Place a Priority on Professionalism

It’s easy to say you want to maintain a professional image, but it’s more difficult to consistently do all the things that entails on a daily basis. Here are the approaches a few companies take to ensure customers are getting their best.

Place a Priority on Professionalism

Russell Joe Jr., owner of Quality Sewer & Drain Cleaning in Danvers, Massachusetts

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Professionalism is key in this industry. That probably goes without saying, but it’s worth emphasizing as it’s easier said than done. While many plumbers are able to properly execute that concept of professionalism, others aren’t and their business suffers as a result.

Observing a lack of professionalism from a contractor was the very reason Russell Joe Jr., owner of Quality Sewer & Drain Cleaning in Danvers, Massachusetts, got started in the business in the first place. Joe was with a friend who had called on a drain cleaner to fix a sewer problem. As he watched, he says he was astonished at not only the lack of professionalism exhibited by the contractor, but also the mess that was left behind.

“And the company didn’t even investigate to see what the cause of the problem was,” Joe says. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow, you can throw a snake down a drain and not do an inspection and walk away with that kind of money?’ I figured I could do the job 10 times better, so I dove in.”

For Joe, professionalism takes many forms. But none of it is all that complicated: Answer the phone. If you can’t, call back promptly. Show up neatly dressed, wearing company-logoed apparel. And clean up after yourself.

“Drain cleaning is messy work — no way around it,” he says. “But you don’t want to show up in jeans, sneakers and a Bud Light T-shirt. And even if you do great work, if you don’t clean up, the last thing a customer will remember is the mess you left.”

Great respect for customers’ time is part of The Waterworks’ approach to professionalism. It all starts in the company’s call center, where separate staffs are dedicated to answering service calls and dispatching technicians. Customer service reps also touch base with customers every couple hours to apprise them of technicians’ progress; that includes calling about a half hour before the technician’s expected arrival. Text and email is also used sometimes.

The Waterworks in Columbus, Ohio
The Waterworks in Columbus, Ohio

“We always want to be empathetic and sympathetic to our customers’ needs,” says David Specht, president of the company, based in Columbus, Ohio. “We strive hard to respect customers’ time. Our challenge is that we have 50-plus service trucks out there and running. It’s a tough, tough task, but a very important one.”

The Waterworks also offers online scheduling to make it easier for customers to make service appointments. 

“It’s all about convenience: People don’t want to make phone calls anymore,” Specht says. “They’re using their smartphones for everything. It’s how people operate, and I think our industry is behind on that. We’re trying to get more engaged in that process. But customers still get a telephone call back from us to confirm appointments.” 

The company also offers second-shift appointments for nonemergency work — from 4 to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday — at no extra charge. That way, for instance, if a husband and wife both work, no one has to take time off to come home for a service call, Specht says.

David Sierra, owner of El Plomero Latino (which translates to The Latin Plumber) in Orlando, Florida, does many of the traditional things to portray a professional image. Technicians wear uniforms; drive newer, well-lettered trucks; call customers to notify them about arrival times; and thoroughly explain the scope of work required while providing various options. To further cater to an underserved market in El Plomero Latino’s service area — Latino customers who have difficulty speaking English — the company’s technicians are bilingual.

“I try to go the extra mile to give customers what they need and treat them the way I’d want to be treated. I wanted to do more than just go to a house, do the work, give the customer an invoice and walk away,” Sierra says. “In this day and age, you need to stand above your competitors. And that’s what I’m trying to do.

David Sierra
David Sierra

“We want to provide personalized service, with full communication. We never want to leave a job site if customers still have questions. And the ability to speak to them in Spanish is huge, as many of these customers would rather work with someone they can understand better — someone who can understand exactly what they need.”

A company that is in tune with maintaining a professional image will be attentive to feedback and more likely to take steps to accentuate customers’ positive perceptions and remedy negative ones, says Jim Aanderud, a business coach and consultant with The TUIT Group and formerly owner of a pipeline inspection company.

“In some industries, the potential client base numbers in the millions. If one customer is dissatisfied, the consequences may be minimal because there are millions more to draw from,” Aanderud says. “In this industry, the customer base is much smaller. Instead of millions, there are perhaps hundreds of potential customers in a given market area. This changes the dynamic significantly: Each customer becomes much more valuable, and the loss of even one customer carries a much larger impact. 

"Finding new customers is a lot harder and much more expensive than keeping the ones we have. We only have one chance to make a good first impression. If we squander that chance in any way, we leave a negative perception that can be nearly impossible to change. On the other hand, companies that consistently perform well and project an image of competence find that customers want to continue hiring them.”


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