If you haven't yet read The Secret— everybody's new best-selling, feel-good favorite — get ready. I'm about to blow the whole thing: punchline, theme, and even who gets killed in the end. That shouldn't take very long since there's no plot. Or a character. Or a storyline any deeper than the worst episode of Gilligan's Island.
Yet there is immense, long-lasting value in having and reading the book.
That sentence was a lesson, by the way.
One of the book's main principles is the power of "expectation." After reading the opening of this column, you may have "expected" me to slam this book for the corn-flake nature of so many other "answers" to your current litany of problems. Certainly you didn't expect me to proclaim goodness.
The reason I'm all revved up about this topic is because you're living the power of expectation in your business, every day. It either works for you, or against you, and that's all there is to it. It also lives in your customers.
One Small, Little Teency Weency Lie
There really is a character in the book, playing both hero and villain, filled to the brim with long-standing expectations. As you may have guessed, it's us. It's you and it's me . . .
And it's your prospects. They too have a mostly-uniform, average "expectation" of your profession. Just like if I say, "Sheet Rocker," or "Attorney," you have an expectation formed from experience.
This expectation lives and breathes in your market for HVAC contractors. And that expectation isn't good, nor is it what customers want.
You have your competition to thank for helping make this expectation incredibly easy to trounce. I mean every word of that, since I'm asking you to become singularly obsessed with the following two word phrase: Exceed Expectations.
It seems simple, but here are 10 ways to get it done:
- Price. The contractor who believes low price is a great separator can't win, because they've no money to hire anyone other than the average contractor, who merely reinforces the low expectation. Nor can they achieve what customers will pay for, since resources don't allow them to deliver what customers truly want.
- Timeliness. Sadly, customers "expect" most contractor's appointments to stick like last year's duct tape. They highly-value their time and don't appreciate — or reward — those who feel otherwise. Confirm appointments, relay any delays with appropriate compensation if needed. You'll be a hero.
- Measured Performance. Customers expect core competency, so dazzling them with your years in business or technical dialogue is of zero value without one thing: Proving that it matters. Do this by guaranteeing a problem solved, at a pre-agreed price. Show pages of testimonials, statistics on the number of customers who get same day service, and the number of customers who openly recommend you to friends. Anything that offers proof beyond the promise makes you a standout. Measure it, put it in writing, get bold about proving it.
- Risk Reduction. Another top reason customers don't choose you? They're not convinced, which is related to fear. Fear of loss, fear of deception, fear of being upsold mid-job, fear of many things . . . all addressed or solved by facing them head on with risk-reduction guarantees. If you're not willing to boldly proclaim what you WILL do and your punishment for NOT doing it, you're exactly like most of your competitors. You'll also send customers right back to price comparisons. The cost of offering a bold guarantee often returns three times in dollars of sales closed by their inclusion. Energy reduction guarantees, no leak guarantees, performance guarantees of any sort that is different and valuable from the competition puts you out front in value, and unshoppable.
- Callback Reduction. Normally calm customers consider strangling contractors they've hired for one huge reason: Call backs. Oh, wait, you don't like them either? Two words for you: Callback diagnostics. By NOT understanding why customers call you, what they are willing to pay for, and whether they're willing to refer you and call you again, your chance of a callback increases immensly. That's not good for anyone. Being in a "hurry" is a really bad reason for having to do the job over AND still lose the customer.
- Offer Preventative Maintenance. Most people would rather pay a little now to save a lot later. If you can reduce breakdowns in their system, that means you're helping them stay comfortable year-round. Can you — or they — put a price on that?
- Cleanliness. Carpet protectors and shoe coverings are a big help. The first impression of 15 seconds spent putting on shoe covers says more than 15 minutes of canned speech about how much you care. Then, when you lay the carpet protector down and put your tools on it while you work, you're in an entire new "value realm" from the last guy who tracked in mud and banged his tools atop the coffee table. Who's the higher value? Who's remembered positively?
- Use The Green Sheet Method. The Green Sheet is a summary of what you are there to do on the call. It raises credibility, trust, professionalism, and image. The Green Sheet also increases communication as it raises value and even asks for a referral. It costs literally pennies to reproduce. (For a sample Green Sheet, go to www.hudsonink.com or give us a call).
- Confidence in the Company. Ask your entire company: "Would you recommend your family use us?" If you get a "No" from anyone, you can bet it's not limited to your staff! Fix these, because they're killing your company confidence, which kills sales before they start. Stating a price and time of completion while looking at one's shoes is not getting it.
- Follow up. Are you kidding? Virtually all contracting customers expect the ONLY follow up they'll get is if the office can't read the handwriting on their card's expiration date. Sending a thank you card (simple and cheap) or a newsletter (keeping them regular) is guaranteed differentiation. It's funny. When you exceed expectations by doing even half of these, you'll find a benefit you weren't expecting: Unshoppability. This means the "unexpected value" you represent can't be priced with "regular" contractors. Likewise, customers will find it very hard to go back to those regular contractors. Be more. Expect more. Get more.
Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a contractor marketing firm. Readers can get a free subscription to the bi-weekly newsletter, "Sales & Marketing Insider" by faxing your request on letterhead to 334/262-1115 or by calling 800/489-9099. Visit www.hudsonink.comfor other free marketing articles and reports.
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