Hello and welcome to theplumbinginfo.com. Through a friend of ours (thanks BlackPlumbing business Mountain Plumbing www.blackmountainplumbing.com) we were introduced to a gentleman Nick DAlleva who owns an answering service company. We know plenty of companies who hire answering services after hours however it never crossed our minds to write about the right way to answer the phone. One of the most important things in the plumbing business is first impression and this article goes right to the heart of first impressions. Thanks Nick for the guest post and we hope you enjoy.

 

How to Improve the Effectiveness of Answering Service Outsourcing for Your Plumbing Business

There are a lot of factors that go into running your own successful plumbing company.  Having the right tools, the right employees, the right skills, and the right equipment are a must.  Yet, the most important ingredient in building your business is having customers.  Without clients, everything else is irrelevant. You can be a top plumber in your area and fix a leaky pipe by snapping your fingers, but if you have no pipes to fix, your company won’t hold water (no pun intended).  This is why customer service and sales are just as important as your skills. To grow your company, every inbound phone call needs to be answered immediately and handled properly.

Easier said than done, right? If you are a plumber, you know too well how hard it is to answer your phone when you are on a job. You also know that calls always come at the most inconvenient times. Have you ever been digging out a sump pump and hear your Plumbing businessphone ringing? Answering your business  line is not something that always convenient, yet outside of being able to diagnose a blocked vent stack, it’s the second most important part of running a plumbing company! This piece will discuss your options for in house solutions and for outsourcing to answering services. For those plumbers who are opting to outsource, we will also discuss the best framework for plumbers to implement at the call center to get the most from the service.

Voicemail or Live Voice?

The first decision you need to make is whether to use voicemail or have an employee answer your calls.  There are two realities here, the first is that voicemail is not much of a lead capture tool (i.e. people hang up on it all the time) but it’s cheap, and the second is that paying someone to answer your phones can be really expensive. Wages, insurance, benefits, etc. all add up, but a real person answering your calls is much better than a machine. You need to weigh your budget and your long term goals here.  More messages equal more business, so a real person answering your calls is a necessity. The flip side is that it can cost you more money in the short term and depleat your capital unless you are also doing some type of advertising (SEO, mailers, etc.). In other words, to justify paying the extra money for the employee, you need to spend more money in advertising under the assumption that the receptionist will help you achieve the highest advertising ROI by converting more customers, getting more jobs, and essentially growing your business.

If the “you need to spend money to make money” philosophy doesn’t make sense to you, understand that voicemail is not going to help elevate your business to super local plumber status. Go ahead and take your answering machine, jam it in a municipal sewer pipe, and forget about it. For an in house solution, get busy on some job boards and look for a receptionist that has experience answering calls for plumbers, is organized, and is willing to work 24/7 as a dispatcher (you’ll need that for the emergency calls). If they don’t want to be tethered to your business after they clock out, you can always manage your own calls after hours. If you are a small local plumber, we are only talking about a few emergency after hours calls each week & you should be able to manage that volume on your own.

If you have trouble finding the right candidate, don’t worry, another option is to hire an answering service. There are tons out there that have experience answering calls for plumbers, but just choosing an answering service is only half the battle.  They are cheaper than hiring someone full time, but the wrong service staffed with incompetent operators can actually do more damage to your reputation than your voicemail was doing. And, even after you have settled on a service you can trust, you need to develop telephone procedures to maximize the effectiveness of each call or the cheaper outsourcing avenue could end up costing you almost as much as the employee you were going to hire. The goal of these next 6 steps are to maximize the efficiency of the CSR’s, to keep your invoices to a minimum by reducing talk time, and to reduce errors  through lean call scripts.

6 Points to a Better Plumbing Answering Service

When you contract with any answering service, it is important to spell out exactly how you would like each genre of phone call handled.  I own a telephone answering service and I can say that from my experience in this business, I recommend the following protocol to all plumbers we have on service because it keeps their costs low and facilitates sales and better customer service:

  1. The Service Should Be Your ReceptionistYou know your calls are being answered by an answering service after hours, but your first time callers shouldn’t.  It is important that the callers feel they have reached the right place regardless of the time they are calling. The operators should answer in your company name and cut right to the chase with a “How can we help you” response. Your customers want answers and you don’t want to give them the option to hypothesize if they are talking to your own staff or you are outsourcing. Make sure the operators are answering the calls exactly as you would in your own office.
  2. Answering Services Should Always Mirror Your Office- The answering service should follow the same procedures that you would in your office. This includes the way the phones are answered (see #1 above) and the way that the call is handled.  This continuity will put your callers at ease. If I call your company at 2 in the afternoon, I want the calls handled the same way at midnight when my pipes break and I need emergency service.
  3. Be Available for New Customers– Every new call, from the full fledged plumbing emergency to a simple leaky faucet, should be met with direct contact to a plumber.  If you are adverting to get new clients, immediate contact is the best thing you can do to increase your ROI. In these cases, the answering service should patch (warm transfer) every phone call.  When customers are inquiring, they are more likely to purchase if they speak to the principal and you can give them a bit of insight on their problem like the “fix time”, how long it will take you to get to their location, and a rough cost. Armed with this information on the first contact, the customer is sure to choose your company over the competition. In fact, they most likely won’t call anyone else. Congratulations, you got the job!
  4. Be Available for Your Existing Customers– Let your existing clients know you have a 24/7 answering service and give them instructions to reach you immediately that will cut through any barriers you may have setup (barriers like only contact you for emergencies). Tell them as soon as they speak to an operator, ask to be transferred to you immediately (i.e. “Can you patch me to Jim?). This will help facilitate customer loyalty and reduce your invoices by eliminating operator talk time.
  5. Be Notified Immediately– Have your answering service send a text message and/or email of every telephone call, even the calls where you were patched.  This will help you stay on top of everything that is going on regarding dispatches to your on-call staff and it allows you to make the decision if calls need to be returned immediately. You may only want to be contacted for emergencies but if it’s a re-run of Survivor and you are not busy, immediate contact helps grow loyalty and convert customers.
  6. Have the Operators Answer Your Website Too-By providing live chat services and email support, your answering service will become an even more effective tool.   The ability to capture leads online will take your business to the next level and do something the other local plumbers aren’t. Imagine someone pops on your website and they get a message asking if they need help.

By creating a simple protocol and opening up new communication channels, you can capitalize on every opportunity that comes to you through your telephone line, email or website.  A live operator as an outsource solution or an in house receptionist can be a valuable member of your team, as long as they are trained properly. Someone working in house can be valuable but can be more expensive than outsourcing. However, having an answering service that is not handling calls as efficiently as possible can be just as expensive as a full time in house employee. It is up to you to make sure that any type of employee is as efficient as possible to make your business successful.

Nicolas D’Alleva is the owner of Specialty Answering Service a nationwide call center provider and business answering service. For more information, please visit www.specialtyansweringservice.net or call 1-888-532-4794.

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