Scheduling Tips for Plumbing Contractors
You want it when?: Get good at scheduling and your life will go a lot easier
Our culture has become accustomed to instant gratification and instant access. Whether it’s driving through a fast food restaurant, putting a snack in the microwave or ordering parts online; we want fast.
Our clients are no different; they want fast, too. My question is how do I provide fast to my clients? It’s an illusion. One of the most neglected areas in the demand service industry is scheduling.
While acting as a consultant for a smaller, troubled, plumbing service company, I recently discovered a reason for its trouble. Of course, there were a few easily identifiable problems, but one jumped out like a cockroach being exposed to light — scheduling.
The local owner assumed the issue he had was that the phone was not ringing enough. My evaluation was just the opposite. I thought the amount of calls coming in was just fine; so then what was the problem? You guessed it; the initial problem was the company’s lack of ability to set the call. Further investigation revealed the inability of its techs to close the calls. More revelation exposed the company’s helplessness to maximize every opportunity.
In my opinion, in order to generate a beautiful dollar amount from every invoice and convert the client to a brand loyalist would be by signing them up to a customer retention program; more commonly known in our industry as a service agreement. This company went through an undemanding change and is now experiencing extreme success. It all started with scheduling.
A diagnostic tool we have at Plumbing Doctor is the ability to record and listen to phone calls for training and evaluation purposes. Here’s an example of one that flipped me out while working with the above company.
The call taker/scheduler didn’t know what to do when the day looked completely booked. She made the mistake of telling the prospective client the plumber couldn’t come out today. If that wasn’t bad enough, it was then suggested to the caller to call a competitor; recommending another company by name. Can anybody see anything wrong with this picture? If I have to explain the folly in this scenario, you, too need professional help.
The most important aspect of scheduling is: “When does the client want to be serviced?”
So often in small business it’s all about what the owner wants and not about what the client wants. If you don’t give the client what they want, they will go someplace else. The trick is to give the client the perception that they are the shot caller. A simple system and script will accomplish that goal; along with the understanding of the value of a customer and the cost to get that customer to call you.
Never lose the call just because you think the schedule is full! Set it anyhow.
Dealing with plumbing issues every day, we have heard the emotion of terrified callers. Your call takers think that everybody has an emergency and wants service now. That is just not the case. What the caller wants and doesn’t even know it; is for someone to relieve their anxiety now. You do that by scheduling the service call at the time they want it. Yes, even if it looks impossible for you to get there.
Here’s why, if you don’t give them what they want, somebody else will. It may as well be you right? Right!
I learned this lesson the hard way. In fact, everything I have to teach I have acquired through hardship. It is an expensive road to take. You get to learn at my expense for free.
On this particular morning the schedule was slammed. As a consequence, we lost a couple of jobs by not giving the caller a same day appointment as they requested. Our pitch was: “Sorry, we can’t get to you today, how about tomorrow?” It pains me as I recall just how stupid I was. Not only did I lose a couple of jobs; a couple of clients were lost.
As fate would have it, by noon that day we had three jobs call to cancel. One person had an emergency medical situation, another had an issue with their cat and the last had a neighbor solve their plumbing problem. Now my schedule was not only open, but I had techs sitting around with nothing to do. Ouch!
Today we schedule every call and so should you.
Questioning what would happen if the schedule doesn’t open up? How about what if we can’t get to them? Simple, we give all clients a two hour window and will call the client toward the end of that window offering three things. First, an apology, second, a coupon for a cash discount and last, is the time of their choice for the next day.
It works! As a matter of fact, they are usually delighted that we even called. Their customary experience from other service providers is that they are just blown off; without even a courtesy call.
I would be remiss not to mention another often overlooked strategy in regards to scheduling; it is dispatching.
It is basically putting the square peg in the square hole and the round peg in the round hole.
Each of my techs is gifted in a certain area. One may be great at converting a water heater failure to a new tankless system. Someone else may be the best at turning a main line stoppage into a new sewer, and yet another may be magical in signing first time clients up for a lifetime customer loyalty program. If you know your personnel; scheduling becomes simplified. The idea is to not just send the next available body to a client; but to send the right body.
Half our calls at Plumbing Doctor are repeat clients; we always want to send the same tech who has previously serviced that particular client. It builds a relationship and trust. People are more likely to say yes to someone they have said yes to before.
It is not unusual for our clients to call and ask for a particular tech by name. That is what our system is designed to do. In effect, it works so well that every once in a while, a client will ask for me to come to their house and I haven’t been in a service truck for 10 years. Sorry, I’m not going!
The management of systems is key, not only to the schedule and dispatching, but to every component of your business. The better your systems are and how you manage them, the better off your customers, employees and bottom line will be.