Everything you need to succeed as a Home Services company in a digital world.
September 21, 2018 • Offering the cheapest rate isn’t the only — or even the best — way to compete against other service businesses. It may earn you more customers, but you have to work more jobs to make up for the gap in rates. There’s a better way: one in which you’re compensated fairly for your time, and you still stand out against the competition. It’s simple: fine tune your customer service. Now we know that you’re already offering quality service, but there are always improvements you can make that improve customer loyalty and overall satisfaction. Aberdeen, a market research company, found that organizations with customer satisfaction rates of ninety percent or higher saw a 6.1 percent growth in service revenue and nearly four percent growth in overall revenue. And who doesn’t want four percent more revenue every year? Here’s what to do. 1. Hire Staff with People Skills Quality customer service relies on friendly and efficient employees. Even if an employee is strong on the technical side, if they aren’t polite and professional in the field, their performance can damage your relationship with your customers. While some customer service skills can be taught, you need a strong foundation to begin with. Mike Moore, Founder and Director of Training for Lennox Learning Solutions, recommends that field service companies “look for attitude, communication skills and work ethic, first” in new candidates. He goes on to explain that it’s easier to teach technical skills to willing employees than develop these other traits. 2. Treat Each Customer Like More than a Job Creating a first-rate on-the-job experience is the most important thing you can do to strengthen your relationship with each customer. And this first-rate experience relies on the customer feeling heard. Train your technicians on customer service strategies. This includes things like reading non-verbal clues about how a customer is feeling and using their name multiple times while on-the-job. One of the most important customer service skills is active listening. Client service and leadership experts Molly and Meghan Fitzpatrick recommend paraphrasing back what a customer just said. Among the benefits, they believe this tactic “communicates our respect for the other person” and “ensures we have truly understood the issue at hand so we can contribute effectively to the solution.” This active listening technique is just as important for prospective customers that have questions about your services. Treat each perspective uniquely to earn their business. 3. Respond Quickly to Customer Emails and Calls Your technicians and office staff share the responsibility of quality customer service. While field employees listen to customers on-the-job, customer service staff manage customer questions over email, phone, and, increasingly over social media. With so many channels for customer questions to come in, it can be difficult to keep up within a timely manner. And yet, speed is more important than ever. Also consider a live chat service to engage with customers in real-time. With live chat, you decrease the risk that a potential customer will find another business who responds faster. Ideally, faster responses to customer emails and service requests also leads to quicker work requests. The real reason a customer is reaching out is because they have a problem. The faster this issue is resolved, the more satisfied they’ll be. 4. Keep Your Technicians Happy Happy technicians are more likely to do good work. Ensure that your technicians are well-prepared for their jobs. Providing continuing training opportunities doesn’t just help your technicians do more efficient work, it also builds up their confidence which leads to better customer service. The other component of preparing technicians is having the right tools. A recent survey found that 56% of field-service companiesbelieve mobile technology is critical to their performance. Mobile apps provide troubleshooting resources and enable your techs to easily reach out for help when they need it. 5. Make it Easy for Customers to Schedule If prospects have a difficult time booking your service, they’ll go elsewhere. As customers spend increasingly more time online, 70% of consumers want to book services online rather than over a phone. Customers should be able to see your availability and book your services off your website, as well as other places your business is found, such as your Facebook page or Yelp profile. Online booking will increase the number of service requests, as well as the number of satisfied returning customers. It also saves staff time, making it a win/win for employees and customers alike. 6. Encourage Satisfied Customers to Leave Reviews Positive reviews and testimonials can increase the reach and reputation of your business. 73% of customers are more likely to trust a local business that has positive reviews online, according to a study by BrightLocal. With 97% of customers searching for local businesses online, it’s imperative that your business maintains a positive presence across the web. While it’s important to have testimonials on your business website, this isn’t the only place where reviews will show up. Folks will search sites like Google My Business, Angie’s List, Yelp, and other local business review sites to see what past customers have to say. 7. Respond to All Reviews In the same study, BrightLocal found that 30% of customers found it very important for local businesses to respond to reviews. It’s important to respond to both positive and negative reviews so that customers know you’re listening. Schedule time each week to look at places where your business is listed and respond to reviews. Better yet, take time in your business to consider how to incorporate their feedback into your company. 8. Reward Your Top Customers When you have a fan, you want to keep them. Reward long-time and engaged customers with discounts or upgrades on their next service. You can also send them a handwritten letter just to let them know you appreciate their business. Make sure to personalize these offers and messages. Russel Lolacher offers an attempt to personalize an email backfired. Russel was a fan of the company sending the email and was disappointed when he received an impersonal email from the company he valued. The email started out: Hey there, It’s not everyday that we reach out to users personally — but I just wanted to send you a note to let you know you’re one of Canva’s most active users! Here’s Lolacher’s response: “When you say ‘reach out to users personally’ and then express it in a form letter that is anything but personal, you’re not showing you value me as an individual customer. ‘Hey there’ to you too.” When customers feel valued, it nurtures their customer loyalty. Maintain this loyalty through personalized correspondence and offers. 9. Use Technology To Engage Customers Between scheduling service calls, invoicing customers, managing your books, and everything else you do on a daily basis, adding new responsibilities may seem overwhelming. Thankfully, field service management (FSM) software can automate a lot of these tasks. HouseCall Pro automatically sends customers emails before and after their service call. You can request feedback and help customers feel heard without any additional effort. On the day of service, your customers will receive updates about the arrival time of your technicians. Text and email updates offer convenient real-time information to your customers, and automating these interactions keeps your customers happy without adding more to your plate. Ultimately, standing out from other local businesses in your area boils down to a top-notch customer experience. This starts when someone finds your website for the first time and extends to when you follow up about their experience after they’ve paid for your quality service. Use a mix of on-the-job and automated customer service techniques to ensure that a satisfied customer not only returns for more work, but tells their friends about you.
Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator
September 18, 2018 • If you’ve been in the field service industry for a while, you know how important it is to use quality management software. A good tool allows you to coordinate many components of field operations from a single platform. For instance, the five most requested features of a field service management (FSM) solution include scheduling, work order management, job in progress tracking, job management, and service history tracking. Any decent field service tool at least manages those five things and does it will. With a well-designed platform, your business efficiency and customer service improves — and so does your revenue. This is what Gartner discovered when they surveyed 35 companies in different field service industries that had implemented a field service management (FSM) solution. On average, the software paid for itself in nine months. The highest reported improvements were a 60% increase in technician efficiency and customer satisfaction. And these results were just the averages across different solutions. As with any investment, you’ll see a better return when you choose the right tool for your company. So how do you know what the right field service tool is? When you’re comparing different solutions, one place to start is looking at industry trends. This awareness will help you choose a solution that will offer the most value over a long period of time. In this post we look at six industry-leading trends and important features to look for in a FSM solution. Three Important Trends in Field Service Technology 1. Software-as-a-Service offers the Most Versatile Solutions Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions are hosted online (or in the cloud) by the vendor as opposed to software you need to install on your own networks and computers. SaaS products are subscription-based and usually come with customer support built into the monthly or annual fee. When you’re managing a field service operation, one of the most important factors of picking a tool is whether you can actually use in the field. This is the biggest advantage of SaaS solutions over those you can only operate from your office. As you’ll see when we look at the benefits of mobile apps, as well as features like automated invoicing, your ROI dramatically increases when technicians have easy access to your management tool. This is just one of the reasons why more field service companies are moving to SaaS platforms. Blumberg Advisory reported that the cloud-based FSM market was valued at $1.2 billion in 2017, and they anticipate that number to double by 2022. Benefits: Saas solutions allow you to use the technology from any device (including in the field). They require less time and resources to set up and manage. It’s easier to scale with a SaaS solution as your company grows. SaaS software more easily integrates with other tools, such as CRMs and accounting software 2. Mobile-Friendly Solutions Provide New Value for Technicians There are many reasons why over half of field-service companies believe that investing in mobile technology is critical to their performance. Mobile technology provides workers in the field access to valuable troubleshooting resources, as well as offering many ways to improve customer service. Nasrin Azari, CEO of Mobile Reach, also explains how mobile apps can keep field technicians safe: “When it comes to the mobile applications technicians use every day, simplified screens, background automation, and simplified error handling reduce the likelihood of an accident.” Benefits: Being able to collect data in the field increases job accuracy They can improve time management in the field and keep customers informed of technician’s arrival times They give technician’s access to a customer's history and troubleshooting resources, as well as access to other team members They improve customer service by providing immediate estimates and invoicing 3. Integrations with Other Software Field service business use a number of tools to manage their companies, including accounting software, inventory management solutions, customer relationship management tools, as well as your social media platforms. When a field service tool integrates with these other tools, it saves you the hassle of entering information twice. For instance, we’ve found that by allowing our customers to sync their invoices and payments information from HouseCall Pro to Quickbooks, we’re saving our customers an average of fifteen hours a week on redundant paperwork. Benefits: Less employee time spent on paperwork More information available to all systems can create better reports and overall improved functionality. Four Features to Look for In Field Service Solutions Hopefully you see the value of mobile-ready SaaS solutions, but even then, there are dozens of tools on the market to choose from. When you’re comparing FSM platforms, it’s important to know what popular features might be giving other companies a competitive advantage, as well as what features your customers are coming to expect. Here are four popular features to look for in a field service platform. 1. Live Chat Improves Customer Satisfaction Rates Fewer customers want to call for customer service. One study found that 42% of customers prefer live chat over the phone. Not only do they prefer chat over phone, but they’re also most likely to be satisfied with the experience. According to a report from Zendesk, 92% of customers gave the experience a positive rating compared to just 88% who used voice service and 85% using email. Satisfied customers are more likely to stay customers, which is why live chat functionality can improve your customer retention rate. Another benefit: more leads. Thornton and Grooms, a heating, cooling, and plumbing company in Michigan, receives about twelve leads per day via live chat. According to their marketing director, the majority of those leads become customers. ROI: Improved customer retention, more customer leads. 2. GPS Tracking Improves Technician Punctuality Another feature that improves customer retention is GPS tracking. According to a survey by Software Advice, nearly 70% of customers polled wouldn’t rehire a company whose technician was up to an hour late. A quarter of them had a cut-off time of 16-30 minutes. GPS tracking can help keep workers on time by increasing accountability, as well as the ability to make scheduling and route changes in real time. An overwhelming 95% of field service companies that implemented GPS tracking saw an improvement in their technician’s punctuality. They also found decreased fuel costs, as well as an increase in work orders completed per day. ROI: Improved customer retention, increased number of finished work orders. 3. Automated Invoicing Gets You Paid Faster Take information captured by your technicians in the field, and immediately send follow-up info or requests for payments to the customer via email. Automating this process reduces the time and cost of invoicing. It also improves accuracy, since paper invoicing requires more steps where something can go wrong. Automated invoicing reduces costs, such as employee hours. One study found that moving from paper invoices to online invoices reduced the cost of each transaction from $20 down to $4. They also help you get paid faster. Aberdeen Group found that the average service-to-payment cycle is 34 days. Having lots of open invoices can create a cashflow bottleneck. Sending invoices via email, as opposed to paper invoices via mail, reduces this payment cycle. Field service tools that allow technicians to invoice in the field significantly shortens that payment cycle even more, especially if they can take payments directly from the customer. Your customers are getting used to taking payments via mobile devices. Juniper Research predicts that mobile payments will make up almost a quarter of all point-of-sale transactions by 2023, estimating 87 billion transactions annually. ROI: Faster payments with less associated costs, improved accuracy of invoices, improved customer satisfaction. Online Booking Just like live chat, 70% of consumers want to book services online rather than over a phone. Whether they’re on your website, on your Facebook page, or browsing your Yelp reviews, ideally you want customers to be able to see your availability and book your services. Using online booking can dramatically increase the number of service requests. By adding convenience to your customers, it also aids in customer retention and satisfaction. Online booking also saves employee time by automating the workflow. As soon as a customer creates a service request, technicians can be automatically assigned the job and have access to the customer’s history. ROI: Improved customer retention and satisfaction, reduced employee time spent on the phone and scheduling work orders. Some Benefits are Harder to Track Some of the benefits of a good FSM tool are easier to track than others. Once you’ve implemented a solution, you can compare the amount of work orders completed, the average amount of time per job, compare monthly revenue, and use surveys to gauge its impact on your customers. Other benefits may be harder to track, but just as important. For instance, a good system that improves workflow can reduce the stress of your employees and make their jobs easier boosting company morale. Well-designed technology can be easier to learn and reduce the time it takes to train new employees. And finally, having better work reports and statistics can give you a better sense of how your company is doing and what you can improve. Overall, the benefits (and ROI) of having the right field service solution — one that’s cloud-based and mobile-ready add up when you start to consider improvements to workflow, technician’s accuracy, customer satisfaction and retention, and employee satisfaction. If you’re looking for a field service solution that offers the features live chat, GPS-tracking, as well as scheduling and dispatch, estimates and invoicing, online booking, and many other services you need to run your field service business, try out HouseCall Pro.
September 17, 2018 • New technology, such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, are changing the heating and air conditioning industry in every way. To keep up, HVAC professionals need to understand how customers are using this new technology to monitor their energy usage and plan equipment maintenance. Here are five technology trends that are impacting HVAC companies. 1. New sustainable homes use alternative heating and cooling options New buildings are being designed to use minimal energy to heat and cool the property. According to Grainger, green building strategies go beyond sealing and insulation and even energy-star appliances. For instance, builders are rethinking ventilation systems to use more natural airflow, and specialized building materials provide a more constant building temperature which reduces the need for high-powered HVAC systems. Solar and geothermal systems are becoming more cost-effective options. 2. Smart thermostats connect to home monitoring services In a recent survey by Emerson Commercial and Residential Solutions, seventy-five percent of thermostats will be Wi-Fi-enabled by 2019. And these Wi-Fi-enabled programmable devices do more than just pre-set a temperature. Consumers search for products that can connect other smart home systems, such as Samsung SmartThings or Amazon Echo. Smart thermostats allow residents to monitor their home — including energy consumption and temperature — wherever they go. Download Field Guide: How to Hire & Grow HVAC Your HVAC Business Without the Headache 3. Smart systems increase preventive maintenance Smart HVAC systems are predicting when maintenance is needed before there’s a real issue. This new trend can change your relationship with your customers from someone they call in an emergency to someone they reach out to for regularly scheduled check-ups. While preventive maintenance might cut down on emergency house calls, smart systems open up new avenues to provide service and expertise to your customers. It’s becoming more common for residential and commercial customers to have systems designed for remote monitoring. HVAC professionals can begin to monitoring energy usage, suggest maintenance, and offer personalized suggestions for ways to improve energy efficiency. 4. Customers expect tech-savvy services and technicians Customers expect HVAC services to be easy-to-book and easy-to-pay with more information about their work order readily available in one place. They want tech-savvy customer-service options, but they also want tech-savvy technicians. In a recent study by Verizon Telematics, two-thirds of consumers said they wouldn’t use a home service professional a second time that wasn’t tech savvy. This works out well for the 78 percent of service professionals already using mobile apps on the job. According to the same study, 92 percent of technicians reported that their productivity increased using mobile technology. When you employ mobile-savvy technicians, consider training them on more than just your company’s internal business tools. Samm’s Heating and Air Conditioning owner, Paul Sammataro, explains how his technicians often demo smart-home automation to their customers using their own cell-phones and tablets. 5. Virtual reality (VR) training for HVAC professionals Virtual reality is becoming a cost-effective way to train new employees or current staff training on new equipment or working on advanced certifications. For instance, Tauris McBride, founder of Tauris Tech, uses VR training to prepare his students for the New York City Refrigeration license exam. Check out his training simulator on Youtube. Using virtual simulators, you can walk technicians through the installation and troubleshooting of new equipment, and larger groups can train at once with less equipment needed. As reported by HVACInsider, “VR minimizes the risk and cost because attendees can use virtual components before migrating to real materials.” HVAC equipment and business software will continue to evolve as new technology gains momentum. But with it comes new opportunities for improved professional training and customer service.
Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator
September 7, 2018 • The initial growth of many small single-proprietor HVAC businesses comes from word-of-mouth and local advertising. And then you reach a point where the growth plateaus. This is an indication that small-business tactics are no longer enough. While things like customer recommendations remain important, to reach the next level of growth, you need to add new promotion and sales strategies, as well as a technology infrastructure to support your growing business. 1. Invest in opportunities to differentiate your company You already know that, in order to compete against huge regional or national chains, you must differentiate your business. Initially, it was easy enough to set yourself apart by providing better quality service that led to repeat customers and word-of-mouth recommendations. But when you’re trying to take your business to the next level, quality service isn’t enough in and of itself. So how do you differentiate on a larger scale? Invest in marketing efforts tailored to your company’s strengths and specialties. Experienced HVAC tech and contractor Dave Miller recommends targeting a different audience than your competition through specialization. If larger companies put a lot of promotional efforts toward installing multi-split units, for instance, don’t try to outdo them — focus on something else. When you become the expert in a specific area of service, Dave explains, “you can easily craft your sales pitch to be more appealing.” Of course, you don’t need to stick to one specific service, but putting a lot of effort into one or two can help focus your marketing efforts. Dave also suggests marketing heavily to a specific region (what he calls the “sniper approach” where you can build up a strong reputation and people will get used to seeing your service vehicles and logo. As you grow, you can expand that area wider and wider. Facebook allows you to run ads on a specific zip code, which can be a good place to start this micro-local marketing. 2. Invest in SEO and CRO site optimization The majority of people want to work with a local company as opposed to a national chain, so they’re looking for a business like yours. But can they find you? A recent survey showed that 97% of people search for local businesses online and 85% of folks surveyed trusted online reviews as much as personal recommendations. In order to be found, your site needs to be optimized for local searches by using a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. As SEO expert Bradley Shaw explains, “Local SEO is essential for HVAC marketing. You need to be found in your city listings. It helps drive organic search traffic to your website. Organic traffic is ‘free traffic’.” Optimizing your site for local search includes things like: Figuring out what people in your area are searching for and making sure those search terms are found throughout your site Linking to your website from local listings such as Yelp, Angie’s List, and Google My Business. While there are simple things you can do on your own to increase your search rankings, to compete with larger businesses, especially chains, it’s worthwhile to invest in expert help. Even a one-time cost of a detailed SEO audit could help you generate dozens or hundreds of new inquiries each year. If you’re already on top of the SEO game, the next site investment with a big payoff is conversion rate optimization (CRO). How well is your site set up to convert site visitors into new customers? A CRO audit can show you different ways to improve your call-to-action on your site, which should always be linked to your online booking page. 3. Invest in technology that makes your job easier Are you equipped to handle a rush of new business? Even if you have a large enough team ready to handle the work, new customers mean more customer calls schedule, and estimates and invoices to write. Successfully growing your business relies on having scalable processes in place to handle this additional work. Step one is automating as many business processes as possible, such as automated invoicing and taking online payments. Step two is moving from separate management tools to one unified platform. When you’re stringing together different software — one for dispatching, another for invoicing, etc. — it requires lots of time and effort to get information from one app to another. This is what Housecall offers HVAC and other home service industries: one unified solution to manage your entire operation. And it doesn’t just make your life easier; it also adds value to your customers. For instance, Housecall offers new opportunities for customer engagement, such as live chat. Per one recent customer service survey, 79% of businesses polled said that offering live chat has increased sales, revenue, and customer loyalty. The secret to becoming a bigger business is thinking about what you’ll need in the long-term and making smart investments that will get you there. Investing in finding and securing new clients needs to coincide with infrastructure investments. Find new business, and be prepared to handle it. These three strategies are proven, time-tested investments that, when done well, will become central to your ongoing growth and success. With the right positioning, the right online presence, and the right technology, you’re set up to reach new heights. Download Field Guide: How to Hire & Grow HVAC Your HVAC Business Without the Headache
Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator
September 4, 2018 • Having a hard time finding good technicians? You’re not alone. The country’s unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in half a century, and fewer young people are going into skilled trade work. But don’t lose hope. Quality folks are out there. And, this guide is full of tips to help you find them, hire, train, and manage a successful team. Finding HVAC technicians First, let’s look at a couple of traditional ways companies find skilled technicians. Download Field Guide: How to Hire & Grow HVAC Your HVAC Business Without the Headache Placing job ads Place ads in local newspapers, on job sites, and hanging fliers in supply houses. This used to be the easiest way to get the word out to experienced candidates looking for a job. Nowadays, however, most skilled workers are already employed and not necessarily looking. With fewer skilled technicians on the market, you might need to employ other tactics in addition to the ads to ensure you have the best pick of candidates. Strengths: Ads — especially online — cast a wide net and can help you find folks that aren’t already in your network. Weaknesses: The downside of casting a wide net is that you end up with lots of responses from folks who are not a good fit. Either they’re not qualified or they are trained, but there’s a good reason why they’re unemployed. Tip: Techs might be looking for better rates or benefits, or more hours. Make your ad stand out by clearly stating what you have to offer over other local companies. Examples would be offering a guaranteed forty hours or dental insurance. Vocational schools With a shortage of skilled workers, companies are relying more heavily on HVAC schools for new hires. Strengths: Folks fresh out of school are cheaper, moldable, and eager to learn. You can start fresh instead of being forced to break bad habits and perspectives that don’t align with your company. Weaknesses: It can take months or years of on-the-job training to get a green worker to the same level as an experienced hire. Tip: Want to find the cream of the crop? Maintain friendships with the instructors and ask for introductions to their best students. Your network Even newer companies have connections, and it’s probably a wider network than you realize. Ask local contractors, suppliers, and other trade professionals that you work with to spread the word for you. If you’re a member of the local union, contact them, as well. Don’t forget that your network includes your current employees! In a recent survey, 35% of trade companies hired technicians based off of employee referrals. Strengths: Other trade professionals are likely to know—and be able to vouch for—good workers. Weaknesses: This approach is hit-or-miss, especially when few professionals are looking for work. Tip: Pay it forward by always being ready to connect professionals. When folks have earned work from your connections, they’ll be more prepared to help you out in turn. Hiring the right HVAC technician There’s a lot to consider about each candidate, including their work history, credentials and technical know-how, as well as their soft skills and how well they fit into your existing team. Taking the time to make the right hire will save you effort in the long run. Weed out candidates with a technical skills test You might not always have time to train someone and need a capable technician ready on day one. This is where a technical test comes in handy. Technicians can say whatever they want on their resume, but do they really know what they’re talking about? Weed out candidates with a written or on-site skills test. Check out example questions from the NOCTI Job Ready Assessment test. Contact multiple references Asking multiple references about a person’s work performance and character can give you a more honest and complete sense of how they’ll be on the job. HR expert Bruce Anderson recommends asking for the names and contact information from your candidate’s previous employers instead of simply asking for general references. Prioritize soft skills and a willingness to learn Companies often face the dilemma of prioritizing technical skills and experience or soft skills and personality fit. If you are able to do more on-the-job training, consider prioritizing soft skills — like customer service and promptness — over technical knowledge. According to soft skills trainer Steve Coscia, “more 80% of a mechanical worker’s future success will be based on his or her soft skills.” In the long run, it’s easier to teach a hard worker technical skills than it is to nurture a stronger work ethic. Personality assessment tests can help you discern whether a candidate would be a good fit for your company. Of course, a general aptitude for skilled trade work is necessary and isn’t for everyone. Candidates should at least be able to pass basic mechanical aptitude tests. Training HVAC technicians on the job No matter the experience level of your new hire, everyone will require some training, whether it’s understanding your specific company’s culture and expectations or on-the-job technical training. After you’ve made a hire, set clear expectations about what is expected of your employee in these first few months — and in general — from people that work for you. Train on technical and soft skills ACHR News recommends training new employees in four areas: mechanical skills, time management, customer service, and troubleshooting. For instance, even if they have a good understanding of HVAC systems and how to repair them, how good are they at troubleshooting for basic or advanced problems? These can be two very different skill sets. HVAC systems aren’t the only technology technicians need to be trained on. Have your new hire practice using your internal systems — such as updating arrival times, setting estimates, and invoicing — before they need to do these with your customers. Institute a trial period Set a 30 to 90 day trial period with clear expectations about what they should be able to do and understand by the end of the trial. Your new HVAC techs should also understand what will happen if they fail certain parts of their assessment. During this trial period, your new hire will do a mix of training and job shadowing and slowly taking on more of their own responsibilities. A well-documented trial period eases the process of letting someone go who isn’t do a good job. Offer incentives early on Offering incentives for hard work and exemplary service sets a precedent that good work is not just expected, but will be rewarded. Incentives — such as raises, bonuses, or time off — build goodwill and company loyalty and can counterbalance the anxiety of the trial period. Managing HVAC techs According to Steve Howard, founder of an HVAC training and consultant group, one of the top reasons that HVAC businesses close is the failure of the owner/technician to fully move into a managerial role. As you grow your business and your team, so do your responsibilities. So what does it take to manage a successful team? Encourage autonomy from Your employees The goal is to employ a team of technicians that are capable of managing themselves. When you’re confident your team can do their jobs without being micromanaged, you can focus on the big picture. Hold each team member accountable for their performance through weekly or monthly required reports. When these reports are available to the entire team, individuals can track their performance compared to that of their co-workers. Be honest and transparent about how they are performing individually and collectively. Maintain incentives for good performance Incentives aren’t just for new hires. Matt Michel, CEO of Service Roundtable, explains, “Pay wages for time on the job and you will get time on the job. Pay incentives for productivity and that’s what you will get.” He goes on to explain that incentives don’t have to be financial. Recognition can be just as rewarding. Bruce Breeden, founder of Field Service Resources, LLC, suggests offering incentives for advanced training, such as licenses and credentials. Use the right tools The right technology can make managing a team simple and efficient. Keep track of your team with a live map. Keep them up-to-date about new service requests and changes to old jobs with a centralized scheduling and dispatch tool. These tools should be easy-to-use for you and your team. Making the most out of each employee is critical to the success of your business. Throughout the entire process — from hiring to managing employees — honest and clear expectations, and a willingness to train and reward each industrious person will pay off.
Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator
August 20, 2018 • We all use different tricks to keep track of our money. In our personal lives, it’s a necessity; after all, you can’t spend money on airfare to Hawaii if you need it to pay the rent. Well, the same thing applies to those of us who run businesses. As much as we’d like to cash a customer’s check and blow it on some new equipment or a nice vacation, we have to pay our employees, take care of the bills, and ensure financial stability if we want to stay in business. Here’s just a sample of what you likely have to deal with financially just to maintain a state of normalcy, month-to-month: Employee salaries Employee benefits Rent on facilities Monthly payments for vehicles Vehicle fuel Vehicle maintenance Supplies Marketing Cell phone Bank fees Insurance Taxes That’s a pretty long list, but it’s really only a sample. Consider what happens when you have exceptionally big jobs or have to hire new employees. The additional paperwork, bills, and outgoing finances could add substantially to this list. The key to successfully managing your money is to be organized. OK, that’s easier for some of us than others. But here are some things you can begin to do right now to make the job of financial management easier for you while helping you prepare your company for long-term success: Separate business and personal expenses First off, you need separate bank, checking, and credit card accounts for your personal and business expenses. Believe me, if you don’t, your life could get very complicated. For one thing, you need to be careful about what you’re paying for. If you blend your finances and pour it all into your business, you might end up with nothing left to keep your house and family expenses. And if you spend on personal expenses from your business account, you could find yourself unable to compensate employees on payday. Pay your bills on time. And every time. When you pay your bills on time, you benefit in two key ways: 1) your credit score is improved, and you may need credit, later on, to make purchases and grow the business; and 2) the vendors you work with seeing you as reliable and low-risk. Someday, if you need a break from them or want to negotiate a deal, you will have already established yourself as a trustworthy partner. Some key ways to ensure you don’t miss bills include: Schedule reminders for yourself to pay the bills once/week or twice/month. Whatever works for you is fine, but just ensure they are paid on time. Auto-pay is a great way to address bills that are regular (monthly, bi-monthly) and usually in the same amount. Have a reliable “to do” box. Some of us need physical reminders, so get a good spot on your desk, put the bills in there, along with a reminder to “pay by Tuesday." Set savings goals You’re running a business to make money and create a strong financial foundation for yourself. To do that requires you to set aside money for the future, and that means you have to save some of what you earn. You may have heard the term, “Pay yourself first.” Well, it’s totally applicable here. Determine a reasonable amount you expect to have after paying your bills, your salary, and a cushion against unplanned expenses. Take that and put it into a savings or low-risk investment account like a bond or index fund. Maybe sure you do it every month; it may even be helpful to calendar that as a monthly action item. Get the right insurance Insurance is a necessary expense, but having the right kind of insurance could prevent financial catastrophe in the future. You should consult a trusted insurance or financial advisor, but the key types of insurance include: Auto insurance on all your vehicles. General liability insurance to protect against damages you or your employees might allegedly cause to a third-party. Worker’s compensation insurance for employees who get injured. Errors and omissions insurance in case a customer sues you for failing to comply with a contract. Property insurance if you own or rent your own facility. These are just some of the types of insurance available to you. And don’t worry, while this may seem like a lot of different pieces, most businesses can bundle many of these for very low monthly premiums. Watch your expenses You will need to pay for supplies and other things that enable you to deliver excellent service, but be smart about how you spend. Get to know your suppliers so you can negotiate bulk deals or lower rates for being a frequent buyer. Make sure you don’t fall in love with the latest gadgets just because they look cool; that’s a sure-fire way to burn an unnecessary hole in your pocket. Also, if you perform maintenance on the things you have, you’ll ensure longevity and cut costs in the long run. Watch employee’s expenses You likely need employees to make purchases on their own to fulfill jobs. That’s all totally fine, but you have to make sure you have an accounting of those expenses. Rather than rely on employees to hand deliver receipts, give them expense cards that have a cap on the amount they can spend. That will help you maintain accurate, real-time records of what’s been purchased, and will enable you to have authorization power for big-time expenses. Get paid You’re running a business and you should be paid for the work you do. Granted, some customers don’t or can’t pay for jobs immediately upon completion, but you need to have contractual requirements (net-30, net-60) and then track them. If a customer hasn’t paid in time, you need to call them up with a reminder. Be diplomatic and kind, but don’t let customers go too long without paying you. Set reminders in your calendar and make sure you’re getting paid what you are owed. Use the right tools You can’t keep track of bills and invoices with Post-It notes. Do yourself a huge favor and invest in tools that automate much of this kind of work. Expensify gives you an easy-to-use tool to pay bills, while Housecall Pro can help you send and track invoices all from a single interface. It’s not easy to maintain your accounts when you have so many moving parts. Even for a small, simple business, you’re looking at accounts payable and receivable as a continuous, multipart thing you need to manage. Whether or not business finances are something you enjoy or are good at, they are a “have to”.
Pat Flanders, Guest Author
August 4, 2018 • Your website isn’t just a marketing tool, it’s also a relationship builder. A site that stands out among the competition is one that clearly depicts a company visitors want to work with. We’ve broken down the components of a service business website that not only help convert site visitors into clients but also reflect who you are and what you value. Each section is filled with tips on how to get your business found online, establish trust and introduce the personal elements about your business. 1.Personal, professional branding Branding is arguably the most important aspect of any site. Everything from the color and layout you choose to the site’s images and text offer visitors a first impression of your business. You want that impression to be professional and memorable. What do you care about or do better than the competition? Use a logo and tagline that are memorable and unique to you. Especially when people are shopping around for different services, offering more than the standard stock photography and generic list of services will help them remember and return to your site. 2. “About Us” section offering a real glimpse into company Home owners want to know what it would be like to work specifically with you. In a survey about local business websites, 46% polled were more likely to trust a business that included an image of the business owner, so be sure to include images of yourself and your team. 3. A call to action linked to an online booking form You want to make it as easy as possible for people to contact and book your services. Your primary contact information should be easy to find on your site. Encourage clients to contact you or book a cleaning with a strong call-to-action (CTA). Make sure your CTA links to your online booking page. According to a recent survey, 70% of consumers prefer to book through a website, Yelp, or Facebook page, rather than on the phone. Using online booking is a way to make it easier for your customers to utilize your services. It shows that you care about their time and convenience. 4. Other convenient ways to contact you Communication is one of the most important aspects in building a relationship between your business and a customer. While an online booking page is an important means of communicating with customers, it can’t be the only way. Even if 70% of consumers want to book online, that still leaves 30% who prefer other options. Make sure you have other contact info available and easy to find for folks who want to contact you directly. To foster a happy relationship with your customers, don’t ignore the importance of providing a phone number or address where people can contact you directly or reach you immediately if there’s an emergency. 5. SEO optimization via your unique offerings Building a great website is just the first step. Now you have to help people find it, and that’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in. The most important step is using the right keywords throughout your site that people search for when they’re looking for house cleaning services. To find out what people are searching for in your area, search for house cleaning and the name of your local region. Google will offer other popular related searches. For instance, keywords for Denver would include prices, deep house cleaning, move out cleaning services, and apartment cleaning. Next, identify the search terms that describe what your business is best at and make sure you have that information on your site. Stand out (to both Google and to customers) by offering detailed descriptions about these terms. For instance, you don’t want to simply say you provide move out cleaning services. You want to explain why your move out cleaning services are unique. 6. Transparent testimonials & customer reviews Adding testimonials from your current clients can do wonders to secure new bookings. Customers want to hear from other customers. For instance, one company, raised their online sales by 35% when they added reviews. And a survey about consumers searching for local businesses found that 84% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from people they know. These online reviews shouldn’t just come from testimonials on your website. Customers expect to be able to find your company in business directories, such as Google My Business, Angie’s List and Yelp. Having your business listed in these places offers legitimacy to your company, increases your site’s ranking in web searches, and shows a willingness to be transparent about your services. Follow and respond to all reviews of your business. This shows that you’re willing to listen and communicate, two values that can go a long way to meeting the concerns of homeowners. 7. Warm invitation to new customers Consider offering a new customer discount as a way of sending a warm welcome for folks to try out your business. This discount will pay off in long run. Most satisfied customers won’t balk at the price increase for continued service. American Express found that seven out of ten consumers will spend more on businesses that deliver exemplary services. 8. Resource hub for site visitors and existing customers When you add a blog to your website, you turn it into a resource hub about your business and your areas of expertise. Blogs can help with SEO and branding and can help you show off the things you know best. It can also add new value to long-standing customers. Especially when you offer online bookings, you’re already giving clients a reason to continue visiting your site. Reward them by adding current-customer-only special deals and promotions into your blog. 9. Add a personal touch to everything on your site Make sure that your site’s history and values are listed either on the homepage or an “About Us” page. Anytime you add something new to your site — whether its a new offer or a new blog post — ask yourself if it sounds like you and reflects your values. It’s small personal touches that will truly make your site stand out to visitors. Whether you have an existing site you’re looking to improve or building a new one from scratch, you can use these nine tips as a check-off list to ensure your site has everything customers are looking for.
July 31, 2018 • Residential cleaning services is an expanding market. Franchised residential cleaning services alone pull in $865 million and are growing around 3% each year. With growth comes new competition. So how can you stay on top? What follows are eight statistics and trends to keep you informed about changes in the industry and ways to expand your business. 1. Specialty services allow cleaning businesses to differentiate Although the home cleaning industry is fragmented, major players still dominate much of the landscape. The top 50 cleaning companies generate about 30% of the revenue for the entire industry. Sometimes, offering quality service isn’t enough on its own. When there’s high competition in a local area, it’s often the best-known and the cheapest home cleaning businesses that stand out. Companies must differentiate to survive and grow. One way that home cleaning businesses are standing out amongst the competition is by offering specialty services — such as home cleaning for pet dander or reducing household allergens. This is especially true online. Adding specialty services allows you to rank higher in local searches by adding more keywords that people often search for. The other major benefit of specialty services: you can charge more. While the national hourly rate for standard home cleaning services run from $25 to $90 per hour, many specialty services such as carpet cleaning and window cleaning come with higher rates, averaging $150 to $200 per hour. 2. Businesses will grow largely through upsells Finding new clients is often a much more expensive and time-intensive process than adding new value to existing clients. In fact, studies have found that acquiring a new customer costs 5x as much as retaining one. On top of that, existing customers are 51% more likely to try new products/services and 31% to spend more money when compared with new customers. Where specializing can help you find new customers, upsells target your current customers, enabling you to get more value out of existing relationships. With growing and fierce competition, incremental revenue will drive growth for many cleaning companies. One upsell tactic is encouraging clients to move to a more expensive cleaning package — such as a more frequent cleaning schedule or a package offering more services. Another tactic is selling customers on one-time offers. Customers often have cleaning needs they might not think to ask for — things outside of your normal contract, such as a once-a-year garage cleaning or spring cleaning. Cleaning Business Today suggests twelve promotions you can offer your existing customers throughout the year, such as a deep clean of the kids’ rooms or porch cleaning. 3. Millennials are driving demands for “green” and “eco-friendly” cleaning services The “green” trend is nothing new. But it appears to be growing across nearly every industry, thanks mostly to millennials and their shopping habits. A study from Nielsen found that 75% of respondents prioritize--and are willing to pay more--for products and services that are environmentally sustainable. For cleaning services, this means a shift toward eco friendly cleaning products as well as cleaning practices that minimize waste. 4. The gig economy is driving recruitment and staffing Is your business growing? Now is the perfect time to be looking for part-time help. According to Bankrate, 44 million Americans have a “side hustle.” Who’s looking for side gigs? Younger millennials (ages 18-26) are the most likely to have a side job to pull in extra cash and typically earn less from their side job than older side hustlers. However, even retirees are looking for extra spending money. Nearly seven in ten women use a side hustle to pay for expenses compared to the four out of ten men polled. 5. Marketing technology will separate winners and losers If you’re looking for new customers, word of mouth will only get you so far. More consumers are relying on the Internet to find local services. In 2017, 97% of consumers looked for local businesses online. A website is a necessity for a home cleaning business, but having a site is not a complete promotional strategy. Small businesses also need marketing tools, such as Facebook or Google ads, to help them gain an advantage over their competition. When potential customers do ask their friends for recommendations, they often do so online. Take advantage by having a professional presence — complete with contact information and other valuable info — that your customers can link to. 6. Online reviews force transparency and competition There’s no hiding bad or unreliable service anymore. Negative reviews can go viral and have a major impact on your business. What should you do if you receive a negative review? Respond professionally. According to a recent survey, over half of consumers expect a business to respond to a negative review within seven days. It will show that you’re listening and that you care. On the flip side, positive reviews can be a major asset in growing your business. The same survey found that more than 60% of consumers read business reviews on Google. 7. Online booking, text message alerts, and other non-verbal communications are non-negotiable More and more cleaning services are using online platforms to manage and run their business more effectively. These platforms save business owners time when it comes to managing appointments and invoices, but that’s not the only reason to use one. Customers have come to expect technology-enabled services, such as text notifications and online booking. In fact, over a third of consumers are more likely to start services with a business that offers online booking. 8. Customers spend nearly 20% more when they can pay with credit card Each year, fewer individuals prefer paying cash or check. Cash and check payments are expected to decrease by 24% and 46% in 2018. Accepting credit card payments is especially important if you serve a younger clientele. Nearly 70% of millennials won’t shop at a store that doesn’t accept credit, debit, or mobile payments. This preference is bleeding into the services industry, as well. Accepting credit cards not only makes customers happy — they also spend more. Customers will spend on average 18% more on the same purchase when they pay via a credit card. Online payments also save you valuable time. Depositing a check just takes longer. Accepting credit cards can reduce the amount of time it takes to get paid by up to two weeks, as well as reducing trips to the bank. These trends are driving change in the industry, but it doesn’t need to be scary. Between new technology and service opportunities, there are plenty of ways to expand your business and build customer loyalty. To take advantage of most of these shifts, you just need strong online presence and business platform to maintain and grow your home cleaning business.
July 25, 2018 • We’ve talked about branding, customer service, and advertising. But guess what? All the effort you put into these things can be wiped out if a customer has a bad experience with one of your employees. Even a polite employee can create a problem if he isn’t prepared or shows up late. As a business owner, your responsibility is to put your employees in a position to show their best work and reflect positively on your brand. One of the most effective ways of doing this is through smart scheduling of employees and the work they do. When people are put into situations where they are successful, a lot of good things happen. Customers see a motivated, skilled person taking their work seriously. That is probably the most valuable validation and will help earn you repeat business and word-of-mouth approval. But the employee is also rewarded because he or she is doing something they are good at, and that generates a positive feedback loop that encourages them even more. It helps with employee retention and job satisfaction, which ultimately makes your life easier. The reality, however, is that your jobs and customers are different, and your employees don’t operate in a one-size-fits-all model. The woman who’s skilled at wood refinishing may not have as much experience when it comes to sheetrocking - don’t put her on jobs where sheetrocking is required. Or, you might have a customer who likes a quiet house and minimal interaction while jobs are being done; putting “Loud Larry” on a job at this guy’s house would be a disaster. At the most basic level, it’s best to operate off the principle of: For every job, assign the person who is best equipped to create a successful outcome. Here are things you need to consider when figuring out the best way to maximize employee effectiveness: Skill set: You have smart, skilled people working for you, but not every employee is good at every task. That means the actual work itself needs to be matched to what the employee is competent at. You probably have some generalists who can handle most jobs, but on staff are likely people who have unique capabilities. Make sure you know what they are capable of and find ways to get them work where they can highlight those skills. That will demonstrate your commitment to them, and it will impress customers who will benefit from quality, specialized work. For these people, either place them on projects where there is a natural fit, or try to up-sell customers on additional work where these employees’ skills can be be especially valuable. Working with customers: Some people love to press the flesh while others want to be left alone to get to work. It’s important that you know both your employees’ ability to connect with people and the types of customers you have. Some customers want a connection - for those people, get your outgoing types on the job. Others prefer to have the job done quickly and with as little intrusion into their life. Those gigs are probably better suited to employees who are introverts and not as likely to randomly strike up conversations about their recent fishing trips. Just like any relationship, it’s important to know personalities of your customers and employees and match them up accordingly. Know your employee’s strengths: The Institute on Character published a study about worker happiness and engagement. They found that people do better work and are happier in their jobs when they are able to do things that map to their strengths. The first issue for you is to know the people who work for you. Don’t just presume that someone is good because you’ve never had any complaints about him or her. Make time to talk with them about the work they prefer and how they approach customers. Get time to watch them in action. It will help you in the long run if you can avoid putting square pegs into round holes. Implement training: You’re not doing anyone any favors if you allow employees to be stagnant. It’s important to identify both tactical and customer service traits that you want employees to demonstrate to customers, and work with them to improve. Through regular training, mentoring, and feedback, you can help your team get better at the work they do and the way they perform it. This type of training is hugely valuable for employees and shows that you’re willing to make a commitment to them; it’ll be great for retention. Your team is the most valuable piece of your business. While you’re investing in marketing, equipment, technology and other parts of your business, don’t neglect the simple aspects of helping people be successful, which in turn, will help make your business more successful.
July 20, 2018 • We're introducing a new "Send Invoice" screen on the Housecall Pro app, for both technicians and admins. This will give you and your team access to more options and settings that are available on the web portal. It's currently available to all Android users. If you're using an iPhone, this feature will be available to you later this week. Invoice Settings - Field Techs If your company allows customers to pay their invoices online by default, your field techs will have the ability to send an invoice by text from their phone or tablet. If not, they will only be allowed to send invoices by email. Invoice Settings - Admins As an admin, you're not only able to send an invoice by text or email, you'll also be able to edit the message that is included in the email, and choose whether or not to allow online payment on the invoice. Please note: to send an invoice by text, your settings to allow payment by credit cards must be turned on. Want to learn more about Housecall Pro: Click here.
Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator