Monday, August 17, 2009

Would You Rather Call a Strange Plumber or Visit a Strange Mosque?

I saw this whine by Jenny Allen and found some truth in it...

Our house is an old farmhouse, and it has three bedrooms and two bathrooms, except the shower in the upstairs bathroom doesn't work. The shower per se works, but if you use it water streams from the ceiling down below into the living room, and then you have to stick a bucket underneath to catch the water. It's like living in a Frank Lloyd Wright house, only with much lower property values. So please limit yourselves to the downstairs
shower. Thanks!

Speaking of the downstairs bathroom, sometimes the toilet doesn't flush. That's because that piece of wire that connects the bulb thing inside the tank to the rod thing sometimes comes unhinged. The wire is actually a replacement for the real piece of hardware; in fact, it's a bit of coat hanger wire that our friend Augusta rigged up when the toilet broke years ago. She got tired of waiting for our plumber, who promised to come and fix it but never did. Just lift the tank and hook it up again.

Try not to call our plumber unless it's an emergency. I'm afraid of our plumber, who barks at me, but plumbers call all the shots here. You do not want to rankle your plumber, because the other plumbers are all tied up, and then you won't have any plumber. Our plumber has been coming to our house longer than I have, which is twenty-six years, and he seems to think I am some kind of interloper, a Janey-come-lately.

"Jeff," I said on the phone when I asked him to come and turn the water on this spring, "I've known you for twenty-six years, and I'd like to ask you a favor."

"Depends what it is."

"I always call you by your name, and you never call me by my name, and I wonder if you could call me by my name."

"I know yah name!"

"Well, thank you for turning the water on," I said.

"All right," he said, and hung up.

Jeff's phone number is on the attached list of other repair and service people, who will not bark at you but will probably not come. They are too busy in August to come. Whatever the problem, you'll have better luck just fixing it yourself.

"I'm afraid of our plumber, who barks at me," writes Allen.

"Whatever the problem, you'll have better luck just fixing it yourself," she adds.

Wow. Is there any more damning criticism of the state of service companies than that? I think a large segment of the DIY market exists not out of consumer cheapness, but that consumers perceive it's simply easier to fix it yourself.

Calling a contractor, for most people, is unsettling. It's filled with uncertainty and unknown.

  • Will you get a responsive company that will treat you well?

  • Will the serviceperson be pleasant or gruff, treating you like an idiot?

  • What kind of person will show up? Will he or she be honest?

  • How long will it take to get someone to show up?

  • Will someone arrive when promised or will you wait and wait and wait?

  • Will the work take days to complete?

  • Will it be done right the first time, or will you have to call the company back again and again?

  • Will the serviceperson make a mess and not clean up?

  • Will you get ripped off?

  • Will you know what the costs are before the work begins or will you get an unpleasant surprise?

  • Will there be an unpleasant conflict?

These are some of the questions that cross consumers' minds. Your marketing should address these issues. You should address them on your website, in your yellow pages ads, and in your direct marketing.

Finding a new service company is unpleasant and unsettling. To give you a sense of the discomfort, imagine walking into a church, temple, or mosque during services for the first time. That feeling of unease is similar to the consumer's feeling of unease when calling you.

Now, imagine a friend recommends his or her church/temple/mosque. The friend tells you what to expect, how to act, and what to wear. You might still approach the service with trepidation, but you would feel much better about. Your friend's attended and survived. You can too.

It's similar when a friend recommends a service company. This is why people turn to friends and neighbors first when looking for companies. This is why referral marketing, affinity marketing, and social media are so important for service companies.

Let's say you know the pastor/rabbi/imam from a civic club. You mention something about he pastor/rabbi/imam about attending a service and receive a warm welcome and personal invitation. You feel much better about attendance.

Similarly, people who know you personally, as the owner of a company, are going to feel far more at ease calling your company for service. This is why it's so important to get involved in civic clubs, networking groups, the chamber of commerce, and more. The more people you know, the more opportunities you will create. And to make sure everyone knows what you do, always wear logoed shirts.

And when you are fortunate enough to be invited into someone's home, act like a guest. Be polite. Be friendly. Be helpful.

It's hard to imagine a worse example of service than Jenny Allen's plumber, Jeff. The guy's been serving her home for more than a quarter century and the upstairs shower is unusable. The toilet downstairs doesn't flush and was jury-rigged years ago.

What do you bet Jeff is the type of tradesperson who sips coffee at the supply house, complaining about his customers, griping about DIY, moaning about how cheap people are, and lamenting his lack of business.

(c) 2009 Matt Michel

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