What “I’ll be there at 10am” really means
If you’ve ever engaged a tradesman to solve a problem, you’ve probably experienced at least a few occasions where your expectations around your agreed appointment time haven’t been managed especially well. Now, whenever you hear something like ‘I’ll be there at 10am’, it’s usually followed by a skeptical, subconscious thought of ‘Whatever!’ or ‘I’ll believe it when I see it!’
Probably the single biggest customer complaint about tradesmen is concerning poorly managed expectations around timekeeping.
Customers lead busy lives and are being pulled in all directions by family, work and other commitments, so when the kitchen floods, or the power goes out, or another household crisis strikes, hiring you to deliver a fix is something else they have to stuff into their ever-expanding to-do list for the day.
Emergencies requiring tradesmen are never planned for, but usually require an urgent fix. This adds to customer stress. They need an expert (you) to come fix their problem and alleviate that particular pain point. And they normally need it done yesterday. Don’t mess them around further by not delivering what you agree. Provide a good customer experience – even when you can’t fix their issue.
So how can you do better at managing customer expectations?
There’s a natural temptation to over-promise when making appointment bookings. We all do it. In these situations it’s always easiest to deliver a positive response – especially when someone is in a desperate state and we have a prospective customer on the phone that we don’t want to risk losing.
Remember, your caller hasn’t paid you to this point. You have them on the phone (they’re still just a prospect), and you’re just answering a booking enquiry for a site visit. Customers want to be dealt with openly and honestly, and it’s always best to deal with them this way. If you check your booking system calendar and your next ‘truly’ free appointment slot is next Monday and today is Tuesday, you can’t reasonably fit them in tomorrow. Resist the temptation to attempt the impossible and avoid their disappointment.
If you can’t help them when they need the help
How else can you help them right there and then? Can you offer them a temporary fix to tide them over? Maybe there’s a workaround they can safely attempt until you can fit them in?
Don’t waste the prospect. Apologise for not being able to help them when they need, and see what help you can offer them by phone. Get their name and use it as you speak with them. Show empathy by understand their difficult situation from their perspective. This is good customer service and marketing that may pay returns in the future.
If you really can’t help them in the timeframe they need, what do you do? Still offer them a solution. It may be as simple as giving them the details of a trusted peer in the industry. Make sure you mention to the caller to ‘Tell them we sent you’. It’s counter-intuitive giving away business, but it’s still good customer service to help them.
The other company will appreciate the business, and may even reciprocate one day when they’re in a similarly busy situation – at the very least you can hassle them to buy you a drink when you next see them! If it’s appropriate, apologise and offer the caller a discount to use the next time they need your services and they may come back to you one day to use it.
The point is, by doing this, it’s taken maybe an extra minute on the call, but you’ve helped a stressed customer – albeit indirectly – which paints your business in a good light. You’ve developed some goodwill with the customer, and maybe even with your competitor/peer too. Go the extra mile.
Tips to avoid disappointing customers
- Check your appointment booking system regularly, keep it updated and never guess about appointment slots when making appointments. Book what you can do.
- Be realistic about travel times to/from jobs and how long the preceding job(s) will actually take.
- Under promise and over deliver.
- Never let an appointment slip.
- Be honest about your commitments and see what you can do to help – indirectly if necessary.
- Consider factoring in an appointment slot each day to cater solely for ‘emergency’ bookings. Add this to the end of your day and consider it an extra on top of your normal working day. If it ends up being out of hours, there’s no harm in charging a premium rate to compensate for the inconvenience to you and to make it worth your while.
When you know you‘re not going to make it at 10am – managing appointment changes
Now, even if you have heeded the advice above, there’ll still be occasions when the unexpected happens and you need to renege on your appointment time. If that happens, consider the following:
- Notify your customer the moment you are aware that your current situation isn’t going to allow you to deliver as you agreed, so they can make alternative plans.
- In all cases, call your customer 30 minutes (or at some other agreed schedule) before you’ll actually arrive at your appointment. This allows the customer to go about their normal day and then pop home quickly to meet you in a more timely way, reducing their inconvenience
- Customers need to know they are important and not forgotten – stay in touch with them. Apologise for the inconvenience at each contact point, referring to them by name and remain sincere.
- When you know you’ve caused some inconvenience or can sense frustration with the changes you’ve made, try to end on a high note. Offer them something – maybe a small discount off the current bill, a discount redeemable against the next job, or a check up – to compensate.
Well managed expectations, solid communication, along with empathy can still make for a happy repeat customer, even when you’ve been unable to meet their original expectations and have needed to make changes.
Don’t burn your customers
As you know all too well, customers are difficult to acquire and retain. Your best marketing comes from good customer experiences. Never underestimate the cost of poor customer service.
Always deliver good customer experiences by assisting in some small way, even when you cannot help them directly. Good customer experiences are becoming rare, and people notice when they are treated well – they’ll tell others and word-of-mouth marketing is the BEST kind of marketing for service/trade businesses.
Struggling with your job tracking and regularly over-promising and under-delivering?
Call of Service software helps small businesses and tradesmen/field technicians manage their jobs and staff by maintaining a clear view of the scheduled work in the days and weeks ahead. It helps you see how your day looks, where your jobs are on the map and output job lists, all via an easy-to-use, intuitive system that takes just minutes to learn. If timekeeping and job management isn’t your strong suit, and your appointments are slipping between the cracks sign up for a free 30 day trial today and be well on your way to managing your appointment times and customer expectations more effectively.