Great Service: The Knife That Cuts Through Hard Times

By: Joe Crisara

Cut Through Hard Times

Although we try hard to not listen to the news we realize that the world around us as we know it is changing rapidly and for independent businesses in the contracting industry, mostly not for the better. Many of you that started out as a family enterprise are now struggling with the many challenges that face us going into the new millennium.

This is especially true when it comes to our industry. It only takes a moment of listening to the news to hear about the difficult economy. People are working more hours for minimum wage and small businesses are devastated by the lost jobs and the demolition of the local economy.

There is no doubt that your job in the contracting business has become increasingly difficult regardless of how big or small you are. However, these hurdles do not need to play havoc on your ability to survive or even thrive in this unstable environment. While other industries are realigning their businesses, eliminating the perks that used to come standard with their product, and finding other ineffective ways to cut the fat in a difficult economy, you could be realigning your attitude and getting back to the basics. Not the basics of business or cutting back, the basics of serving.

A Hard Look At Your Job

Take a hard look at what you do in your business. You provide help, answers and solutions to your customers by offering them a product. Thus, the foundation of your success has been built on serving your customers with great care. This is the problem with many in this industry. They offer “red carpet service” at “brown bag” prices or even give away their service as a loss leader. In today’s environment, no business can sustain a loss or operate in the red in ANY part of the business. This is especially true for the service part of the business where costs have skyrocketed but the pricing to the consumer has not.

That’s right, in this new environment we cannot afford to give away our most valuable asset our service. The cost of providing service has gone through the roof. Everything from labor, transportation, insurances, fuel and even communications are quickly eating into the profits of even the most traditionally stable companies all over the country. Service to our customer in this day and age cannot be done at a loss anymore.

Is your definition of service to deliver products or equipment? Is it helping your client through a problem with their heating system? Maybe your definition of service is helping your customers by selling them tomorrow’s service at today’s price. While the specifics of your service may differ, service is still the thing that set you apart from your competitor.

End The Pity Party

In tough times like these, it is far too easy to get off track and focus on the wrong things. You and your friends in the business can start to validate your struggles by holding a pity party about how bad things are going. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, approach the challenge that lies in front of you with a new found vigor. Move forward into this difficult new era by increasing the level of services that you currently offer you customer. Only this time design your new found sense of service by making it profitable. Service is not a loss leader at all if approached properly. In fact it may replace your core business as being the most profitable of all the things you do.

Offer Your Best Service

Concentrate on being the absolute best by providing help, answers and solutions to your customers for the things they ask you for the most. There may even be fewer buyers in certain areas of the country for your product because of the economic times. This may be true, but there will always be a need for service of the things that consume your product because your HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems do not read the newspapers. They just break down and deteriorate in due time. If you can diversify and create a service business with your current client base, you will have a job for life.

You may wonder about the cost of integrating new services into your company during these unstable times. The truth is offering more of your services can create the revenue that will get you out of any difficult situation. It will provide the cash flow that you so sorely need when you traditionally slow down. Place your energy on creating more revenue through profitable service and you wouldn’t have to spend time trying to cut costs.

How Do You Start?

Start thinking positively about how your current clients that love and trust you could use your company for more services right now. Use the unfair advantage that you in the contracting industry have over the normal run of the mill service contractor. What are these unfair advantages? Well if you look, they’re not hard to find…

1. Your Clients – You start your new service business with a built in loyal customer base. It would be the dream of any service contractor to begin his business with a proven list of loyal customers to start up a new business. Your current client list is an embarrassment of riches. Many if you may think that your customer would expect extra services you may offer for little or no cost. The answer to that is a resounding NO! Your perception of value is only driven by your own thinking.

There are many in the contracting industry that now make a double digit net profit on the same service that their father used to do for free on everything from heating equipment to fork lifts! What has created this change? It is the thinking of these business people that came to the realization that through the eyes of their customer, great service cost more money. Conversely they have discovered that a cheap price or free service has little or no value to the consumer. Have faith in the ultimate law of commerce which still states, “You get what you pay for.”

2. Your Inventory Of Time – Your other services provide productive time when there is no service work. The down fall of typical service repair contractors is that they cannot keep busy year round and then they lose valuable employees between the busy seasons. In the contracting business there is much to offer beyond the normal demand service work. Your additional complimentary services like air or water quality, building performance and earth-friendly solutions can sustain service employees or techs by giving them productive work between repair calls. Your additional opportunities may be an answer to the dreams of a service tech who is tired of being laid off each year by a “normal” contractor.

Maximize Overhead

You already have overhead. Why not maximize the use of it? The facts are what they are. All the people and things that are overhead in your business can be put to better use and to be more productive. If you already answer the phone, why not make an outbound call to let clients know of additional services or solutions you have? If you have a computer program, why not go through the work history of clients to find older systems to offer an upgrade? There are tons of ways to make your overhead generate more revenue if you just put your mind to it.

Get back to the basics that started your business dream to begin with your service to your customer. Alright, go ahead and cut out the fat, and just get back to the core of your business if you must. But if you get to know your customer like you did when you first started you business, you will surely find out that they would actually prefer that YOU make their homes safer and more efficient.

Ask Your Clients

Don’t trust or believe me. Get to the heart of the matter with your customers. Talk to them one on one like you used to with the integrity and sincerity of a friend. Remember, those who contribute to society through their service will prosper in return. This is a law of nature. If you are helping others, then you will receive prosperity in return. It is a law of nature like gravity; if you do it will always happen.

Trust in this law. Help others by providing them with the service that is inside each and every one of you. Help them with a new sense of service. Do the kind of service that gives you a tingle down your spine after providing it. The type of service that makes you beam with pride when you talk to or see a valued customer at the local market.

A Legacy Of Great Service

What will your legacy be? There are opportunities to provide and profit from service everywhere in your business. Whether or not you see them is completely up to you. Wasting your time complaining to others who are having a tough time will not get it done. While you complain, others are passing you up.

Our actions now when times are difficult, will push us to success when times are good. Only those who focus on their customer and then know and provide what their customer wants will make it through to see it. Leave your legacy for sure. Make it one of great service and you will always be remembered as one to look up to.

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