Service calls are a large and important revenue generator for any custom installation business. In fact, those quick, “Can you come fix this?” or “I need a programming change” calls keep the trucks rolling and help many of us to stay in business in between the large projects. And there is an important cycle to the service call that must be maintained for us to continue to be successful in business: We do the work, we send a bill, the customer pays the bill, and the customer is happy and continues to think of us for all future needs.
Photo courtesy of thinkstock.com, Fuse
Most people are willing to pay for a service that they feel good about and that is fair and equitable. Say their TV was broken before some major event. You dispatched a tech in a timely manner. The tech arrived and fixed the issue. They got to watch their show. You send a bill. It’s warm and fuzzy all around. Happy ending. But other times people will pay a bill even when they are not feeling good about it and which they think isn’t fair. And often times they’ll do it without saying anything. But if they feel wronged or aggrieved enough, they probably won’t ever call us back. Sad ending.
As I prepare invoices now, I start running it through a mental filter I like to call WWJD: What Would John (me) Do? Essentially I ask myself, “If I were to get this bill, how would I feel about it?” Would I think it was fair? Would I feel like I was a valued customer? Would I understand why I was being charged for something? Would I want to continue doing business with this company? It’s a pretty simple barometer that often helps me to re-word things, clarify things, and sometimes adjust the price for things.
Different areas demand different service call rates, and I’m sure we’ve all had those times where we charged someone $70-100+ to go out and literally press a button (oh, Tape 2 Monitor! It’s like you were an ATM built into every receiver!) and sometimes those calls do justify a full-priced invoice. Other times, a bill requires a little massaging.
Here are the five items on my WWJD checklist that I assess before billing my clients:
Could I Fix It Over the Phone?
I do my darndest to help people resolve an issue on the phone before dispatching a tech. For one thing, it’s just easier to solve a problem and be done with it than to fold it into our busy schedule. If it is something simple like reboot a cable box, change the batteries in a remote, or making sure everything is on the right input and I can help them out on the phone, I’ll do it. That way if we do dispatch a tech and it does turn out to be one of those simple one-button-press fixes, the customer will at least know that we tried to help them before the service call and it helps to mitigate the bill. But you know the old saying…John can’t help those who won’t help themselves. I had one customer that absolutely refused to unplug something and then plug it back in. I even told him, “Sir, I don’t want to have to bill you to send a tech out to spend 30 seconds to unplug that. I’m trying to save you money here,” but he didn’t care. He wanted the service call and he knew what it was going to cost and he was willing to pay it.
Was It Convenient?
In our market, there are a few neighborhoods that make up the majority of our work, and it isn’t unusual for us to be doing a call in a neighborhood and have one or more of our customers see our trucks and then call the store for a quick fix. If I’ve got a tech that is already essentially right there who needs to pop in for something small, I’ll take that into account.
How Does It Fit Into the Big Picture?
As I’m working up a bill, I also look at the bigger picture beyond that single service call. Has this been a good customer? How much work have they done with us and what is the size of their project? Have they referred people to us? How old is their system? And especially was the problem something that could have been prevented by us doing something differently/better? Something like the cable box stopped responding to the remote control because the IR emitter wasn’t affixed securely. That’s on us. Now, if it happens a year after the install, or it’s because the maid knocked it off, or because the homeowner or the know-it-all brother-in-law was messing with the system, well that’s a different story.
Did You Blow the Estimate?
The bills that often require the most John-ing are the ones where we have gone way over our estimate. After doing this for 16 years, I’ve gotten pretty good at estimating most jobs, but sometimes something will come up that causes the bill to be way off. If an install that I estimated should have taken four hours took eight, then I talk to my techs and try to determine how much of it is on our end. I’ve also told them that if they see a job going sideways, they need to bring it to the homeowner’s attention then and not four hours later. Something like, “We ran into triple blocking inside this wall, which was something that we couldn’t have foreseen, and it is going to take a lot more time to do the work than we expected. Do you still want us to proceed?” is a conversation that is a lot more palatable when it takes place beforehand. Often times when we go over on an estimate it is due to the customer “just one more thing”-ing the installers. “While you’re here, can you hang this TV too? And if you could just move this old DVD player into this room and hook it up... And can you check this remote control? Oh, and one more thing…” Those people get billed.
Did You Accommodate It?
You know that saying, “No good deed goes unnoticed”? Yeah. If I do make a billing adjustment, I make a note of it on the invoice. I have a line item in our accounting software called “Accommodation Pricing.” If I make an adjustment to the bill, I subtract it there and then put a note in the remarks section about it. Even if you send out a $0 balance invoice, this shows the customer the work that you did and that you didn’t charge them for it for whatever reason. That has value and lets the customer know that you did them a solid.
It’s important to remember that on the receiving end of every bill is a real-life person that you (probably) want to keep happy and (likely) want to continue doing business with. Taking a moment to look at a bill through your customer’s eyes before you drop it in the mailbox (or click send) might help you achieve more happy endings.
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.