, and improve their brand loyalty. Not bad for a laundry detergent. How are you going to leave an impression on your customers? With an invoice and a bunch of text describing the services they are paying for? The last time you bought laundry detergent, did the receipt leave an impression on you?

Of course, you’re not going to spend $15M to impress your customers. Fortunately, your customers don’t expect much from service contractors. With the right technology, you can transform your customers’ expectations and leave an impression without spending millions. Building your company’s Digital Wrap will change the way your customers think about working with you. Instead of a relationship built on invoices and emergencies, you can transform the conversation to one about the great work you do and the value you provide.

Steal the Spotlight

After that Tide ad, every other ad became a Tide ad. No matter what the ad was about, viewers were looking at the actors’ clothes and thinking about Tide. They convinced viewers to dissociate the actors and their clothing from brands and logos. What if every time your customers looked at an invoice from another service company and thought about your brand?

Start by challenging them to dissociate the valuable services you provide from the cost of those services. Impress them with online summaries of the work you perform that include pictures, videos, and information that helps them make the best decisions about their equipment. Don’t rely on invoices to convey your value.

Do this, and your customers will think about your company every time they look at an invoice from another service contractor. They’ll wish the other contractors could offer the experience you provide. You can steal the spotlight when you transform their expectations and leave an impression.

Reinforce your Value

Tide didn’t stop with that one ad. No, they played 3 more!

These marketing impressions reinforced Tide’s message in order to keep viewers thinking about their brand and wanting more. We call these MIPS: Marketing Impressions Per Service (or Super Bowl, in Tide’s case). Instead of one impression (a single ad or an invoice), shower your customer with useful MIPS to reinforce your value. A month before they are due for service, send them a reminder. Send them an en route notification that shows them what the tech looks like and when he or she will arrive. Send them an online summary of each appointment with pictures and videos. Your customers will eat up the information and ask for more.

Is Tide better than other laundry detergent brands? Online reviews suggest they are comparable to other detergents. Is Tide cheaper than its competitors? Not by a long shot. They are 3-4 times more expensive than other options on Amazon. Do you think they are selling more product than their low-cost competitors? After their Super Bowl ad campaign, you can bet your ass they will. Tide shows that a premium brand can easily overcome price concerns when it brings something new and unexpected to its customers.

Want to charge 146% more than your competition and still have customers beating down the doors? The secret to easy money for service contractors is simple:

Convenience is more valuable than low prices.

Modern buyers are willing to pay a premium for convenience. In a world flooded with One Truck Chucks and low-cost competitors, differentiating your service brand with convenience, instead of price, can give you a serious competitive advantage. Spiffy and FilterEasy are a couple startups that teach us a lesson about how service contractors can make easy money.

Spiffy

Would you pay $49 for a basic car wash with interior vacuuming and $69 for an oil change? For comparison, pricing from traditional national chains is about $19 and $29 for the same services. That’s a 146% price increase. Sounds like a ripoff. What if the service came to your car, wherever it was, and you could easily schedule the appointment with a mobile app? Now we’re talking.

That’s just what Spiffy is doing. What has this convenience-first strategy gotten them? Since they were founded in 2012, they’ve raised $9.1M and expanded to cover 5 major cities. They didn’t do it by having the best price in town. Instead, they focused on customer convenience. Now, customers love them and Spiffy is making piles of easy money.

 

 

 

 

FilterEasy

Drop by Walmart or Lowe’s and you can find cheap home air filters for under $1. You can even find allergen air filters for less than $5 on Amazon. Why would anyone choose to pay $12 – $20 for a filter? You guessed it: Convenience. FilterEasy is a subscription service that ships home air filters to customers on a frequency that matches their HVAC system’s need. Home with no pets? You get a filter every 3 months. Home with 3 dogs? You get a filter every month.

When I tell people about the FilterEasy business model, it’s not uncommon to hear this: “I’d never spend that much on filters!” That’s fair. I wouldn’t either. That doesn’t change the fact that FilterEasy has raised $11.4M and is growing like crazy.

Their customers love that they don’t have to remember when to change filters. Their customers love that they don’t have to waste their time with a trip to Walmart or Lowes. Their customers don’t really care that they’re paying more. Now that’s FilterEasy money!

your logo here

Commercial Service Contractors

So, how are commercial service contractors supposed to make easy money? Start by thinking about how you can use technology make your customers’ lives easier. Give them instant, online access to past service history and current service activities so they never have to contact you or wait for information they need. Set up your contracts with subscription payment so your customers never have to worry about month-to-month budgeting. Sell more repairs with online quotes so there are fewer costly and disruptive emergencies.

Your customers will tell you that price is all that matters, right up until you give them a more convenient alternative. That’s how you make easy money.

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:

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

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:

Convenience

 

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.

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?