Dirty Business Tactics to Watch Out For

Honest competition among plumbers is the ideal, but it’s not always the reality. Make sure you’ve protected yourself from the underhanded games unethical competitors might try.

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The internet has made great strides in leveling the playing field for businesses in competition with one other. But as with any open ocean, there are sharks.

From corporate America down to the local level, businesses are conducting warfare using dirty tactics that you should be aware of and take steps to protect yourself from.

Cyber-Squatting

Cyber-squatting for our purposes here is when a competitor buys domain names that are similar to yours, but that are still for sale. For example, say you bought www.joesplumbing.com for your plumbing, heating, and air conditioning business. A competitor comes along and buys joeplumbing.com, joeysplumbing.com, joesheating.com, joesservices.com, joesairconditioning.com, etc. He then redirects all the traffic to those domains to his company’s website.

This is illegal but in most cases the damage is already done by the time you catch on. You should buy the domain names that you think someone might try and steal, and make sure you keep up with the payments. Companies have the ability to wait and buy them the second they go up for sale.

Garbology

This one seems a little ridiculous, but there are companies out there that will pay people to go through your trash. They can either pay a professional or pay a “dumpster diver,” as they are called. Yes, garbologist is a real profession.

Think of the wealth of information that can come from someone’s trash — invoices, pricing, customer names and addresses, bid documents, personal documents, financial sheets, forms, processes, credit card information, the possibilities are endless. This is a huge industry where competition is high. Why do you think corporate America is willing to pay so much money for on-site commercial shredders and fenced-in garbage compactors that are locked? It is that serious. Consider taking similar steps for your business.

Fake Reviews

We have all been plagued by this. Competitors are going online, starting fake email accounts, and leaving fake reviews about how horrible your services are. Not unlike how you crafted a fake positive review using a family member’s email account. Go ahead and admit it — it works both ways.

Online reviews are the new lifeblood of the service business and it sometimes hurts our industry because no one is ever super happy to see the bill that comes with calling a professional plumbing company. Everyone gets online and leaves great reviews for the new burger joint downtown. Rarely will anyone leave a positive review for a plumber unless asked. So we need to start asking. Don’t ask just anyone, though, since it’s easy for people who are angry to get on a rant when writing a review. We can even the scales by only asking happy customers for online reviews. You would be surprised how many five-star reviews you get when you only ask the super happy customers for reviews.

Trolling via Telephone

Another competitor trick is to try and waste the time of your office staff during peak busy seasons. Companies will call and ask questions about parts, installation methods, pricing, service fees, etc. Some services companies are even starting to call competitors and use fake names and addresses to claim an emergency, just so they can throw their competitor off the day’s schedule and redirect technicians. They ask that the technician call ahead of arrival, and when the technician does, they say, “Oh, never mind. I found someone else who could get here faster.”

They also will call and price shop competitors. “How much is it to install a 40-gallon gas water heater?” If your secretary actually answers this question, they take note and adjust their prices accordingly. They will use your price as a weapon against you.

Make it a practice to vet calls the best you can, never give prices over the phone, and make sure you get credit card numbers in advance when dealing with an emergency customer who you’ve never done business with before. It may sound crazy to those of us who have been in business for a while, but companies are doing it. They will run your card for the service call before dispatching someone to your house. There is a good reason for that.

Trolling via Internet

The internet has provided every person in the world the means to be able to attack your business in real time. You think it is a great idea to send out a preservice email that includes the technician’s first name and last initial? Or possibly his/her full name with a bio page about certifications and expertise? What if your competitor schedules a furnace inspection at his own house under a different name, and when he gets your email, he attempts to steal your technician? It happens, especially in big markets.

Do your employees have Facebook accounts? Can they access work emails from their personal email accounts? A simple Trojan Horse virus can allow a paid hacker to infiltrate any and all of your employees’ emails and documents.

Pay a professional to set up a system in which office staff can only access company emails and files from the office, and have your tech person make it so that emails cannot be forwarded to anyone not on a set list of administrators. Make your employees sign a social media clause. Also, think carefully about sending a preservice email with any technician info. If your competitor wants to steal an employee the old-fashioned way, then so be it. He will at least have to work for it.

A Final Word

If you’ve never been the victim of any of the above methods, this all may come across as excessive paranoia. But unfortunately in the competitive world of business, there are those willing to employ dirty tactics to gain an edge. It’s important to be aware of what unscrupulous competitors might try to pull against you.

About the Author

Anthony Pacilla is a registered master plumber for McVehil Plumbing in Washington, Pennsylvania. He has 22 years' experience in the plumbing and HVAC trades, and has a bachelor’s in business and economics from Thiel College. 



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