For the last decade, my career has been centered around recruiting and managing millennials. Plus, I am one.

When we talk about recruiting and retaining millennials, I know what a lot of people are thinking: I don’t want to.

Millennials have been labeled as entitled, unfocused, and job jumpers. Some even call us narcissistic. When you think about the stereotypical millennial, this may resonate:

 

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants.”

Said every generation about the next. Don’t believe me? This quote is from Socrates.

Love them or hate them, millennials should be embraced into your organization. That is, unless you’re ok not employing anyone between the ages of 23-37. This makes millennials the largest generation represented in the workforce today. We’re extremely underrepresented among skilled trade workers in the U.S.. There are a higher number of skilled workers over the age of 45 and a higher number of them between 55-64 getting ready to retire. So during the skilled labor shortage, the largest generation available to you is being underutilized. That’s the bad news. You need millennials in the business and in your industry, and right now, they’re not there.

The good news is that once you start attracting millennials, they can help you attract more. If you create an environment to retain them and help them to thrive, they’ll not only be the future leaders of your company, but they’ll help drive you forward.

So, what do they want? Millennials prioritize these five attributes when looking for a job opportunity:

  1. Money
  2. Job security
  3. Benefits
  4. Time off
  5. Great people

It doesn’t sound too different from what previous generations valued. What is different is how we define each of these. Remember, I’m an older millennial, and in 1998, I was 14 and a freshman in high school. This was the same year that Amazon started selling more than books and Netflix made it possible for me to rent movies without leaving the house.

About a decade later, I’d graduated college and moved to Montana with the dream of being on ESPN someday. It was also the time we went from

to

Suddenly, information was in the palm of our hand and we were connected with people across the country and around the world. We had an inside look into people’s lives. This was also the time of the great recession with home foreclosures, the stock market crash, and bank bailouts. And in 2008 we went from 630,000 Americans who were unemployed to 11,400,000.

Millennials grew up in a world of constant innovation throughout our adolescence. We became used to instant gratification, information at our fingertips, and glorified easy-money lifestyles. While many of us were impacted by the recession in our adult lives, we’ve really only seen a growing economy and we’re trying to optimize our own growth through it.

So let’s look at those five priorities again.

Money. As always, money is important. But what I hear is that millennials don’t want to pay their dues. They want it now. They don’t want to work for it. Well, you could blame Mark Zuckerberg. He became a millionaire at age 22 and a billionaire at age 23. So in one year, he want from a millionaire to a billionaire. It took Warren Buffett 26 years to do the same.

Social media has opened the door for us to see those glorified lifestyles. We get to see the best part of people’s lives. Lifestyles and experience let us show off the best part of our own. We want to be able to afford it. The skilled trade industries are increasing wages at a slower rate than others. Be competitive. Know what industries you’re competing against for employees.

Job Security. While most millennials don’t remember details around the last recession, we weren’t blind to the millions of people who were suddenly employed. For older millennials, we entered the job market and were suddenly competing with people with 10, 20, 30 years’ experience for entry-level jobs. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg went from a millionaire to a billionaire. So job security meant having the experience, the skills, the ability to self-improve, grow, and have the opportunity for growth.

It’s not just the second-highest priority that millennials look for while job searching, it’s also the second-highest reason why people leave their existing jobs.

Most millennials would prefer staying with the same company for the long haul but only if the growth opportunity exists. Ask yourself, when you have millennials who were in the business for a short period of time, how valued did they feel? Did they make an impact? Did they have an opportunity to grow, and did they know that?

Benefits. Traditional benefits like healthcare and retirement still apply – but those have become basic requirements. Lifestyle and experience have really expanded the concept of benefits.

This picture of me was part of a recruiting campaign for a company I worked for. There isn’t a software company that doesn’t advertise benefits like free snacks and things that some people call silly or distractions like Nerf guns, video games, or beanbags. They all play into the concept of lifestyle and experience that aren’t restricted to after 5pm. Ask yourself, what kind of lifestyle are your benefits supporting? Fun and fitness? Fun and creativity? Furry friends?

Time off. Growing up in a world when you’re constantly connected means that work doesn’t happen between 9-5. You aren’t restricted to an office or a desk. Because we’re constantly connected, the flexibility to step away is more important. We want the ability to take care of our personal lives, even if that’s during the week. Things like taking extended vacation is highly valued. I know these things are easier to do with office staff than with technicians, but I’ve talked to several companies who have worked with technicians on creating some level of flexibility. Get creative. It takes some work, but that work pays back dividends.

When millennials talk about time off, it’s not about unplugging. We’re addicted to our phones. We don’t unplug that much. It’s more than anything about flexibility.

Great people. Back during that recruiting campaign I mentioned earlier, I did a radio ad with a tagline “I have fun at work.” I wasn’t lying. I had a lot of fun at work. When I left six years later, the people were the hardest thing to leave. Looking back, the people kept me there for an extra year.

There are studies that show that having a work best friend increases productivity, job satisfaction, and retention. Those miscellaneous reasons in the chart above why people leave are often because of a toxic workplace and bad managers. So great people make a big difference.

Know what is important to all your prospective employees. Give your managers the resources and support to create an environment that makes everyone thrive. Millennials may value things a bit differently, but you’ll find that at the end of the day, they share common personal and professional goals with your more experienced employees.

As VP of Customer Success at ServiceTrade, what everybody calls me at work is “that guy who can answer your questions about integrations.” The number of meetings I’ve been called into to discuss integrations with customers has gone up dramatically in 2018. I’ve noticed a theme in a lot of these conversations: customers aren’t really comfortable talking about integrations. They don’t know the terms, they don’t know where to start thinking about it. So today I want to tell you some basics about how to integrate good software with ServiceTrade.

Good software should have an easy-to-find API. If you aren’t sure whether a software application you’re considering has an API, it should be as easy searching Google for “____ API documentation.” No search results is a bad sign!  Good software is often found on Zapier.com, which is an integration platform that moves information between web applications automatically. If a software application is on Zapier, you can be assured that it definitely has an API, it’s modern, and that it should play nicely with other pieces of good software. If you’re buying good software, you can avoid getting trapped by bad software decisions.

To set the stage to talk about good software integrations, it’s important to understand that everything in life – including software – has a special purpose. It has one thing it was designed to do and if you expect much more out of it, then you’re going to have a bad experience.

Let’s use an analogy. If you had to choose between those two vehicles:
If I want you to hop into one, head around town, pick up groceries, drop off the kids. Which one would you choose?

The car. That’s an easy one.

I’ll ask you another easy one.  What if I want you to tool around the bay, do some fishing, and some sunbathing.

Right. The boat.

Let me make it a little bit harder. What if I ask you to do both of those things? What if I ask you to run some errands, pick up the groceries, then head out and do some fishing and some sunbathing, then head on back home?

I think you’d tell me that you’d hop into the car to do the first set of things and head down to the boat to do second of things, then you’d get back into your car to head home.  That seems pretty obvious.

But when it comes to software, a lot of people think, “You just asked me to do car things and boat things . . . I’ve got to have a carboat!  How am I going to do car things and boat things unless I go buy one of these?”

This looks a little ridiculous, it doesn’t make any sense, and I think it’s obvious when you look at this photo why. This is not a very good car. And it’s not a very good boat.

When you’re looking to solve your business problems, that is the perfect time to be thinking about choosing the right software application for each of your specific problems. It’s also the perfect time to make sure you’re not about to make a carboat-buying decision.

So what should you look out for?  If you hear:

  • “Well, it wasn’t designed to do that, but it could.”
    • They mean that 8 months and thousands of dollars later, it still won’t do what you want.
  • “I think there’s a workaround.”
    • They mean it’s going to be harder and more complicated than you want.
  • It doesn’t have all those things you said you needed, but it should get the job done.”
    • They mean it doesn’t have the things you need and it won’t get the job done.

We do not tell people that ServiceTrade is going to solve all their business problems. We often point out all kinds of things that we aren’t the best choice for like payroll, accounting, truck tracking, payment processing, and sales CRM. We like to talk about ServiceTrade as good software that you can integrate with other good software to solve those problems.

So rather than focusing on making a carboat, focus on easing the car-to-boat transition. Or, bringing it back to software, easing the transition from one piece of software to another piece of software. At the end of the day, that is what integrating is all about – easing the data transition from one system to another system.

But if you aren’t careful, you’re going to end up with a very bad car-to-boat transition.

Let’s define 4 stops on the road to success so we don’t drive a boat into a car.

1. Know what you want.
You’re going to have all kinds of questions about how things work, and that’s good. I recommend working a structure around those questions called “if this, then that.”  It’s very simple: If this thing happens, then this other thing should happen. If you use this formula to think about what you want to happen in an integration, you can hand this to any software developer and you’ll be way ahead of the game.
2. Document your ideas.

      1. Determine the source of record – where your information originates and what direction that data should sync.  Here’s an example using Pipedrive (a CRM) and ServiceTrade.
      2. Create a Flowchart.
        Create a visual representation of your integration. Check out this example from the online cloud-based application at app.flowmapp.com. I used this tool to document the service workflow for a ServiceTrade customer to clearly demonstrate where ServiceTrade fits into their existing business process. You get a really nice visual representation of your integration and gives you a good way to make sure you’ve covered all your requirements.
      3. Document a scope that includes:
        • Description
        • Requirements
        • Desired user behavior
        • Deliverables
        • BudgetFor documentation, use online collaborative tools like Google Apps. The sharing feature and version control of shared files gives you a single source of record for your integration documentation.
      4. Test cases
        This is a more detailed version of your “if this, then that” thought process. It’s clearly-defined step-by-step processes that ensure that you can test that the integration is working like you expect.

3. Manage the project.
Use project management software to organize your thoughts, your plans, and your team around the integration. Take a look at Asana and Trello.

4. Do the work.
Who is going to do the work? Is it you? This is the reaction you should have to that question:


There are lots of places to find qualified developers to write integrations for you. The first stop you should make is ServiceTrade. We’ve gotten pretty good at integrating various web apps with ServiceTrade. But we’re not the only game in town, you can look at hiring a freelancer from Fiverr, Upwork, and Freelancer. With everything you’ve documented, toss it to a developer and let them bid on it. You’d be surprised by what you can get done on these sites.

If someone else is doing the work for you, what are you responsible for?  Testing, testing, testing, testing, and testing again.

You’ll also be responsible for documentation for the business processes that you want everyone to follow. No matter how obvious steps are to you as the creator, it’s definitely worth documenting it for the rest of your team.

Here’s a list of applications that ServiceTrade customers have integrated with our app to expand the power and functionality of our application. It includes things like CRM, custom notifications to customers, after-service surveys, general data sync for additional file backup or sending notifications to Slack channels, custom forms, accepting credit card payments onsite, the possibilities really are endless.

Shelley Bainter asked me to write this blog post explaining why I decided I needed to write The Digital Wrap and Money for Nothing in support of ServiceTrade’s marketing strategy.  It’s a great question. Interestingly, the books are mostly an extension/expansion/elaboration on a collection of blog posts and research that I along with Shawn Mims delivered in connection with ServiceTrade marketing activities.  There are two fundamental reasons that I write, and the books are just an outgrowth of those.

The first fundamental reason I write is because it helps me lead. I believe the best way to prove you are sane enough in your thinking to lead an organization is to commit your most important thoughts to coherent prose.  It did not surprise me at all when I read that Jeff Bezos banned Powerpoint in executive meetings at Amazon and instead required all important decision matters be committed to six-page memos with narrative structures.

If you cannot tell the story you want others to believe and commit to action, you are not prepared to lead. So I use writing to organize the ideas I want ServiceTrade to embrace and extend to our customers as our value proposition. It proves to myself that I am coherent in my thinking, and it gives my executive team something to debate, debunk, or improve for their own narrative purposes with their teams.

The second reason that I write is because I am a big admirer of the trick that two other MIT alums pulled with their company, Hubspot.  Long before Hubspot had a product that was worthy of market leadership, the two founders, Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, had a concept that was worthy of market consideration.  They coined the term and wrote the book Inbound Marketing. It gave the new company, Hubspot, standing in the market prior to the product Hubspot having any significant leading features. Customers will invest in leadership ideas and demonstrate patience with the product if they see a bright future. Halligan and Shah demonstrated leadership and bought their company mind share that they were later able to convert into market share as the product matured.

Similar to inbound marketing for Hubspot, the concept of a digital wrap for ServiceTrade is new and novel among service contractors seeking technology solutions to enhance their business.  The digital wrap gives ServiceTrade something cool to share with prospects in order to challenge their notion of what it means to be competitive in a world dominated by digital experiences from Amazon, Uber, Netflix, Apple, and others.  How am I going to compete with an online customer service experience when my customers are comparing me to these mega digital experiences? ServiceTrade has a novel concept called the digital wrap that enables scalable and memorable online customer engagement.  Writing the books gives our small company standing in the market because we are talking about something unique, differentiated, and important.

You don’t have to publish books to benefit from these reasons that I have adopted for writing. Use the concept of narrative memos like Bezos does to force you and your management team to organize your thoughts into ideas that can be acted upon.  Build compelling stories about your unique capabilities to share with customers in the form of blog posts or videos. It is easier for a customer to consider your product when they see or read a story that compels them to change their assumptions because they believe you are predicting the future.  A good story helps them buy into your value.

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We’ll give the first ten readers to respond a copy of Billy’s new book, Money for Nothing. Send your request and mailing address to  shelley.bainter@servicetrade.com

Every Sunday evening I receive an email from the software investment banking team at Key Bank Capital Markets. The subject line of the email is “Software Valuations,” and the email contains a link to a weekly report that details the valuation metrics of about 100 different software companies. All of these companies are public corporations, so their stock information is readily available for the folks at Key Bank to analyze. Most of the companies they follow are software as a service (SaaS) companies, and because ServiceTrade is a SaaS company, this report is very interesting to me as the CEO and a shareholder of ServiceTrade. It is my job to maximize the value of our stock for the benefit of all of our shareholders, and the Key Bank team helps me do this through their analysis of SaaS company valuations.

Here is an annotated version of a table they publish for about 70 different SaaS companies. I limited the table to 10 of the entries to make a point about the importance of growth to shareholder value.

 I sorted these from high to low based on the value-to-revenue multiple. The value-to-revenue multiple indicates how much the total of each company’s outstanding stock is worth as a multiple of their anticipated 2018 revenue. The number-one performer is Shopify, with a value-to-revenue multiple of 17.2X. The total value of all outstanding Shopify stock is equal to 17.2 times the revenue expectation for Shopify in 2018. You are reading that correctly. Investors are willing to buy Shopify stock at an extraordinary premium because they believe Shopify is going to grow, grow, grow. And Shopify is delivering on that promise. Note that Shopify expects to grow revenue by 51.1 percent in 2018 compared to their revenue in 2017. That’s a terrific growth rate. Also note that Shopify has a value of NM (Not Measured because they are not making a profit) in the category of price-to-earnings. That’s because Shopify is going to lose money in 2018. They will probably also lose money in 2019 and 2020 because they are investing like crazy to continue to grow. Despite this lack of profit, their stock is still extremely valuable.

Contrast Shopify with ChannelAdvisor. Their stock trades for just 2.9 times the revenue expectation for 2018. It’s interesting that Shopify and ChannelAdvisor offer a similar value proposition with their software applications – they both help small merchants sell their products online. The biggest difference is that Shopify is expected to grow 51.1 percent in 2018 and ChannelAdvisor is expected to grow only 6.8 percent. The expectation of growth explains why Shopify is almost six times more valuable than ChannelAdvisor.

Why is any of this relevant to your business? It is very relevant because their business model is similar to yours in that they sell a subscription program to their customers. If you are following my advice and developing a subscription program for maintenance, monitoring, and inspections for which you sell an annual or longer contract, your business is similar to these companies, and investors will ultimately value your business in the same way they value these businesses. The point I am trying to make is that growing is better than grinding when it comes to creating value for shareholders.

Grinding means pushing everyone in the organization to squeeze more profit from the current revenue stream. I have nothing against profit, and I think you should aim to be profitable. But grinding does not significantly increase the value of your business if there is the possibility to grow the business instead.

Growing is much more fun for everyone than grinding, for all of the obvious reasons. Growing means that new stuff is happening all the time. New products are being introduced to the market. New customers are being served. New employees are joining the company to help take care of the new customers. New promotions are being handed out because there is more responsibility to be shared. New offices are being opened. New equipment is being purchased. New tools are being deployed. New training is underway on how to use new tools. New, new, new means fun, fun, fun.

Grinding sucks because old tools are breaking and not being replaced. Old employees are leaving and not being replaced or taking on more responsibility for no increase in pay. Old customers are complaining because they are not getting good service. Old trucks are breaking down and disrupting the workday. Old, old, old means suck, suck, suck.

What is your plan for growth? How are you going to orient your company in a direction that gets to the fun of growing? It begins with a commitment to growth. If there is no expectation in the company that growth is an important metric, then no growth will occur. Set growth targets as part of your planning process, and don’t be shy about asking people to stretch to achieve something ambitious. For organic growth, plan to grow by 10 percent per year, and think about pushing for 20 to 30 percent (depending on the size of your company). All the best employees in your business will rally around the growth goal because none of them signed on for a career in which not much was achieved. Your employees will get much more career development from an aggressive growth strategy.

Maximizing the value of your business is the most tangible outcome associated with a successful growth strategy. The difference in valuation of the companies tracked by Key Bank in the SaaS market based on their respective growth rates is extravagant, and it should be a lesson for anyone who wants to build value with a subscription business model. The intangible value of having a growth strategy is that you will attract, develop, and retain a better class of employees who value your company because they expect to experience greater career development. They will be exposed to ever-increasing levels of responsibility, which leads to higher job satisfaction and better retention. Growing is fun and grinding sucks, so aim for growth and get more pay and have more fun along the way.

You won’t make your customer feel good if you provide convenience, transparency, and avoid bad surprises. Those are the bare minimum to meet their expectations.

From my last blog post:

Dr. Feelgood, from the 1989 Mötley Crüe single, was a drug dealer who got the name because he made his customers feel good. This kept his customers coming back for more. Do you make your customers feel good? It doesn’t really matter if you do a good job for them. If you don’t make them feel good about it, they won’t come back for more.

Obviously, commercial service contractors shouldn’t give their customers illicit drugs, but they can stimulate the same brain receptors that release dopamine, the feel-good hormone that drives positive reinforcement in the human biological reward system. Unfortunately, that same reward system has negative reinforcement mechanism called cortisol, the stress hormone, that’s easily triggered by bad customer service. Understanding what triggers these hormones is fundamental to creating an amazing customer experience that reduces stress, gets customers hooked to your brand, and differentiates your company from the competition.

In my previous post, I dove into the three stressors that trigger cortisol in your customers: inconvenience, uncertainty, and bad surprises. This week, I want to shift gears and talk about the three dopamine triggers you can take advantage of to make your customers feel good. Unfortunately, it’s much more difficult to elicit a dopamine response in your customers than a cortisol response because the typical triggers like sex and drugs are not tools you get to use. Instead, you’ll have to rely on subtle psychological triggers that require finesse to provoke.

Good Surprises

Our brains are wired to be delighted by good surprises. Neuroscientists from the Baylor College of Medicine conducted a research study in which volunteers played a computer game where they were presented with a red and blue deck of cards with the objective of accumulating as many points as possible by determining which deck contained more “reward” cards. They could select to flip the top card of either deck to receive a reward card that gave them points and triggered the cha-ching sound of a cash register, or a card that would remove points from their accumulated gains. Over time, they would learn which deck gave them more reward cards so they could accumulate points faster. Researchers modeled the volunteers’ expectation of reward based on their selections to classify gains and losses as expected or unexpected. On average, an unexpected reward resulted in highest release of dopamine, the feel-good hormone.

Take advantage of this psychology and provide facility managers with the great surprise of an amazing customer experience. While all of your competitors manage their service cycle and customer service with calls, paper, and ad hoc emails, you’ll stand apart when you offer a convenient, novel experience that includes online summaries of services with rich media, automated notifications (MIPS), and the ability to leave reviews. Here’s what a facility manager told a service contractor about the online service reports (Service Link) he receives that include loads of pictures, videos, and audio notes pertaining to the services:

“I love this feature and report. Your competition has nothing like this.”

The unexpected surprise of a better experience made him feel good. Now, this novelty will wane, and that’s OK. After the novelty is gone, you’ll have set a new precedent for a great customer experience that your competitors can’t touch. Their approach will feel inconvenient and uncertain. As I discussed in the first installment of this blog post, that’s a formula for the stress hormone cortisol – and a bad customer relationship.

Storytelling

Everybody loves a good story. Entire books, like Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, are dedicated to the science of great storytelling. Gottschall tells us about an experiment performed by Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist, found that our bodies release more oxytocin, the hormone that causes empathy, when we consume information in a story format as opposed to a simple factual summary. College students were offered $20 to take part in a study where they were presented with either a story about a father and his dying child or a factual summary about the impacts of cancer on children. After the presentation, the students were asked if they wanted to donate any or all of their $20 to a cancer research institute for children. Students that were presented with the story had significantly higher levels of oxytocin in their blood and, on average, donated more money. A good story with a classic arc makes us empathize with the main characters. We feel how they feel.

After the novelty of your shiny new customer experience wears off, you can take advantage of this empathetic trait to trigger dopamine by telling your customers the story of the challenges your team overcame. Start by introducing the hero, your technician, with an en route notification and an in-person greeting when they arrive. Next, show customers the challenges that the hero faces with pictures and videos of the equipment issues. How ever will the hero succeed? Present a solution with an online quote that shows how your tech will save the day and an explanation of the bad outcomes that will occur if they don’t act. Those unfavorable outcomes are the villain that add tension to the story. Most importantly, show your customers exactly how the hero saved the day with pictures and videos of the repaired equipment. When you properly craft this story, your customers will empathize with the main character, your technician, and receive a hit of dopamine from the happy ending that avoided the perilous bad outcomes.

Anticipation

Interestingly, our bodies often reward us with more dopamine when we anticipate a reward than when we actually receive a reward. Robert Sapolsky, a neuroscientist, performed a study on monkeys that were trained to, after given a signal, press a button 10 times to receive food. The monkeys’ dopamine levels rose immediately after the signal, but subsided when they were done pressing the button. The anticipation of the food released more dopamine than the reward of the food itself. When the food was only dispensed 50% of the time, their dopamine levels doubled in comparison to what they were when then the food was dispensed every time. Just like a slot machine, the mix of anticipation and uncertainty about the reward yielded a significant dopamine release in the monkeys.

You’ve already shown your customers that you’ll give them a hit of dopamine when you show up with a novel customer experience and a great story. That’s their reward. Now, all you have to do is train them to anticipate it. Teach them to anticipate a feel-good experience when you give the signal of an appointment reminder or en route notification. You’re not going to have an exciting story for every service. For example, routine maintenance work and inspections where your techs don’t find any issues don’t make for an enthralling story. That’s OK. As the monkeys show us, you don’t have to deliver the reward 100% of the time. Instead of a mediocre story on every job, tell them an incredible story, full of challenges and and successes on the jobs where your techs save the day. The important takeaway is that you should give your customers the signal on every job in order to elicit their anticipatory dopamine response.

 

Just like Dr. Feelgood, you can keep your customers coming back for more. Instead of drugs, you can use consumer psychology to hack their evolutionary reward system to prevent the release of cortisol and evoke the release of dopamine. If you succeed in making your customers feel good, your service brand will be impervious to the competition and your customers will be happy to pay you more for the premium experience you give them.

happy amazon customer receives amazon box delivery

Several dozen books (at least) have been written about the Amazon phenomenon, and I could probably go on and on myself about the lessons that can be drawn from its success. The lesson for the service contractor is that making your customers feel good about your service will likely lead to greater riches for you and your company. Jeff Bezos is the richest guy in the world, and he has been pretty clear that his success comes from innovations that make the customer feel good about doing business with Amazon. Many of these innovations are directly applicable to a commercial service contracting business, and you should take inspiration from them to deliver your own version of “feel good” customer service features.

Pictures and video. Amazon understands the psychology of human decision making. Images impress us.  They help humans understand their environment and make decisions. We are more easily impressed by images and stories than we are by bullet points and descriptive prose. I challenge you to find anything for sale on Amazon that does not include at least one picture. Generally there are several, and Amazon gives you tools to zoom and pan to get a better view of the details that might interest you. It is easier to feel good about a purchase when we can see the images that reinforce our buying decision. Increasingly video is also becoming a part of the purchase review because it combines imagery with a story about the product.

Reviews. Reviews are the stories other customers choose to share about their experience with the product. Like images, stories are a powerful learning mechanism for humans. By reading stories, we get comfortable with the experience we can expect from the product. We also understand any trouble we may face through these review stories. Reviews further empower the customer as well because a poor customer service experience and a bad review is often the catalyst for a company to correct the problem. The ability to hold the company accountable to a good experience through a review process gives the customer more comfort at the time of purchase.

Convenience.  One of Amazon’s first innovations was one-click purchasing.  They applied for and were awarded a method patent on this invention back in 1999. Amazon famously sued Barnes and Noble when they copied the innovation. Amazon had streamlined the purchase process by eliminating the hassle of checkout, and the company was not going to stand by quietly when their fiercest competitor attempted to copy this convenience innovation. Now the company offers a mobile app (of course) so customers can easily browse and buy from their phone.  Additionally Amazon provides multiple delivery and gift options, smart speakers that let you buy with Alexa commands, push button buying using a little connected clicker called a Dash button for common items like laundry detergent, and many more buying innovations. The company is even experimenting with flying drone delivery. Eliminating all of the barriers between your customer’s money and your bank account just makes sense.

No Hassle Returns. Amazon never argues with a customer regarding a request to return an item so long as there is some reason for the rejection (fit, color, quality, whatever). They make returns easy with a self-service process from their website. Customers feel better about placing an order when they know they can return the product if something is not right.

Mobile experience. Amazon enhances convenience with their mobile app because shopping is always available. Most customers are never more than three feet from their phone, and therefore I believe mobile is worthy of its own feel good category. Because my smartphone has a camera and a microphone, I can take photos (or scan barcodes) to search for products as well as giving verbal commands. I can also manage every aspect of my relationship with Amazon through my mobile device, which means I can manage it anywhere and anytime.

Feel good by doing good. The Amazon Smile program allows me to select a charity to receive a donation from Amazon equal to .5% of my qualifying purchases when I begin my shopping at smile.amazon.com. Do you imagine that a customer feels good when they begin their shopping experience by typing “smile” and then direct a contribution to a favorite charity when they buy something? It is easy to feel good when your vendor helps you do good.

Notifications and visibility. Amazon gives customers a number of ways to track their orders and their order history with the company. Any shopping activity, whether resulting in a purchase or not, generally results in some level of follow up from Amazon. If I place an order, Amazon continuously informs me of the status from a “thank you” order confirmation. They send a shipment notice plus an arrival notice. If I shop and do not order, Amazon often follows up with deals on items that I viewed hoping to push me over the edge to actually buy the product. After I receive a purchase, I am generally offered an opportunity to review the purchase, and I will typically be offered several complementary items. Beyond these notifications, Amazon tracks my purchases so that I can reference that information to make decisions regarding future purchases. All of this attention and account visibility certainly helps the customer feel good about their relationship with Amazon.

Subscription membership. Amazon offers customers a subscription program called Prime. Prime bundles all manner of Amazon services and benefits into a subscription program for which customers pay an annual membership fee. The subscription offers access to a library of books and music along with lower costs (usually free) for shipping and guaranteed two-day delivery for any purchases. Statista, the online statistics portal, estimates that Amazon had 95 million US Prime members as of June 2018.  That amounts to nearly seventy-percent of US households participating in Prime. It feels good to be a member of a club with a wide range of benefits and a subscription business model with its predictable and guaranteed cash flow is a powerful foundation from which to build a dominant brand.

Commercial service contractors should take a lesson from Amazon: making customers feel good about your services will likely lead to greater riches for your company. The best part is, many of the innovations that make customers feel good about doing business with Amazon can work for you.

Amazon does not settle for “good” in the realm of customer service. It is not enough for the customer to simply get what they paid to receive. Amazon wants customers to enjoy the experience in the same manner as a guest might enjoy a good party. Great brands now want to copy Amazon because Jeff Bezos has become the wealthiest guy in the world due to the crazy success of Amazon stock. Smart business owners want the same value for their shareholders, so they are behaving like Amazon and aiming well beyond the idea of simply satisfying the customer. They truly want their customers to “feel good” about the experience of buying from them. This current obsession with the customer experience is certainly a good thing for customers. Because so many companies are now focusing on innovation in customer service, the bar for “feel good” status is climbing higher every day.

The most popular approach today for measuring customer satisfaction is the Net Promoter Score, or NPS. Wikipedia reports that more than two-thirds of the Fortune 1000 are currently using NPS. Here’s how it works.

Customers are asked a single, simple question:

How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?

Respondents are then given an option to answer that question with a number rating on a scale between 0 and 10. 0 means that the customer would never recommend the company to a friend or colleague, and 10 means that they would absolutely recommend the company to a friend or colleague.

Next, respondents are categorized into the following groups:
Promoters – those who score the business with a 9 or 10, likely to promote to others
Passives- scored 7-8, not likely to benefit or harm your brand
Detractors- scored 6 or less, a liability for your brand

The final NPS score is calculated by subtracting the percentage of Detractors from the percentage of Promoters, with the Passives not contributing at all to the score. As an example, if you were to survey 100 customers and 35 score as Detractors (0 to 6), 25 score as Passives (7 or 8), and 40 score as Promoters (9 or 10), your NPS score would be:

Promoters – Detractors = NPS 40 – 35 = 5

Your NPS for this survey sample is a 5. Anything above 0 is considered to be positive, and a score approaching 50 is terrific.

Now I think all of this is probably a little too simplistic, and you will find lots of scientific criticism for NPS from survey theory experts if you go looking for it online. My opinion and the opinion of all of the other critics is not what really matters in this case. What is important is that two-thirds of the Fortune 1000 are relying on this information in one form or another to help them improve customer satisfaction. A lot of big brands with big budgets are focusing lots of energy on measuring customer satisfaction. The other important thing to note is that this wildly popular tool skews heavily toward “feel good” as the goal for customer service. Only scores of 9 or 10 are credited positively, and anything less than a 7 is negative. I would say anyone that scores a company with a 9 or a 10 feels really good about their experience with the company. So two-thirds of the Fortune 1000 are scheming for ways to get more scores in the range of 9 to 10 because that is the only way to improve their NPS score. That’s a lot of companies with a lot of focus on making customers feel good about their brand.

What does this emphasis on outstanding customer service mean for you? Your business is going to be compared to all of the customer service innovations of Amazon and two-thirds of the Fortune 1000 because they are all “focused like a laser” on customer experience these days. NPS is hot because customer service innovations are hot because customer loyalty is hot because growth is hot because Amazon is hot. Customers are not going to compare you to your “always go low on price” competitor down the street any longer. They are going to ask “Why can’t you be more like Amazon and give me notifications when I am due for service or when the technician is en route to my location?” The customer service bar is going to be set by the sum of all of the best experiences the customer has ever encountered across all companies in both their personal and professional life.

The good news is that most customer service innovations can be observed and imitated if they fit your idea of great customer service for your company. The case of Amazon is particularly intriguing because up until a few years ago Amazon had absolutely no influence over the products customers were buying from them. They were simply a reseller of other companies’ products. Any innovation they delivered to make a customer feel good was not a product innovation but instead was focused solely on the buying experience. In my next post, I’ll discuss the “feel good” customer service themes direct from Amazon that should probably be among the guideposts you use in establishing your “feel good” customer service strategy.

welcome to Missouri the show-me state highway welcome sign

When your salespeople call on customers, what are they pitching? What do they present when they get that rare opportunity to show a high-profile prospect the benefit of working with your company?  While I have not been in the room often when a commercial service contractor is pitching a customer, I have seen hundreds of websites for these companies, and I have been to lots of trade shows where they are exhibiting.  Generally, I am not impressed by what I have reviewed. Mostly I see some version of one or more of the following themes:

We Work Harder!  It sucks to work harder than the other guy.

We Care More!  Not certain what sucks more – working harder or caring more.

Better Technicians Means Better Service!  This is the Papa John’s pizza pitch.  You’ve seen examples here, here, and here of how that’s not working.

We’re a Family Business!  The mafia is a family business too.

We’ve Been in Business a Long Time!  Really?  Why are you still such a small company?

Sadly, the website content for most commercial service contractors is typically a long and rambling word salad that doesn’t add up to much value for the customer.  Generally, Google is not impressed either as most rank pretty low for relevance in organic search results. I imagine the salespeople are equally unimpressed with the company strategy, so their pitch quickly devolves to price:

How much are you paying now?  We’ll get the work done, and it will be cheaper!  Let’s negotiate labor rates and a markup on parts!  We will be there 24/7 when things go wrong! Call us anytime and we will fix your broken equipment by working around the clock until everything is good again!

Competing on price and some vague promises to work harder and care more and fix broken equipment 24/7 and be more family-oriented sucks.  Why should the customer believe anything the sales rep is saying? How can your sales representative make an impression that moves the conversation to valuable outcomes instead of a mark-up on the cost of the labor and parts?  

Of course the most important thing the salesperson can do is ask questions and understand the goals of the buyer through some discovery conversation.  The other thing that should be offered is a premium program, but do not expect the customer to buy on the promises and platitudes of a sales rep. Tellin’ ain’t sellin!  Your sales people should be able to show the customer the value of your brand by demonstrating how the program works. I am fond of declaring that all customers come from Missouri, which is known as the “show me” state.  If you can’t show them the value, you will not sell them the program.

So what does a premium program look like? And how can you demonstrate it to the customer in a way that is meaningful to them?  Let’s have a look at some examples from other industries to gain insights into components you should consider.

Amazon Prime – Amazon offers a subscription program called Prime, and nearly 70% of US households are Prime members.  Prime members pay $119  per year in exchange for free two-day shipping, access to a library of movies, television shows, and music, and a free Kindle book every month, among other things.  The most important thing Prime does, however, is put Amazon at the top of the heap when a subscriber considers how to buy the next bag of dog food, or supplies for their kitchen pantry, or Christmas gifts for their friends:

I’ve already paid for Prime, I might as well benefit from the free, expedited shipping!

The program helps keep the Amazon brand top of mind for future purchases, and customers pay for this marketing trick through their subscription fees!  It’s brilliant marketing by Amazon. Amazon allows prospective customers to try Prime free for a month to experience its value because Amazon knows that all customers are from Missouri.  The free trial “shows” the customer why Prime is valuable instead of just “telling” the customer that it will be great if they buy.

BMW Ultimate Care – BMW is a premium automotive brand that delivers what they claim is the “Ultimate Driving Machine,” and Ultimate Care is their premium maintenance program.  You pay in advance, typically at time of purchase when financing is also a part of the conversation. Ultimate Care provides unlimited service consistent with the manufacturer’s recommended service plan.  All parts and service required for recommended maintenance are included at a thirty-percent discount. The program is only available at BMW dealership locations, so you will be bringing the car to the dealership and wandering about reviewing all of the latest offerings of BMW as your maintenance plan is delivered.  

Once again, brilliant marketing.  You pay in advance so that you will certainly use the service that requires you to come to the dealership on a regular basis.  No doubt you will get a loaner for the latest model at the upper end of your price range for any extended service requirements.  The dealership is having the customer pay fees in advance of service to help them deliver a hassle-free experience and market their latest offerings to the customer on a regular basis.

Brandt STORM – Brandt Engineering is one of the largest mechanical contractors in Texas, and STORM is their premium program.  STORM stands for Service, Technology, Optimization, Retro-commissioning, and Monitoring. When the customer buys into the STORM program, Brandt does a top-to-bottom review of the equipment while installing monitoring technology to track key performance data on the critical elements where failure results in expensive disruptions.  Once they and the customer agree the equipment condition is worthy of a performance promise, STORM is initiated. The customer receives regular communication and attention from Brandt engineers and technicians while simultaneously benefiting from lower rates on service requirements and ideally lower utility costs.

The customer is paying Brandt the money they are saving on utility bills and breakdowns as subscription fees in order for Brandt to continuously remind them of the value of the Brandt brand! That trade-off is certainly worth the risk to Brandt of a failure where Brandt must pay the premium (expedited parts, overtime labor, etc.) for recovery instead of the customer paying it.  These risks are minimized through information, and the customer is conditioned that any retro-commissioning recommendations (quotes for new equipment) based upon the data are in their best interest to avoid performance disruptions that fall outside the STORM promise. It is brilliant.

So what are the lessons you should take from these examples?  

1 – Brand the Program. What is your version of Amazon Prime? Ideally the name helps the sales rep to tell the story, to get the conversation going with the customer, and then the customer remembers your brand.  A good name demonstrates your company’s thoughtfulness in how you communicate your value.

2 – Show, Don’t Tell.  Your sales people need to be prepared to give a demonstration of the program.  Amazon gives prospective Prime members a month of free Prime membership to try out all of the benefits.  Do your sales people have a way to easily give the customer your branded program experience?

3 – Promote the Features. Can you enumerate the features of the program?  In a list? Spend some time thinking about the names of the features.

4 – Get Paid for Nothing.  If the only time you send a customer an invoice is when you have a labor or parts line item to bill, guess what?  They are going to assume your value is in the labor and parts instead of the program. The fewer invoices you send to the customer, the better.  Ideally, have them pay annually in advance. It’s better for you and cheaper for them.

5 – Offer a Good Contract. Put in place a master service agreement, a rate schedule, and a service level agreement.  Good fences make good neighbors and good contracts make good customers.

None of these elements of a premium program are rocket science, but it is surprising to me how rarely they are implemented by service contractors.  Do not let shoddy practices in your industry nor weak competitors that always sell on price dictate your business model. The executive management of your company should spend at least fifty percent of their time working on program and marketing innovations that set the brand apart from competitors.  Innovation rarely happens by accident, and it is the key to having a differentiated value proposition.

You know those signs on the back of dump trucks that say something like “Stay back 200 feet?” Those things are no joke. I found out the hard way when I was driving home from work on the interstate and heard a loud CRACK in my windshield. I definitely let loose a few four-letter words. There’s almost nothing worse than dealing with cracked glass on a vehicle. Cost aside, you’ve got to play phone-call rodeo with some auto-glass repair shop to get on their schedule, drop off your car, go without a car for a day (or more if they mess up the appointment), and then you’ve got to hitch a ride to pick up your car. What a waste of time. Personally, that inconvenience is just enough to push me to procrastinate getting the repair. That’s about the worst thing you can do with a cracked windshield as the cracks can grow and lead to more costly repairs and more damage to the vehicle if they start to leak.

Facility owners and managers handle their building systems and equipment a lot like most car owners handle their cracked windshields: defer repairs to avoid hassle. Yes, sometimes it’s an issue of cash flow. More often than not, however, I’m willing to wager facility managers are just like me and willing to procrastinate to avoid the phone-call rodeo, the scheduling nightmare, and the overall inconvenience of working with service companies. At least, that’s what I thought before I tried Safelite. Talk about easy.

I scheduled my repair online, received one quick call to confirm insurance details, and my part was done. They showed up at my office, completed the repair, and I just had to give the service tech my credit card. No hassles. Throughout the service cycle, they sent me useful notifications that reminded me about the upcoming appointment, notified me that the technician was on his way, provided my receipt, requested feedback, and requested reviews. Every single one of those MIPS (read about Marketing Impressions Per Service) reinforced what makes Safelite so much different and better than their competition: convenience. In addition to reinforcing the value for me, some of those marketing impressions helped Safelite extract value from me.

For example, when they asked, I left a review. I was happy to! That’s going to drive more customers to Safelite as they outrank their poorly-rated, less-convenient competitors online. On top of that, they managed to upsell me on new windshield wipers. From the moment I started scheduling the repair online until the technician was in the parking lot, they didn’t miss a single chance to try and sell me more products and services. Every single marketing impression I received leading up to the appointment contained all sorts of ancillary offers like new wipers and windshield treatments. I was happy to spend more money with Safelite because they had been so reliable thus far that I trusted their recommendations.

Service contracting should be this convenient for facility owners and managers. They shouldn’t defer repairs in an attempt to avoid the hassle. Instead, they should prioritize the services and repairs you perform because they know it’s going to be easy compared to the mountains of other work they need to get done. Put yourself in their shoes and think about what it’s like to work with your contracting company. What steps might cause frustration? Here are a few common examples:

  • Calling to schedule an appointment and connecting with someone who doesn’t understand your facility which leads to long hold times or callbacks.
  • The “phone-call rodeo” to confirm dates, times, and equipment details because the contractor doesn’t have organized records.
  • Having a technician show up who is not qualified to perform the correct work because a dispatcher didn’t have access to the location details, equipment information, or service history.
  • Forgetting your appointment date or time and being caught unprepared when a tech shows up at an inconvenient time.
  • Being handed a pile of loose, triplicate forms that need to be filed and collect dust as opposed to searchable, digital records that include complete service history with pictures and videos.
  • Receiving a quote as an email attachment that can’t be opened on a smartphone and must be printed off, signed, scanned, and returned as an email.
  • Having questions about past services and needing to go through another phone-call rodeo to get the answers.

The list goes on. These pain points are cracks that can grow into a chasm between you and your customers. With technology, like ServiceTrade, that’s designed to help your entire team collect, organize, understand, and present service information to your customer online, you can eliminate all of these frustrations. Instead of the phone-call rodeo, give them a way to access rich equipment history and request services online. Send them MIPS that remind them about upcoming appointments, notify them when the tech is on the way, summarize completed work, request reviews, and provide online quotes with pictures and videos that can be approved with the click of a button. Give them this level of customer service and they’ll be happy to pay you more for the premium you provide because they will trust you more and appreciate how easy you are to work with. Don’t let the small cracks in your customers’ experience grow beyond the point of repair. Give them the Safelite experience so they can see that you are the most convenient, trustworthy contractor to work with.

This week’s post is a continuation of an introduction to AI, IoT and Big Data with the help of the 1984 movie The Terminator. Re-read that post here.

Let’s rearrange the AI, IoT, and big data alphabet soup of technology jargon to come up with a simple question that helps you cut through the hype and delivers some focus for your technology strategy.  I am going to drop a few words from artificial intelligence, Internet of things, and big data to make my point.  Here we go:

“How can you use the Internet to collect data about customer equipment so that you and your customer can make intelligent decisions about services that will minimize risk, expense, and business disruptions caused by suboptimal equipment performance or equipment failure?”

I really don’t care if the data is “big” or “small.”  I don’t care if the information that comes over the Internet is generated by a “thing” or by a person holding a smartphone taking photos of an impaired piece of equipment (although “things” are often cheaper than people as collection devices). I also don’t care if the “intelligence” is artificial or natural so long as it is smart and not dumb. The overall direction of technology, of course, is toward bigger data, more things connected to the Internet, and more intelligence that is artificial versus natural as computing gets cheaper and people get more expensive.

artificial intelligence-big data-internet of things

Now that we have generated a simple test to cut through the hype and focus our innovation lens on practical and actionable solutions, what are some examples that illustrate the potential value of this strategy? How are you currently and in the future going to collect data over the Internet to make more intelligent decisions regarding equipment services that should be delivered to optimize performance? You don’t have to wait for the day that the terminator is a reality.

Real World Example: AI at Work

The favorite workflow of ServiceTrade customers is the recording of equipment deficiencies by technicians using the mobile app and the subsequent online review of a quote by the customer to approve a related repair. Let’s see if this workflow meets the test of our strategy.  

  • Are we collecting information about equipment via the Internet? Yes.
    In this case it is photo, video, audio, and text captured by the technician that illustrates the problem to the sales person in the office and ultimately to the customer.  
  • Are we using intelligence? Yes.
    The technician knows this situation can lead to a failure, otherwise why record it? The sales person also recognizes the problem because of the detailed data set, and she applies the correct quote template for repair based upon prior experiences – how much time, which tools, which parts, etc.
  • Finally, the customer can trust the information to make a good decision because he sees and hears the problem. Just like the “look through” scenes in The Terminator, we know that intelligence is being applied because we can see it happening.  The customer sees what the technician sees.

Real World Example: How IoT Reduces Chaos

Sensors are getting super cheap and the power requirements are getting so small that battery life is often measured in years. Consider fire sprinkler customers that have risk of pipes bursting due to freezing in certain areas of their facility that are not temperature controlled. Setting up a temperature sensor that generates an alert below freezing temperature could easily trigger a response to turn on some space heaters. If the heaters are connected to some sort of “smart” electrical circuit, perhaps they deploy on the signal without any other intervention. This seems like a small thing, but during cold snaps in normally moderate climates, it is amazing how many sprinkler pipes freeze. OK, does it pass the test?

  • Did we collect data on the Internet? Yes, through an ad hoc temperature sensor.
  • Are we using intelligence? Yes, intelligent people know that water freezes at thirty two degrees, and we know that plugging in a space heater will keep the temperature above that threshold.
  • Did our decision and action avoid disruption and maintain optimal facility performance? Yes.  Great, we are off to a terrific start with our AI, IoT, and big data strategy!

Real World Example: Big Data Brings About Better Decisions

Big data is simply a buzzword for datasets that are generally so large that a simple tool like Excel with a human interface might struggle to parse any intelligence from the data. All of the data in ServiceTrade is automatically ported over to Amazon’s Redshift/QuickSight big data analytics platform. A simple analysis will show customers spending habits related to emergency service versus planned services (preventative maintenance and planned retrofits and repairs). During an annual review with a challenging customer that insists on minimal preventative maintenance, you might be able to demonstrate that a similar customer that opts for maximum preventative maintenance is spending significantly less overall during the course of the past 3 years. No one could parse that amount of data in Excel, but QuickSight handles it easily with just a few clicks.  OK, does it pass the technology strategy test?  

  • Did we collect data on the Internet? Yes, all data in ServiceTrade is collected over the Internet because ServiceTrade is a SaaS application.
  • Did we make an intelligent decision to lower expense, lower risk, and optimize performance? Hopefully the answer is yes because ideally the customer buys into your premium program based upon the analysis that indicates lower total costs.

Let’s quickly contrast these straightforward examples of effective and simple technology deployment for achieving a mission with a “technology solution trying to find a problem.” Google, Snapchat, Intel, and a host of other technology heavyweights have spent years and hundreds of millions of dollars on “smart glasses” that combine cameras, heads up displays, natural language recognition, cellular networking, etc.  Some vendors in the contracting space latched onto this science experiment and began selling it as the productivity solution for all of your problems. It enabled customer collaboration, technician training, remote diagnosis, and a host of other benefits (according to the vendors). It didn’t work.

Taken in pieces, elements of the technology make sense. A small, bluetooth camera clipped to the bill of a ball cap with a similar bluetooth earpiece all tethered to the mobile phone will enable the technician to fire up a FaceTime call with a colleague. The two can then collaborate via shared images and a real time conversation to diagnose a problem. The challenge with jamming everything into a new form factor like glasses is that it is a laboratory exercise instead of a solution to a problem. It is Frankenstein as compared to the terminator.  Frankenstein was great science, but yielded only chaos and misery when deployed beyond the lab. The terminator, by contrast, was built for accomplishing the mission in the field.

Your objective is to assemble the terminator and avoid Frankenstein. The examples above clearly indicate that AI, IoT, and big data are already a part of the arsenal of technology you are using for the benefit of your customer. It really is not rocket science, and you really can embrace new innovations if you are willing to explore and set aside the intimidating jargon in favor of a elegant strategy. Your strategy should simply be a trend of collecting more data via the Internet so that you can intelligently make service decisions that optimize the performance of your customers’ important equipment. Any innovation that meets this simple test is putting you on a good path for adding more value. Stay focused on the mission, and the right solutions will present themselves as obvious candidates for your premium service program.