Developing Trust With Home Service Customers in Three Simple Steps

Sept. 11, 2019
A story about helping an overwhelmed customer consider his options illustrates some helpful advice to service contractors.

One of my trainers told me a great story the other day. He was doing ride-alongs with a company to train their technicians on our system. The customer had a plumbing issue and he had called every company in town to see who would get there first and who would get the sale. My trainer and our customer were first on the scene and they began to diagnose the issue. For the problem in question, they had to dig up part of the yard to find and solve the problem and the most apparent problem was that a pipe had slipped out of a joint. By this time, the customer had already paid the service charge to at least one other company that was elsewhere diagnosing, but the customer was not comfortable with any of the other technicians. When it was my trainer’s turn to present the prices to the customer, the customer sat down in the dirt, a little defeated. While the others had spoken to the customer while hovering over him, fighting for the sale and pressuring the customer, my trainer sat down in the dirt beside the customer, took a deep breath with him, and then presented his options. My trainer closed that deal. 

Get On Your Customer’s Level
Yes, sometimes this means literally. In job interviews, many experts recommend “mirroring,” where you note the body language of your interviewer and mimic it. If the interviewer leans back, you lean back. If they fold their hands, you fold your hands, etc. It’s an easy, non-verbal way of building rapport and establishing a connection. It is no different for your customers. Take note of their cues, such as sitting down in the dirt, and meet them where they are—sometimes this means physically and sometimes this means emotionally. They are already frustrated with the situation and uncomfortable with having a stranger in their home, so emotions run high. Let your body language put them at ease and if their body language reveals panic or discomfort, give them something calmer to mirror, too. When you consciously decide how to portray your body language, their subconscious will pick up. 

Don’t Overwhelm Your Customer With Unwanted Details
Sometimes you will come in contact with customers who are technically inclined, who ask tons of questions, or who want to know exactly what is going wrong, even if only to research it later to fact check you once you leave. Often times, they are only asking questions because they know their husband or wife will want some answers once they see the bill and they want to be able to explain it. But the grand majority of the time, your customers want their issue fixed and the moment they call you and pay you, they have gifted you their problem, so they don’t have to deal with it anymore. If your instinct is to go into details and use technical jargon, the customers that don’t know what you are talking about interpret that you are talking down to them and trying to school them. They know you are the expert and that is why they called you. Most of them only need to know what had to be done, that you could fix it and in the end, that you did fix it. You don’t have to prove yourself the expert with detailed explanations unless they ask you to.

Assure Your Customers That You Don’t Think They Are Dumb
This makes me think of the quote credited to Albert Einstein: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” You almost never go into a job expecting the customer to be as much an expert in your trade as you are. After all, if they were an expert in your trade, they likely wouldn’t be calling you. Many customers are inclined to assume that you think they are stupid if they don’t understand what needs to be fixed. If your customers voice this, reassure them that you don’t think they are stupid; sometimes resistance comes out of embarrassment, so giving them a boost of reassurance will put them at ease.

Build Intrinsic Value
In the age of Google and Amazon, it’s so easy for your customers to rush to research the price of a part if you say a specific part has failed. When you tell them the price of the job, they are often floored because in their minds, they know how much the job should cost—they just saw it on Amazon. Explain the work in terms of system functions, not just part functions, so they can understand that you will leave things working from beginning to end, solving every problem in the system along the way. When you describe the effects in terms of the whole system, your customers understand that the issue is more serious than just a part, and it builds value in their minds. This helps to avoid sticker shock when you explain to them the prices of the work you will be doing.

Leave Your Mark
Once you complete the job, look around and do a little extra. From deep cleaning your worksite, to helping hang a picture or refilling the pet’s water bowl, a little extra nugget of service will speak volumes to your customer. We call this “wow factor.” Make sure to leave your logoed sticker on the customer’s equipment so the next time they have a problem in the home, your name is the first one that they see. 

Building Trust=Solving Their Pain
The theory behind trust is good, but putting it into practice is what makes it great. The combination of empathy and solving your customer’s pain is what will make the difference in building return customers that trust you. It all boils down to these three simple steps:

Step 1: Don’t sell what they don’t want. Nobody likes feeling like someone is trying to sell them something. Hear their pain, communicate that you understand their pain, and do not push them away by trying to convince them to buy something that they don’t want. Low pressure=high return. 

Step 2: Always focus on the primary concern first. We all know that if we dig deep enough, we can find thousands of dollar’s worth of upgrades, fixes, and replacements in our homes. To build trust, focus on why you were called out to do the job first. Once your customer sees that you solved their pain, they will look to you for all of those upgrades later. 

Step 3: Provide options so it’s their choice, not an ultimatum. Who wants to feel backed into a corner? The worst feeling is knowing you are stuck and that you have no options. How many times have we needed work done and felt like we had no choice but to do it and to pay more than we could afford? Give your customers options so their spending is in their hands and they can feel confident that they made the right choice once you leave. 

Danielle Putnam is president, The New Flat Rate, and current  president of  Women in HVACR. The New Flat Rate is a home service menu-selling system designed to put profit directly into the hands of plumbing, electrical, and HVAC contractors. Women in HVACR is a non-profit member-based organization providing professional avenues for networking and educating women while encouraging more women to enter the trades. For more information, email [email protected] or visit and