Excuses are like emergency vehicle sirens. They grate against our ears and if we hear them, there better be a damn good reason they’re being used. Sure there are some excuses that are completely warranted – your car really did get a flat tire, your doctor truly gave you a signed medical note, or your dog actually ate your computer flash drive. But a great deal of the time, excuses are just made up stories meant to buy time and goodwill from our clients, and to avoid taking head-on responsibility for the shortcoming or misstep. In the home contracting industry, if you use the following excuses on a regular basis you will find angry clients followed by a severe drop in your company’s profitability. It’s not too late to avoid these pitfalls- read on!
1. IGNORANCE IS NO EXCUSE
A professional in a technically-oriented field has precious few times they can say “Sorry, I just have no idea about that problem. I’m unfamiliar with that.” Sure, that displays honesty, but it’s an honesty that irritates then angers. As a manager of sales persons and field technicians doing home contracting repairs and installations, it is up to you to help oversee the up-to-date education and training of your men.
They must remain up to snuff on all of the mechanical and technical innovations and variables within HVAC or plumbing or electrical. Clients call your company because something is broken, they themselves don’t know how to fix it, and they need and expect an absolute expert – someone who beings with them the assurance of encyclopedic knowledge and wisdom.
If your team isn’t self-motivated to gain a level of expertise such that “Sorry, I don’t know” is replaced by, “Don’t worry, I know exactly what it is and I am already devising the solution,” then you either need to crack the whip to get them better educated in their field, or find other employees who already are.
2. THE BLAME GAME IS LAME
Watch out for making “excuses” that sound like you’re just blaming the client for what went wrong. “You told me too late,” or “You’re not exactly paying a lot for this job,” or “Your house is a train wreck which makes the work incredibly hard.”
This risks making the client feel slighted or disrespected and it’s always better to err on the side of being super nice and unflappable, politely putting the responsibility squarely on yourself, even when you know- and they probably know- that their actions or situation may be at least partly responsible for the difficulties encountered in giving them service.
3. UNREACHABLE = UNRELIABLE
Sure, everybody can have hectic, non-stop, errand-filled days. But if you seem hard to reach and severely delayed getting back to nervous or time-sensitive clients too often, then they will likely, unceremoniously drop you as a service provider whether they tell you the reason or not. So save the excuses like “Sorry, my phone was off all day” or “I must’ve been in a place with no cell phone service,” or “I was wall-to-wall phone calls and meetings, and I didn’t have a chance to get back to you about your exploded pipe” for amateur hour. But make it a top priority to get back to everyone, always, within an hour or two by email or phone, and you will create ease and confidence rather than fear, frustration and anger within your clients!
4. CAN’T IS A 4-LETTER WORD
Sometimes a client will ask you to do something or give them something that is outside of the normal parameters of what your business offers. It might be outside the “standard operating procedures.” Here’s the thing about running a great business: if it’s humanly possible, do it.
Telling a client “That’s not a regular service of ours,” “We don’t offer that product if you look at our website,” or “According to the specifications of what we promise, we just don’t do that,” is telling them that you follow the letter of the customer service law, but not the spirit of the customer service law. The former of which says “We do what we absolutely have to do but don’t ever go above and beyond,” while the latter says, “Even if it’s not on the menu, we’ll do it for you if it can be done. It’s about making every single client a happy client, it’s not about our internal rules.” Change your “Can’t do,” excuses to “Would love to do,” “Want to do,” “Will do,” and you will see your business improve, not decline. At the end of the day, tell them what you CAN do, not what you CAN’T do.
5. BE REALISTIC FROM THE GET-GO, NOT EMBARRASSED LATER
It’s great to promise the moon and stars, until you realize that… you don’t have a rocket ship! Don’t make unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky promises to clients in terms of when you can install those new circuit breakers throughout their three-story house, or re-plumb their entire building, or run HVAC through their restaurant. Later you’ll be forced to say “Well, I promised you a way-too-early date, and there’s really no way I could have delivered that.”
They’ll reasonably ask themselves, and you, why you said it, then? Was anyone holding a gun to your head? Even if someone was, it’s your job and your team’s job, as professionals in the contracting industry, to make well thought out promises rather than ones that just sound good to make the client say yes. If you deliver an important service in a high-quality manner, they can wait until you are able to deliver it properly around your workload and they will respect that realistic promise. Telling a client that you’re very busy with other client work certainly doesn’t look bad- who wants to go to a professional that’s sitting around with no other customer work?
6. BAD RECORD KEEPING EQUALS LOST REVENUE
Record keeping is very important. As a manager of a residential contracting company, you should know that the person you hire to help input and manage the database systems is as important as anyone else in the company. Ideally, every employee, including all of the service field techs and the sales reps, should also be doing their part in entering all of the necessary, relevant information into the system every single time a client transaction occurs.
It may be up to you to ensure that an efficient, user-friendly, state of the art database system is in place. However it happens, it has to happen. When record keeping gets sloppy and full of holes, makes your company look shaky and unprofessional to clients when any question comes up. This could include…
- When and how many times have they used you in the past?
- What exact work was done on which date at what exact price?
- What specific parts were installed?
- Who were the techs?
Rather than losing confidence in using your services, your clients may keep on using you, but really start “using” you. This could mean they start taking advantage of your disorganization to get lower prices and better terms than they would otherwise get. So get proactive with diligent and impeccable record keeping so that never have to say: “Sorry, our system is having some problems, I can’t access your full client record.”
7. GIVE THE RUNAROUND AND THEY’LL RUN AWAY
When one of your customer service reps or sales persons takes a call from a potential client, clearly doesn’t know the answer, and keeps on getting up from their desk and walks over to the water cooler or bulletin board in order to buy time, and keeps coming back to the customer with “Well, I think we can combine iron, lead and copper pipes in one plumbing system but I’m not 1000% sure,” it will just annoy and aggravate the client in the long run. Your service or sales reps aren’t getting away with anything when it comes down to the tech actually doing the work later on. The techs are going to go by the book and do what’s right and they know– so what’s better than hemming and hawing and kinda sorta giving them an answer is scheduling a visit from one of the field techs to their house, and that way they not only can see the problem and give a definitive answer, but other product or service work for your company will likely arise.
8. IT’S CALLED CUSTOMER SERVICE, NOT SELF-SERVICE
Your customers pay a premium for your services, so they should receive exemplary customer service. That’s why these excuses will put you in the customer doghouse: “Sorry, but we can’t do anything until you fill out the form,” “We can’t move forward on your issue until you call back when the boss is here,” or “I can’t do anything with your request because you have to talk to the technician when he gets there.” No, these excuses are for the birds, and your customers should be treated like kings and queens. YOU should fill out the form for them. YOU should forward their issue to the boss yourself, immediately. YOU should brief the technician before he gets to their house. Sure they can elaborate more and have a conversation with the tech, but they’ll feel taken care of if you take that step. This is what great customer service looks like.
9. LISTEN AND LEARN
One of the main excuses given by professionals in the home contracting industry is “I’m sorry, I guess didn’t understand exactly what you said when we spoke.” Try getting away with that a whole bunch of times and not having exasperated customers hang up the phone and slam the door in your face. Being a top professional means active listening. Don’t interrupt, don’t assume you know everything they’re going to say before they say it, and don’t get thrown off and distracted by the fact that you may not understand every aspect of what they said. Make a mental or written note of the things you need explained, but listen to every single word they say to the best of your abilities. If customers think you’re spacing out or just arrogantly yessing them on the phone when they’re telling you their needs, they’re going to lose faith in you and your and company as the solver of their problems. The more you truly listen, the less you’ll look foolish later, when you have to ask them re-state their situation.
10. DON’T THROW YOUR CO-WORKERS UNDER THE BUS
Sometimes it seems easy just to blame one of your co-workers, or superiors in the company, for any dropped ball that needs fixing with a client. “I’m sorry we haven’t installed your new furnace, but our field tech is often negligent and irresponsible.” “I would’ve already gotten your contract into the system but our office administrator is slow.” “I want to get you started with those electrical outlets, but our owner just won’t let it happen.” These may seem like smart excuses to use at the time- and there may even be some truth to them- but this is a terrible way to go in business.
As the manager in a contracting company you need to set an example from the top down. Never ever put the blame on one of your co-workers if you can possibly help it. You wouldn’t want them to do the same to you! Would you? And as much as it takes the blame specifically off of you, it still places incompetence within the company you work for! Which, by extension, means that you work for a bad organization. It’s much better to humbly apologize on part of the entire company, take any responsibility that you can, and immediately work to remedy the problem and make things right with the customer.
You and your entire company need to show a united front, and that means giving top customer service and not throwing a co-worker to the sharks, even if they made a mistake.