Offering Courtesy Inspections Could Land Bigger Jobs With Customers

With just a small investment in time, plumbers can enhance customer rapport — and boost profits

Offering Courtesy Inspections Could Land Bigger Jobs With Customers

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Quickly building a bond with customers is just as important as being a technically proficient plumber. To achieve this — and boost revenue in the process — plumbing sales trainer and consultant Charlie Greer of HVAC Profit Boosters in Fort Myers, Florida, suggests adopting a simple, but effective sales tool: a courtesy inspection.

By merely walking through a home for roughly 10 minutes or so and making a few simple repairs for free, plumbers build a level of trust that makes customers more comfortable about saying yes to fixing problems revealed by the inspection, says Greer, a former plumber for 15 years.

That’s much more effective than taking a quick look at the problem that prompted the service call, then pulling out the flat-rate pricing book. “If you do that, you’re likely to get a turndown,” he says.

“A courtesy inspection changes customers’ perception,” he explains. “You go from being someone who may or may not know what he’s doing to someone who does know what he’s doing — a professional who’s there to help. And if you find small things and fix them, customers are more inclined to listen because you actually helped them before you start talking about money or anything else.”

LOOK FOR CLUES

There are plenty of common things a plumber can check on and fix in a few minutes. For example, consider hair clogs in bathroom sink or tub drains, a loose toilet or toilet seat, a clogged or faulty faucet aerator, loose handles on faucets and valves, or a water-main cutoff valve that doesn’t work, to name a few.

Along the way, look for other signs of problems, such as a pie plate under a leaking kitchen sink P-trap or small plastic particles in an aerator cap that might indicate a deteriorating water heater. The goal is to add more tasks to the service call — not to pad the bill, but to fix problems that either the customer never gets around to addressing or that could become a larger problem in the future, Greer says.

“My average number of tasks per plumbing call was 3.4, even though you’re usually called in to fix one problem,” Greer notes. “Some of the problems you find have been there so long that the customer thinks they’re just part of the house.

“The goal is to find enough legitimate tasks so you can offer the customer a discount or even a service agreement that can pay for itself because some of these things the customer has to take care of sooner or later,” he continues. “Customers usually thanked me for pointing these things out and saving them money.”

NO TIME? NO EXCUSE

Some plumbers might object, saying that they simply don’t have time to do courtesy inspections. After all, time is money and working inspections into a service-call routine will, in the long term, result in fewer service calls. But Greer suggests plumbers need to adopt a different mindset: Make fewer call per day that are more profitable.

“It only takes about 10 minutes, so everyone has the time to do a courtesy inspection,” he contends. “If not, you’re actually dodging money. A bird in hand is worth two or three in the bush.

“I usually ran two or three calls a day and averaged $1,100 a call for work I could do right then, on the spot,” he continues. “I replaced a lot of toilets, faucets and valves and rebuilt, pulled and reset a lot of toilets. If a toilet isn’t secure to the floor, offer a pull-and-reset, plus a minor rebuild. And from there, it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to upgrading to a new toilet.

“I sold a lot of water heaters, too,” he adds. “A lot of people don’t know they need a new water heater. Overall, it’s not hard to get up to an $1,100-per-call average.”

A CONSISTENT PROCESS

Like so many things, timing is everything when it comes to conducting successful courtesy inspections. Plumbers should always first look at the immediate problem that spurred the service call, then calmly switch to inspection mode, Greer suggests.

“I would nonchalantly tell customers that I always look at the rest of the plumbing to see if there’s any free minor adjustments or repairs I can make,” he explains. “You need to be very matter-of-fact about it and jump into it — the timing is important. If you ask for permission, you’ll usually get a ‘no.’

“But the key is to first reassure customers that you’re going to solve the problem that they called you about.”

What if a customer objects to the courtesy inspection? After all, some customers don’t want a contractor going through their house. Others are skeptical enough to suspect a plumber is just looking for unnecessary work to build a more lucrative invoice.

Greer says he would tell customers their inspection refusal would be noted on the invoice. If they’d ask why, he’d tell them that it’s part of a formal process of documenting everything on a service call. “In many instances, then they say, ‘Well, just go ahead and do it,’” he notes.

During an inspection, it’s important to not appear anxious to find problems — or appear happy when you find them. Moreover, avoid quoting prices during the inspection, don’t go into a lot of detail about what you plan to do (which only invites objections) and don’t be overly talkative.

In short, keep it simple. As Greer observes, a properly performed courtesy inspection will help plumbers earn customers’ trust — and their business, too.  



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