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It's All About Dazzle
 
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It's All About Dazzle

These proven business tactics will help you find, win and keep new customers even if you work in a competitive market

By Rick Howe

Let's fact it, there's a ton of competition out there. You see the trucks. You see the Yellow Pages ads. Some of the companies are reputable, and some aren't.

How do you compete? By providing fast, professional service. You don't need to respond to others' predatory practices. All you need to do is give added value with your service. Offer a level of quality and professionalism that will allow you to charge more and still get the work. Everybody knows that you get what you pay for. Always strive to exceed your customers expectations. In other words, dazzle your customers.

Customers are the lifeblood of any business. Without them, you don't have a business. So where do they come from? Why are they calling you? And why are they calling you?

Driven by emergencies
There are few places where the expression "out of sight, out of mind" applies quite as much as in the septic trades. People don't think about their septic systems until it it too late. Perhaps too late means there are 150 people gathered in the back yard for the daughter's garden wedding, and they're knee deep in septage.

This is an emergency-driven industry. Sure, some people maintain their septic systems. But more than 90 percent of the pumping done in the United States is on an emergency basis. When people have backups, they do one thing. They look in the Yellow Pages. So Lesson 1 is advertise in the Yellow Pages under all three categories: Septic, Sewer & Drain Cleaning, and Plumbing.

If you don't do all those things, work our arrangements with other contractors to whom you can sub the work. And hopefully, they will reciprocate. But, first and foremost, get the call.

How do you get the call? If they respond to your Yellow Pages ad, it's probably because your ad"


*Is as big as you can afford

*Offers a free estimate, a free educational brochure, or a free inspections

*Has a catchy 800 phone number

Has local phone numbers, even if your're miles away

*Says it all: fast service, insured, guaranteed, residential, commercial, industrial

Look Professional
Now that you've gotten the call; how did you get the job? This is where professionalism and phone skills come in. We all accept that the septic related trades are unlike all other businesses. We also accept that there are more than a few stigmas (not to mention bad jokes) associated with septics.

You can overcome all these things with professionalism. Wear uniforms. Give out business cards, operate clean, professionally painted and lettered equipment. Use educational materials. Keep current with the latest technologies.

Professionalism also carries over into the office and the phone. In the office, be as organized as possible. Have a computer system that suits your needs, and software that makes it easy for everybody. In addition, have a filing system that allows you to put your hands on information fast.

When answering the phone there are several rules:
*Always answer within three rings, and never more than five.

*Smile. The customer will "hear" it in your voice.

*Identify yourself ("Able Septic, this is Ellen. How may I help you?").

*Get the person's name and refer to it often. People love to hear their name.

*Be friendly and businesslike. No babies or dogs in the background.

*Ask questions. This will eliminate surprises and prepare the customer for up-sells, (jetting, risers, filters, additives, etc.) Make sure the customer knows that extensive digging costs are extra. Let them know what disposal costs. People hate surpises.

*Deliver bad news with empathy and credibility (I know how you feel. I felt that way myself. Then I got the facts, and this is what I think.)

Leave a Message
If you aren't there to answer the phone some other rules apply:

*NEVER leave the phone totally unattended. You must have an answering service, answering machine, pager, or cell phone. If people call and get no answer, you are not in business. Period.

*SMILE when you record your machine message and say in the message when you will call back.

So when you have the job. Professionalism really ramps up here. When you (or your uniformed tech) arrive on the job, first give the customer (if they're home) a business card. Very few companies do this.

The question most customers ask is, "Was the tank full" This shows that the customer knows little or nothing about septic. Give the person an educational brochure. Explain that this is a part of your public service and ask that they read the brochure while you do the work. The brochure should explain the components of septic systems, how they work, (septic tanks are designed to operate full at all times), why they fail, and how to keep them from failing (maintenance).

To see is to learn
Always remember there are very few things your customers can see about why a system has backed up. But they can see broken baffles, deteriorated concrete, signs of high solid levels in the distribution box, root intrusion, and thick surface scum in the tank (indicating bacterial deficiency).

Show these things to your customers. They will appreciate the education. Also take advantage of the second most-asked questions: "Is there anything I can put in my tank to help avoid this in the future?" Once customers are educated about septic system operations, they want to participate in the maintenance.

When the job is finished, give the customer an inspection report. This should include a locator map for the system. It should also indicate the type, condition, and operational status of the components of the system.

When leaving, be sure to remove your scraps, replace sod, smooth out ruts, and thank the customer - with a smile - for choosing our company. Then follow up with a phone call from the office to be sure everything was satisfactory. This is also the time to suggest any additional work that might be indicated in the inspection report.

The last piece to exceptional customer service costs you money and generates no direct revenue. Be a good neighbor. Join your local, state and national contractor associations. Sponsor a Little League team. Put your truck in local parades. Be involved with town government. Exhibit at your local fairs. If you maintain high visibilty around town, people are more likely to call you when they have septic problems.

Whatever services you provide, do it with dazzle. Remember, many other companies want the same work you do. So if you don't want to worry about getting customers and keeping them, do something that very few others do. Exceed your customers' expectations. They will be yours for life.

Rick Howe is president of Cape Cod Biochemical, He can be reached at 800-343-8007 or by e-mail at capebio@capecod.net