By now you’ve probably seen a “live chat” window appear in the lower right corner of any number of websites you visit. You might even have a live chat service set up for your HVAC company.
But if you aren’t yet one of the growing number of contracting businesses using a live chat service, now might be the time to do so, as the new cooling season gets started.
Trevor Flannigan, chief operating officer of HomeServiceChats, one of the leaders in this field, says the company is growing at a rate of about 100 new customers each month, and currently has approximately 1,000 active businesses to its credit.
The purpose of live chat is simple: it’s a way to politely and professionally engage a prospective customer who visits a business website, just like you would answer a phone call made to the brick and mortar business. All it takes is the right approach to get people to start tapping back.
“Live chat's not new; it's been around for 15 to 20 years, ever since the Internet became established,” Flannigan says. “There have been pieces of live chat services out there on various websites, but they're largely not of good quality. Others are outsourced internationally, or are operated out of homes, which tends to lead to distracted counseling. If you can watch Netflix while you're trying to take care of a client's customer, you're probably not doing it at your highest level,” Flannigan says.
Kansas City-based HomeServiceChats was founded by its CEO, Scott Hansen. He and Flannigan were friends working in separate customer-focused businesses – Hansen in an orthodontist’s office and Flannigan in an HVAC business. Hansen had established a live chat for the orthodontist office, and he realized it could be easily applied to an HVAC business.
“Orthodontists have the same woes of an HVAC company, in terms of their need for new customers,” Flannigan explains. “If the orthodontist puts braces on three kids one day, he needs three more kids tomorrow, the next day and so on. They need to be pretty savvy marketers to keep the leads coming in. It's not really like a dentist, where you have a book of business that you keep from year to year.”
While the live chat pop-up box might seem intrusive, it is simply an ideal way of establishing a connection before the prospect decides to go away. No personal information is taken until the visitor decides he or she would like to explore the company further. If the customer does leave, the system identifies them as a returning seeker, which can help spark a conversation.
Flannigan says most people who search the Internet for home services are looking for options.
“They enter the word “plumber” or “HVAC” in Google, and will look at four to eight websites before they decide to pick one, or decide to go with none. Scott has tracked visits and says 95% of the people that visit a website leave it without taking any action. So if a company is spending in some cases millions of dollars on advertising, or even $100,000, to have 95% of prospective customers leave without taking action is a travesty.”
By establishing polite contact with visitors, Flannigan says HomeServiceChats is securing about 40% more leads from any website using the service.
Flannigan says HomeServiceChats’ results within the HVAC, plumbing, electric, and recently roofing industries has helped to seed a strong referral network.
“Tradespeople all have friends, and whenever somebody has a great experience with our service, they tell their friend who is a home remodeler, ‘hey, you should talk to this guy.’ That's kind of opened us up to some of the other construction oriented fields that aren't necessarily residential, but it's worked really well for them too, and that's been pretty cool.”
HomeServiceChats has been making the rounds at some of the leading HVAC shows (most recently those by ACCA, Nexstar, and ServiceNation), and Flannigan and Hansen are expanding into garage door installation and chimney sweep services.
They prefer that the contractor’s average service ticket be at least $400 and that the website has a good amount of daily traffic.
Among the benefits to using a chat service like this one is that the in-house CSRs can obtain printed transcripts of all chats, which can be used in telephone call center training.
“When you read the transcript, you see how they overcame an objection, and how they redirected the customer to a different piece of the scripting. We have a full-time trainer who trains all of our staff members, and we have coaches working with all of our chat specialists. We care a lot about making sure that those little nuances that people sometimes take for granted, aren't taken for granted with our scripting.”
HSC training and individualized coaching is provided weekly, and advisors must train for two weeks before they even sit behind a keyboard. Curriculum includes jargon related to each home service type, as well as how to properly engage job seekers.
"Obtaining name, phone number, email, and home address is the best way to get the ball rolling, because the more information we can obtain, the more likely they are to use our client services. They’re invested at that point," Flannigan says. "We send an email to them with the discussion transcript, and tell them a scheduling coordinator will reach out to them soon and will take care of them."
“You can’t leave somebody out there,” Flannigan warns, “because they’re going to continue to browse the Internet and look at all of your competitors.”