Questionable Tactics

Posted on August 11, 2016

Service Calls Benefit From A Little Detective Work

Blue Question Mark Illustration“Good job!” the homeowner tells the electrician as he is leaving the service call. She shakes the service tech’s hand and says, “This is exactly what I wanted.”

It’s the ultimate customer service story, right? The customer is satisfied. The contractor is happy. The job is finished and everyone can move on. But wait – there’s something to be learned from that homeowner’s last comment that might make us look differently at the whole job. The customer says that the result was exactly what she wanted. The issue, you see, is that she may only have gotten what she wanted because she didn’t know what else she could have gotten.

Here’s a different way of explaining it: Let’s say you’re an explorer who has been on safari since 1998. You finally get back to civilization, and you go straight to the cell phone store to replace your 15-year-old flip phone that got cracked when a rhino sat on it. (Who knows why? Rhinos are just like that.) You don’t know any better, so you ask for the same phone. The kid behind the counter looks at you funny, then digs up an old relic in the back, blows the dust off it and sells it to you. You’re happy as you leave the store. You got exactly what you wanted.

Then you sit down for your first cheeseburger in almost two decades, and you notice that everybody else has a phone that takes pictures, plays videos and surfs the internet. You want to surf the internet! You want to watch hilarious cat videos! In just a few seconds you go from being satisfied to be being disgruntled. “That kid at the phone store ripped me off because he didn’t ask if I wanted a different phone!” you mumble as you clumsily try to send a text with your numeric keypad. “I’m never going back there again.”

Magnifying GlassSolving Riddles

To give customers what they really want, you must ask questions. This truth extends past service techs into everything from bids to new construction. If the specs ask for a thermostat, the only way to find out what the customer really wants is to ask, “What kind of thermostat?” Oh, you could just assume that they mean the cheapest or most basic thermostat, but perhaps they don’t know anything about the new innovations in smart thermostats that let them check and adjust the temperature in their house from their cabin at the lake – which they would love to do (and would gladly pay extra for).

As it is in most of life, it comes down to the easy way and the right way – and the fact that they are very seldom the same thing. We all get busy, and our brains default to the simple answer. Ellen Rohr, a small-business consultant who helps DSG with its Power Tools Success Workshops, sees it all the time as she helps contractors across the country.

“It’s easy during a service call for the tech to forget about asking questions,” she says, “but it’s critical to the process. If you’re installing a product, ask how that product will be used. If it’s a sink or a shower, have users been happy with it? If it’s a furnace, are people comfortable in the house or do they complain about certain areas being too warm or too cold?”

The answers to any of those queries could lead to additional sales, but more importantly, they will contribute to improved customer satisfaction. This is the difference between customers who call you back and customers who call their friends.

Answers For Remembering Questions

Ellen Rohr
Small-business expert, Ellen Rohr

“For technicians, I suggest that they use a mnemonic device to remember to ask questions on every job,” Rohr explains. “Just as you learned to use the word ‘HOMES’ to remember the Great Lakes in elementary school (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior), you can create your own acronym with a word like ‘SERVE’ to ensure that your team doesn’t forget any part of your service process. For example, the ‘S’ might stand for ‘Start Right,’ a step that includes putting booties over the shoes and shaking hands. ‘E’ might stand for ‘Extra Questions,’ a step that includes inquiries designed to learn more about the customer’s needs.”

Simple word devices are not enough, though. According to Rohr, management needs to work hard to make questions part of the company culture. In Rohr’s experience, this means a hands-on approach.

“For supervisors, there are two steps to helping your team get the hang of asking questions, whether they are part of a service call or the new construction process: role playing and ride-alongs. These are the proven ways to coach and improve the performance of your team. First, simply pretend that you are the customer and have the tech or salesperson go over their mnemonic device as if they were on a call. Second, go with your team to some appointments to make sure that they are remembering the steps of the process.”

To emphasize Rohr’s point, these steps are about coaching, not micromanaging. Imagine a basketball coach who never gets to see his team play in a game. “It’s not about busting them, it’s about breaking bad habits and helping them to succeed!” explains Rohr. “It’s about working it into your company’s culture.”

Looking for some ideas of mnemonic devices to guide the service or bidding process? Want some questions to get the process started? Check out the sidebars below, then set up a time to get together with your team. Make questions a part of every customer encounter, and the benefits will quickly become clear. Once you start asking questions, you’ll discover that you have a lot more answers.

The Phonics Of Mnemonics

Here are a few examples of mnemonic devices that might help you and your team to make questions part of every conversation:

  1. SERVE
    (S) Start Right
    (E) Extra Questions
    (R) Recommendations
    (V) Value Added
    (E) End Strong
  2. ASK
    (A) Ask About Usage
    (S) Suggest Improvements
    (K) Keep Your Promises
  3. MORE
    (M) Make Inquiries
    (O) Offer Solutions
    (R) Respect Decisions
    (E) Encourage Feedback

What To Ask

Looking for a few questions to get everyone started when discussing projects with customers? Here are a few (but don’t stop with them – add your own!).

  • How is the ____ being used?
  • Are users happy with how the___ is working?
  • Why is it being replaced?
  • Do you know about some of the benefits of the latest _____?
  • Are there any features you’ve heard about that you wished you could take advantage of?