Charging Call-Out Fees For Providing Estimates

Some customers won’t budge from their expectation that estimates should be free, but you should never be afraid about properly valuing your time

Charging Call-Out Fees For Providing Estimates

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I'm going to begin with a brief look at car dealerships. Stick with me.

In the past, car dealerships would write down their best price on a piece of paper and give it to the customer. These days, most car salesmen refuse to let their customers leave with a written offer. Why do you think this changed?

History has taught car salesmen that customers will often take a written offer to the next dealership and demand that the price be beaten. After the price is beaten, the same customer will take the new offer to the next (or previous) dealership and demand that the new offer be beaten once again. And on and on.

Customers have haggled, nagged, and beaten salesmen up to the point where policies have been put in place to restrict the salesmen from giving written offers and allowing this practice to continue.

Do you think that this type of customer only exists in the world of car sales? In every industry, there are some customers who will force business owners and salesmen to fight each other through a discount war until little or no profit remains, and sometimes these business owners will even take a loss on the deal for one reason or another.

We all know that the plumbing industry is competitive, but should plumbers feel the need to lower their value in order to earn a transaction? Is your time worth less for one customer than another? Are you so desperate that you're willing to lose money? Does it not bother you to throw away profit?

Here’s another situation: A customer calls you to their home and picks your brain about the problem for half an hour. You explain what must be done and what parts you’re going to need. They thank you for your time and promise to call you when they’ve made up their mind.

Shortly after you leave, Mr. Customer watches a tutorial on YouTube and purchases the parts. They figure it out on their own and save themselves $200. I admire DIYers and I respect saving money, but I don’t want to lose time and money out of my pocket because they were feeling handy that day.

And what about the tire kickers? The people who are simply curious about what a job may cost for when and if they ever decide to proceed with it? They know that they're not planning on moving forward today, tomorrow, or this week. But they wouldn't dare tell that to the hopeful plumber before he provides his quote. These people usually know that they don't immediately intend on moving forward with the job, and they either don't consider or care about the cost of a plumber’s time and gas in driving to the appointment and pricing the work.

Sure, these customers may move forward with the work in the future. But what happens if they decide to move forward with the job a year later? Look how much the dollar inflated in the last year. Are you still going to honor that price? The customer will likely expect you to.

Some of you may say that you don't waste time or gas because you price jobs over the phone. But I wonder how you can accurately price a job without seeing it. Has a customer never misled you about the necessary work? Has a project never evolved into something more demanding than discussed? Has every customer been honest and accurate 100% of the time?

If you answered no to any of these questions, what do you do in these situations? Do you swallow the loss? Do you charge more than discussed over the phone? One way or the other, at least one of you is disappointed. And in today's day and age, where positive reviews are gold, you want to avoid disappointing customers at all costs.

While discussing call-out fees with my dad recently, he told me that he would only deal with businesses that provide free estimates. He told me a story about three companies that came to provide estimates and how he had a negative experience with each one of them. None of them provided a quote right away, and two of them ghosted his calls. I could be missing something, but it simply sounded like unprofessional individuals running questionable businesses.

I told my dad that you get what you pay for and that anyone who would drive 45 minutes to his country home for free probably has reasons for being so desperate, but he wasn't having it. Anyone who wants his business should be willing to quote for free, he thinks. They should be willing to drive out to his home for free. They should be willing to burn their gas. They should be willing to lose a couple of valuable hours. They should be willing to wear down their vehicle and cover the insurance at a loss.

At the end of the day, there will likely always be plumbers who are willing to give free estimates, and there will always be customers who exclusively deal with said plumbers. There's a market, and there are suppliers. It's up to you.

Personally, at John the Plumber, we like to see a bit of commitment on the customer's part. If they're willing to pay a small service fee, then they're likely willing to move forward with the work. We're not trying to trap them into a deal. We're just trying to make sure that every time and resource is accounted for and that nothing is wasted. Any reasonable customer should understand and respect that. Ultimately, we like to deal with reasonable customers.

Whatever you choose to do with your business, I wish you the best of luck, and I hope that it works for you. To each his own. Just remember that it's not a disservice to charge for a service provided. Figuring out a problem and pricing the work is a big part of the job. Whether you're charging for that time, experience, and knowledge upfront, or you're hiding it in the price of the work, it's still being paid for. And if you're sincerely not charging for it, then you're giving away time. And time is money.

About the Author

Jacob Romano is the digital marketing manager for John The Plumber, based in Ottawa, Ontario, since 2006. The company serves much of Ontario, including Manotick, Ajax, Brockville, Mississauga, Burlington, Hamilton, Etobicoke, and Kingston. Visit


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