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Housecall Pro blog

Everything you need to succeed as a Home Services company in a digital world.

INDUSTRY: Small business

Can't Compete on Price? That's Okay. Here's What to Do Instead

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

The ROI of Quality Field Service Software

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.

EJ Brown

The-ROI-of-Quality Field Service Management

8 Money Management Hacks

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

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Anatomy of a Service Business Website That Grows Customer Trust [Infographic]

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.

EJ Brown

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Keys to Ensure Employee and Customer Satisfaction

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.  

Pat F

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Remote HQ: How to Be Productive When You’re On-The-Go and in the Field

July 18, 2018 • I spoke at a local high school career day recently, and when I asked one young man what he wanted to do as a career, he replied, “I mostly just want to have a huge desk in an awesome office.” In high school, I wasn’t all that different, and in the mind of a 16 year-old, you can see the appeal. But if you’re a small business owner, especially one who spends most of his time in the field, you know that there is no corner office; for you, work gets done wherever you are. With today’s easy-to-use mobile technology, the new headquarters is remote and on the go. A phone, some supplies, the right apps, your vehicle, and you’ve pretty much got what you need to get business, service customers, and get paid. Of course, there is paperwork to be done and calls to be made; those things are all critical to generating new business and taking care of the business you have in front of you. Because you’re on the road or at job sites most of the time, you rarely have time, space, or the resources to get everything done. The key for you is to rethink your workspace and embrace the idea of the remote headquarters. People operate in a much more agile way these days, and this works to your advantage. The tools required to be successful look a lot different in today’s world, but by employing the right tools in the right way, you will drastically cut down on costs and other logistics issues, and you’ll simplify your life so you can focus on the activities that make you money. Let’s look at what you need to be productive (average cost included): Smartphone: As you already know, you’re on the phone all the time. It’s not just for communication, but as we’ll see, it’s pretty much for any and every activity you’re involved in. Make sure you negotiate an unlimited call and text plan with your network provider, and if possible, spring for unlimited data. An iPhone 8 is $700, which you can pay interest-free in monthly installments over two years. That’s $29/month + approximately $75 monthly fee = $104/month. Good earbuds: You’re going to be on the phone a lot. Get ones that are comfortable. The highest rated earbuds on Amazon are $20 Apps: I’ve installed apps on my phone that let me scan/store/fax documents, bill customers, maintain a history of invoices and bills, do payroll, pay bills, chat with employees, and create/deliver/track marketing emails. Get those apps and make it a habit of using them; later in the blog, I’ll point out some of the features of the Housecall Pro app, which may end up being the most valuable one you use. At most, you’ll pay $10 - $20 for lifetime usage of the apps you need. Let’s just call this a $20 cost. Big, well-made bag: Welcome to your new office. Get a solid, durable bag and pack it with cell phone chargers, laptop (if you use one), the folders for active projects, pens, pencils, paper, stamps, envelopes, water, and Advil (for those rough days). A RedOxx bag is $175. This Asus laptop is among the highest rated on Amazon and is only $319. Everything else you need might set you back $30. There, quite literally, is your toolkit for being productive while you’re in the field or catching up when you have some down time. You need to also throw in some process so you have a strategy for being productive while you’re in the field. So, when you’re operating out of a remote HQ, put these things into place to stay on track and focused: Contacts: Make sure all your customers and hot prospects are in your phone contacts. TIP: Add information about the contact in the “notes” field. That way, if you forget the person’s name, you can search on the terms you remember, for example, “Red house, rotting roof shingles." Customer response: Calling back customers is easy to put off. We often say, “I’ll get to it when I’m back in the office.” Later never seems to come, so carve out time regularly (doesn’t need to be every day), put it on your calendar, and force yourself to make calls. TIP: You already know this, but if you ignore customers, they will ignore you. Make the calls you need to make. Schedule: You have a calendar. It may be paper-based, it may be in your smartphone, it may be on Post-Its. I’m not judging, but unless you have a personal assistant reminding you when and where to go, you are going to miss stuff if you don’t abide by your calendar. TIP: Schedule everything, including phone calls. Also, put alerts on everything you schedule so you won’t miss them. Billing/invoicing: You don’t work for free, so make a billing app your friend. The Housecall Pro app, for example, allows you to create invoices on the fly and deliver automatically to customers. It also keeps track of all invoices so you know what has and hasn’t been paid. It’s an accounting system that automates most of the work. TIP: Deliver your invoice immediately to the customer after the job is done so you don’t forget. Automate marketing: Put your contacts to use and use an automated approach to creating good-looking, trackable marketing materials (like emails and postcards that go out in the U.S. Mail). TIP: Read our blog about marketing and customer loyalty. OK, so you may not have that corner office with the huge desk that teenagers think is so swell, but who needs it? When you get to meet with people every day, do interesting work, and be up and around, you know that being tied to a desk is no fun at all. Doing all these things with purpose and a plan will make your working hours more productive and your non-working hours more relaxing.  

Pat Flanders, Guest Author

Cafe

How Virtual Receptionists Increase Your Business

June 4, 2018 • Running a home services business is not like running just any small business. To be sure, life is plenty busy when you’re operating a local dance studio or tutoring center, but owners and operators of home services businesses have a unique constraint: you’re out of the office a lot. The better business is going, the more you’re absent from your desk.  And that means two things, primarily: a lot of work (estimates, invoices, receipts) waits till you get back to the office, and a lot of calls and emails are missed. Client management software that runs on your phone, like Housecall Pro, handles the first problem; virtual receptionists resolve the second.  If you’re not yet using a live answering service, here are 5 major ways it can help you increase new business and make your current clients happier. 1. Capture & qualify leads New leads are coming from referrals, Yelp, Google, Thumbtack, Facebook, and many other sources. You might even be paying for placement on these sites. When someone sees your business and calls about your services, if you don’t pick up, they’re off to call the next business. If they’re filling out web forms, often the company that wins the business is the first to respond. A receptionist service can ensure you’re responding to new leads as soon as they come in. A great receptionist service doesn’t just pick up the phone, though -- they also qualify the lead. Are they in your service area? Are they willing to pay your hourly rate? Do their service needs align with the services your business provides? These are just a few of the questions you can use to filter out the great leads from those that won’t convert to real clients. 2. Intake new clients So, your receptionists have captured and qualified the lead. Now what? It’s time to get that new client in your system. Identify the information you need from all new clients, like basic contact information, plus information that will help you build a quote or book their job. If you clean carpets, for example, you’ll likely need to know the carpet type, room size, whether pets or kids are present, and more.  Your receptionists can capture this information and pass it directly into your CRM or client management system. If you’ve created a client intake form within your CRM, your receptionists can complete and submit the form on behalf of each client. 3. Appointment booking & reminders Once a client has agreed to your fees, they’re going to want to book an appointment as soon as possible. Your receptionists can not only handle this step of the process, they can also call clients to remind them of upcoming appointments and maintenance reminders. If you really want to go the extra mile, nothing delights customers more than having a check-in call from a business. Remote receptionists can call recent clients you serviced and see how they’re faring. If they respond positively, this is an excellent opportunity to ask for a positive review on one of those sites that generates leads for your business. 4. Provide work status updates Some home-service work isn’t done in a day. Perhaps you’re a roofer, landscaper, or floor refinisher. It doesn’t necessarily have to be you following up with current clients to share work status updates. Are the new roofing tiles in? Bad weather coming and a job needs to be rescheduled? A virtual receptionist can make these calls for you while you tend to other matters that do actually require your personal attention. 5. FAQs & first-tier customer support Even when you’re available to take calls and return emails, that doesn’t mean answering them is the best use of your time. How many times a week do you field the same questions? Sure, the answers are on your website, but sometimes new leads want to hear them from a live person.  A remote receptionist armed with answers to common questions asked about your business can handle these inquiries. Not only can they answer questions from incoming callers, but they can also call people back. Just forward those emails to your receptionist service and ask them to make the calls on your behalf. Now, let’s talk about those calls from unhappy customers, because everybody gets them. The first step to soothing an irritated customer is to answer the phone and not let it go to voicemail. Nothing is more frustrating to customers than not feeling heard, or not being able to reach you. A virtual receptionist service ensures that your calls are always answered during business hours. The receptionist can take down all relevant information and send it to you or a member of your team to respond to as soon as you’re available. Another benefit here is that this buys you time to resolve the issue, rather than being put on the spot while the customer is on the phone. Choosing the right virtual receptionist service It’s important to note that not every live answering service offers lead qualification, new client intake, and outbound calls. Make sure you ask about these features when shopping around.  What’s special about Smith.ai Smith.ai virtual receptionists offers all of these services, and also integrates with Housecall Pro. Professional, U.S.-based receptionists answer, transfer, and return calls during your business hours, and all appointments are booked directly in your Housecall Pro account, so you’re fully in sync. What’s with the “ai” in the name? That stands for “artificial technology,” and it powers the following features: Automatic spam blocking of 20 million numbers Live call transfer requests via SMS and Slack Easy status changes via SMS (e.g., text “Do Not Disturb” when you arrive at work site) Instant call notes via email, SMS, or Slack Unlike most live answering services, billing is per-call, not per-minute. Leads who need to explain their work request in fine detail? New clients who need to complete an intake form? Existing clients who need a work status update? These calls can take 5 to 10 minutes or more. You get consistent billing when you’re charged per-call, and you never incur post-call wrap-up charges while the receptionist completes notes and appointment bookings. Every Smith.plan includes: Inbound & outbound calls Lead capture & qualification Appointment scheduling & reminders Customized call handling procedures for each business (and even each professional or technician on staff) Coverage Monday to Friday, 6AM to 6PM PST / 9AM to 9PM EST Call screening, prioritization, and VIP lists Instant call summaries and end-of-day reports Voicemails transcribed and sent to email or SMS With plans starting at $60/month, small businesses get the experience and quality of an in-house receptionist at a small fraction of the price.  Here’s what one of their long-time clients had to say: “I've worked with many answering services over the 7 years that I have been in business. This one is hands down, my favorite. The messages are clear and concise. They are great at handling clients. Fees are reasonable and realistic. I could not be happier.” - Cathy Green,  UpperCrust Laundry Get started with Smith.ai virtual receptionists If you’d like to sign up for Smith.ai, you may do so online at https://smith.ai, by phone at (650) 727-6484, or by email at support@smith.ai. Housecall Pro users get $50 off their first month with code HOUSECALL! This code can be used in combination with their 30-day/10-call free trial. Contact Smith.ai Questions about virtual receptionists? Wondering how it will work with your Housecall Pro account? Smith.ai support is available Monday through Friday between 6 AM and 6 PM PST at (650) 727-6484 or support@smith.ai.

Maddy Martin, Head of Marketing and Partnerships at Smith.ai

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