Every Sunday evening I receive an email from the software investment banking team at Key Bank Capital Markets. The subject line of the email is “Software Valuations,” and the email contains a link to a weekly report that details the valuation metrics of about 100 different software companies. All of these companies are public corporations, so their stock information is readily available for the folks at Key Bank to analyze. Most of the companies they follow are software as a service (SaaS) companies, and because ServiceTrade is a SaaS company, this report is very interesting to me as the CEO and a shareholder of ServiceTrade. It is my job to maximize the value of our stock for the benefit of all of our shareholders, and the Key Bank team helps me do this through their analysis of SaaS company valuations.

Here is an annotated version of a table they publish for about 70 different SaaS companies. I limited the table to 10 of the entries to make a point about the importance of growth to shareholder value.

 I sorted these from high to low based on the value-to-revenue multiple. The value-to-revenue multiple indicates how much the total of each company’s outstanding stock is worth as a multiple of their anticipated 2018 revenue. The number-one performer is Shopify, with a value-to-revenue multiple of 17.2X. The total value of all outstanding Shopify stock is equal to 17.2 times the revenue expectation for Shopify in 2018. You are reading that correctly. Investors are willing to buy Shopify stock at an extraordinary premium because they believe Shopify is going to grow, grow, grow. And Shopify is delivering on that promise. Note that Shopify expects to grow revenue by 51.1 percent in 2018 compared to their revenue in 2017. That’s a terrific growth rate. Also note that Shopify has a value of NM (Not Measured because they are not making a profit) in the category of price-to-earnings. That’s because Shopify is going to lose money in 2018. They will probably also lose money in 2019 and 2020 because they are investing like crazy to continue to grow. Despite this lack of profit, their stock is still extremely valuable.

Contrast Shopify with ChannelAdvisor. Their stock trades for just 2.9 times the revenue expectation for 2018. It’s interesting that Shopify and ChannelAdvisor offer a similar value proposition with their software applications – they both help small merchants sell their products online. The biggest difference is that Shopify is expected to grow 51.1 percent in 2018 and ChannelAdvisor is expected to grow only 6.8 percent. The expectation of growth explains why Shopify is almost six times more valuable than ChannelAdvisor.

Why is any of this relevant to your business? It is very relevant because their business model is similar to yours in that they sell a subscription program to their customers. If you are following my advice and developing a subscription program for maintenance, monitoring, and inspections for which you sell an annual or longer contract, your business is similar to these companies, and investors will ultimately value your business in the same way they value these businesses. The point I am trying to make is that growing is better than grinding when it comes to creating value for shareholders.

Grinding means pushing everyone in the organization to squeeze more profit from the current revenue stream. I have nothing against profit, and I think you should aim to be profitable. But grinding does not significantly increase the value of your business if there is the possibility to grow the business instead.

Growing is much more fun for everyone than grinding, for all of the obvious reasons. Growing means that new stuff is happening all the time. New products are being introduced to the market. New customers are being served. New employees are joining the company to help take care of the new customers. New promotions are being handed out because there is more responsibility to be shared. New offices are being opened. New equipment is being purchased. New tools are being deployed. New training is underway on how to use new tools. New, new, new means fun, fun, fun.

Grinding sucks because old tools are breaking and not being replaced. Old employees are leaving and not being replaced or taking on more responsibility for no increase in pay. Old customers are complaining because they are not getting good service. Old trucks are breaking down and disrupting the workday. Old, old, old means suck, suck, suck.

What is your plan for growth? How are you going to orient your company in a direction that gets to the fun of growing? It begins with a commitment to growth. If there is no expectation in the company that growth is an important metric, then no growth will occur. Set growth targets as part of your planning process, and don’t be shy about asking people to stretch to achieve something ambitious. For organic growth, plan to grow by 10 percent per year, and think about pushing for 20 to 30 percent (depending on the size of your company). All the best employees in your business will rally around the growth goal because none of them signed on for a career in which not much was achieved. Your employees will get much more career development from an aggressive growth strategy.

Maximizing the value of your business is the most tangible outcome associated with a successful growth strategy. The difference in valuation of the companies tracked by Key Bank in the SaaS market based on their respective growth rates is extravagant, and it should be a lesson for anyone who wants to build value with a subscription business model. The intangible value of having a growth strategy is that you will attract, develop, and retain a better class of employees who value your company because they expect to experience greater career development. They will be exposed to ever-increasing levels of responsibility, which leads to higher job satisfaction and better retention. Growing is fun and grinding sucks, so aim for growth and get more pay and have more fun along the way.

You won’t make your customer feel good if you provide convenience, transparency, and avoid bad surprises. Those are the bare minimum to meet their expectations.

From my last blog post:

Dr. Feelgood, from the 1989 Mötley Crüe single, was a drug dealer who got the name because he made his customers feel good. This kept his customers coming back for more. Do you make your customers feel good? It doesn’t really matter if you do a good job for them. If you don’t make them feel good about it, they won’t come back for more.

Obviously, commercial service contractors shouldn’t give their customers illicit drugs, but they can stimulate the same brain receptors that release dopamine, the feel-good hormone that drives positive reinforcement in the human biological reward system. Unfortunately, that same reward system has negative reinforcement mechanism called cortisol, the stress hormone, that’s easily triggered by bad customer service. Understanding what triggers these hormones is fundamental to creating an amazing customer experience that reduces stress, gets customers hooked to your brand, and differentiates your company from the competition.

In my previous post, I dove into the three stressors that trigger cortisol in your customers: inconvenience, uncertainty, and bad surprises. This week, I want to shift gears and talk about the three dopamine triggers you can take advantage of to make your customers feel good. Unfortunately, it’s much more difficult to elicit a dopamine response in your customers than a cortisol response because the typical triggers like sex and drugs are not tools you get to use. Instead, you’ll have to rely on subtle psychological triggers that require finesse to provoke.

Good Surprises

Our brains are wired to be delighted by good surprises. Neuroscientists from the Baylor College of Medicine conducted a research study in which volunteers played a computer game where they were presented with a red and blue deck of cards with the objective of accumulating as many points as possible by determining which deck contained more “reward” cards. They could select to flip the top card of either deck to receive a reward card that gave them points and triggered the cha-ching sound of a cash register, or a card that would remove points from their accumulated gains. Over time, they would learn which deck gave them more reward cards so they could accumulate points faster. Researchers modeled the volunteers’ expectation of reward based on their selections to classify gains and losses as expected or unexpected. On average, an unexpected reward resulted in highest release of dopamine, the feel-good hormone.

Take advantage of this psychology and provide facility managers with the great surprise of an amazing customer experience. While all of your competitors manage their service cycle and customer service with calls, paper, and ad hoc emails, you’ll stand apart when you offer a convenient, novel experience that includes online summaries of services with rich media, automated notifications (MIPS), and the ability to leave reviews. Here’s what a facility manager told a service contractor about the online service reports (Service Link) he receives that include loads of pictures, videos, and audio notes pertaining to the services:

“I love this feature and report. Your competition has nothing like this.”

The unexpected surprise of a better experience made him feel good. Now, this novelty will wane, and that’s OK. After the novelty is gone, you’ll have set a new precedent for a great customer experience that your competitors can’t touch. Their approach will feel inconvenient and uncertain. As I discussed in the first installment of this blog post, that’s a formula for the stress hormone cortisol – and a bad customer relationship.

Storytelling

Everybody loves a good story. Entire books, like Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, are dedicated to the science of great storytelling. Gottschall tells us about an experiment performed by Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist, found that our bodies release more oxytocin, the hormone that causes empathy, when we consume information in a story format as opposed to a simple factual summary. College students were offered $20 to take part in a study where they were presented with either a story about a father and his dying child or a factual summary about the impacts of cancer on children. After the presentation, the students were asked if they wanted to donate any or all of their $20 to a cancer research institute for children. Students that were presented with the story had significantly higher levels of oxytocin in their blood and, on average, donated more money. A good story with a classic arc makes us empathize with the main characters. We feel how they feel.

After the novelty of your shiny new customer experience wears off, you can take advantage of this empathetic trait to trigger dopamine by telling your customers the story of the challenges your team overcame. Start by introducing the hero, your technician, with an en route notification and an in-person greeting when they arrive. Next, show customers the challenges that the hero faces with pictures and videos of the equipment issues. How ever will the hero succeed? Present a solution with an online quote that shows how your tech will save the day and an explanation of the bad outcomes that will occur if they don’t act. Those unfavorable outcomes are the villain that add tension to the story. Most importantly, show your customers exactly how the hero saved the day with pictures and videos of the repaired equipment. When you properly craft this story, your customers will empathize with the main character, your technician, and receive a hit of dopamine from the happy ending that avoided the perilous bad outcomes.

Anticipation

Interestingly, our bodies often reward us with more dopamine when we anticipate a reward than when we actually receive a reward. Robert Sapolsky, a neuroscientist, performed a study on monkeys that were trained to, after given a signal, press a button 10 times to receive food. The monkeys’ dopamine levels rose immediately after the signal, but subsided when they were done pressing the button. The anticipation of the food released more dopamine than the reward of the food itself. When the food was only dispensed 50% of the time, their dopamine levels doubled in comparison to what they were when then the food was dispensed every time. Just like a slot machine, the mix of anticipation and uncertainty about the reward yielded a significant dopamine release in the monkeys.

You’ve already shown your customers that you’ll give them a hit of dopamine when you show up with a novel customer experience and a great story. That’s their reward. Now, all you have to do is train them to anticipate it. Teach them to anticipate a feel-good experience when you give the signal of an appointment reminder or en route notification. You’re not going to have an exciting story for every service. For example, routine maintenance work and inspections where your techs don’t find any issues don’t make for an enthralling story. That’s OK. As the monkeys show us, you don’t have to deliver the reward 100% of the time. Instead of a mediocre story on every job, tell them an incredible story, full of challenges and and successes on the jobs where your techs save the day. The important takeaway is that you should give your customers the signal on every job in order to elicit their anticipatory dopamine response.

 

Just like Dr. Feelgood, you can keep your customers coming back for more. Instead of drugs, you can use consumer psychology to hack their evolutionary reward system to prevent the release of cortisol and evoke the release of dopamine. If you succeed in making your customers feel good, your service brand will be impervious to the competition and your customers will be happy to pay you more for the premium experience you give them.

ServiceTrade is launching a new version of its mobile application for Android and Apple devices. The new app gives users an intuitive and efficient experience so they can collect more information that matters to customers.

Users familiar with ServiceTrade will find all their appointments, job details, customer contact information, and media-rich documentation features intact. Where those features are located and how they look is new. Based on user feedback, the new mobile app offers:

  • Clearer display of appointments and job details
  • Intuitive, guided workflows and more visible clock-in and -out buttons
  • Improvements in offline mode and syncing when reconnected
  • A consistent experience for Apple and Android users

This change will allow us to make more customer service innovations faster for commercial service contractors.

Learn More

Everyone is invited to join a live demo of the new mobile app during one of these two webinars:

Wednesday, October 3 at 1pm ET / 10am PT
Thursday, October 11 at 4pm ET / 1 pm PT

Sign up at this link.

In this webinar, you’ll:

  • See the new mobile app
  • Learn how you can begin to transition users to it
  • Learn about training resources for the new app

About timing

  • You can begin to transition users on October 1st.
  • Everyone will be upgraded to the new application on Wednesday, November 28, ready or not!

This demo is a good first step to planning your transition. Join us on Oct. 3 or Oct. 11. Register at this link.

Motley Crue at Studio shooting, Tokyo, July 1985. (Photo by Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images)

Dr. Feelgood, from the 1989 Mötley Crüe single, was a drug dealer who got the name because he made his customers feel good. This kept his customers coming back for more. Do you make your customers feel good? It doesn’t really matter if you do a good job for them. If you don’t make them feel good about it, they won’t come back for more.

Obviously, commercial service contractors shouldn’t give their customers illicit drugs, but they can stimulate the same brain receptors that release dopamine, the feel-good hormone that drives positive reinforcement in the human biological reward system. Unfortunately, that same reward system has negative reinforcement mechanism called cortisol, the stress hormone, that’s easily triggered by bad customer service. Understanding what triggers these hormones is fundamental to creating an amazing customer experience that reduces stress, gets customers hooked to your brand, and differentiates your company from the competition.

If customers associate your brand with stress, they’ll look for a competitor that makes them feel better. Avoiding this should be simple, right? Wrong. Cortisol and other stress hormones are extremely easy to trigger in the human body. Have you or a loved one ever experienced the raw, unfiltered anger associated with even being a little bit hungry? This symptom, more commonly known as “hanger,” has definitely lead to more than one argument in my family. Relatively speaking, hanger is on the low end of the spectrum compared to the stress caused by bad customer service. You must be extremely sensitive to all of the stressors your customers experience when they deal with your brand. Start by examining your customer communication and service cycle for three critical stressors:

Uncertainty
Nobody likes being in the dark, especially facility owners and managers dealing with critical building equipment. A research study by a team from the University of London published in Nature Communications in 2016 found that uncertainty is more stressful than a known bad outcome. Participants played a computer game in which they overturned rocks, some of which hid snakes. If they discovered a snake, they received a small shock. Over time, participants would learn which rocks hid snakes so they could predict whether or not they were going to receive a shock. When participants overturned rocks that they knew hid snakes, and therefore knew they were going to receive a shock, had lower stress levels than participants that were uncertain about the outcome. Wherever possible, you must provide your customer with clarity about what you do for them and what outcomes to expect. Automatic, electronic Marketing Impressions Per Service (MIPS) are a great tool for delivering certainty and transparency throughout the service cycle. From appointment reminders, to tech en route notifications, to job summaries with pictures and videos, MIPS will tell the story of every service you deliver and provide certainty that your company is delivering value.

Inconveniences
We all get stressed out when we feel like others are wasting our valuable time. My story about returning a broken amplifier to MonoPrice, an online electronics retailer, is a great example of common inconveniences found in most customer service processes that lead to loads of stress. I wasted hours on phone calls, online chats, and email exchanges because their team lacked the information they needed to solve any of my problems. Their customer service data was scattered across different systems, divisions, and employees. Getting answers and resolution to my problems felt next to impossible. Eliminate inconveniences from your service cycle and organize your customer service data so that everyone on your team, from techs to receptionists, can answer customer questions and resolve their issues to the best of their ability.

Bad surprises
Be proactive in your services and communication so your customer is never surprised by bad outcomes. Even if those outcomes aren’t your fault, you will be associated with the stress your customers experience. For example, if a piece of equipment that you manage fails due to something out of your control, your customer will still associate the stress of that experience with your brand. Or, if they are unpleasantly surprised by a large invoice because you didn’t communicate proactively about the potential expense, they will associate that stress with your brand. Set expectations early and often so your customer is never surprised by a bad outcome because the surprise is worse than the outcome.

Stick around for the continuation of this blog post next week where I’ll tell you how to hack your customers’ reward system to trigger dopamine and make them feel good throughout the service cycle with tools like stories, technology, and pleasant surprises.

It’s been a tense week of watching Hurricane Florence grow, intensify, and pin a bullseye on North Carolina. There’s a lot to worry about: gasoline for the generator, storing water since I’m on a well, stocking up on healthy, easy-to-prepare food without resorting to Hot Pockets.

There’s plenty to worry about without fretting about the availability of our app. Even if I’m sitting at my house in the dark, I’ll know that our app will be there. Our customers’ data will be available in their office. Technicians will get their schedules. Customers will be able to login to the portal to check on their upcoming appointments.

Thank goodness for software as a service!! Amazon Web Services (AWS) — where the ServiceTrade application “lives” and customer data is stored — is co-located across the country so there’s no risk of a natural disaster disrupting service. If one location were to be impacted, the others in the AWS network would pick up the slack.

On the human side, it’s a little tougher to predict availability. Everyone at ServiceTrade in North Carolina will be working from home on Thursday and Friday for as long as we have electricity and Internet service. If we end up falling off the grid in NC for a few days, our teams across the country – we have people in Maryland, Kentucky, Illinois, and Arizona – will be there to help you out.

If you need help from support or sales, reach out as you always do and we’ll route your call or email to whoever can respond first.

If you are also impacted by Hurricane Florence, be safe! I’ll pass along what Billy Marshall asked of us, take care of your family first, then do everything you can to take care of your customers and responsibilities.

happy amazon customer receives amazon box delivery

Several dozen books (at least) have been written about the Amazon phenomenon, and I could probably go on and on myself about the lessons that can be drawn from its success. The lesson for the service contractor is that making your customers feel good about your service will likely lead to greater riches for you and your company. Jeff Bezos is the richest guy in the world, and he has been pretty clear that his success comes from innovations that make the customer feel good about doing business with Amazon. Many of these innovations are directly applicable to a commercial service contracting business, and you should take inspiration from them to deliver your own version of “feel good” customer service features.

Pictures and video. Amazon understands the psychology of human decision making. Images impress us.  They help humans understand their environment and make decisions. We are more easily impressed by images and stories than we are by bullet points and descriptive prose. I challenge you to find anything for sale on Amazon that does not include at least one picture. Generally there are several, and Amazon gives you tools to zoom and pan to get a better view of the details that might interest you. It is easier to feel good about a purchase when we can see the images that reinforce our buying decision. Increasingly video is also becoming a part of the purchase review because it combines imagery with a story about the product.

Reviews. Reviews are the stories other customers choose to share about their experience with the product. Like images, stories are a powerful learning mechanism for humans. By reading stories, we get comfortable with the experience we can expect from the product. We also understand any trouble we may face through these review stories. Reviews further empower the customer as well because a poor customer service experience and a bad review is often the catalyst for a company to correct the problem. The ability to hold the company accountable to a good experience through a review process gives the customer more comfort at the time of purchase.

Convenience.  One of Amazon’s first innovations was one-click purchasing.  They applied for and were awarded a method patent on this invention back in 1999. Amazon famously sued Barnes and Noble when they copied the innovation. Amazon had streamlined the purchase process by eliminating the hassle of checkout, and the company was not going to stand by quietly when their fiercest competitor attempted to copy this convenience innovation. Now the company offers a mobile app (of course) so customers can easily browse and buy from their phone.  Additionally Amazon provides multiple delivery and gift options, smart speakers that let you buy with Alexa commands, push button buying using a little connected clicker called a Dash button for common items like laundry detergent, and many more buying innovations. The company is even experimenting with flying drone delivery. Eliminating all of the barriers between your customer’s money and your bank account just makes sense.

No Hassle Returns. Amazon never argues with a customer regarding a request to return an item so long as there is some reason for the rejection (fit, color, quality, whatever). They make returns easy with a self-service process from their website. Customers feel better about placing an order when they know they can return the product if something is not right.

Mobile experience. Amazon enhances convenience with their mobile app because shopping is always available. Most customers are never more than three feet from their phone, and therefore I believe mobile is worthy of its own feel good category. Because my smartphone has a camera and a microphone, I can take photos (or scan barcodes) to search for products as well as giving verbal commands. I can also manage every aspect of my relationship with Amazon through my mobile device, which means I can manage it anywhere and anytime.

Feel good by doing good. The Amazon Smile program allows me to select a charity to receive a donation from Amazon equal to .5% of my qualifying purchases when I begin my shopping at smile.amazon.com. Do you imagine that a customer feels good when they begin their shopping experience by typing “smile” and then direct a contribution to a favorite charity when they buy something? It is easy to feel good when your vendor helps you do good.

Notifications and visibility. Amazon gives customers a number of ways to track their orders and their order history with the company. Any shopping activity, whether resulting in a purchase or not, generally results in some level of follow up from Amazon. If I place an order, Amazon continuously informs me of the status from a “thank you” order confirmation. They send a shipment notice plus an arrival notice. If I shop and do not order, Amazon often follows up with deals on items that I viewed hoping to push me over the edge to actually buy the product. After I receive a purchase, I am generally offered an opportunity to review the purchase, and I will typically be offered several complementary items. Beyond these notifications, Amazon tracks my purchases so that I can reference that information to make decisions regarding future purchases. All of this attention and account visibility certainly helps the customer feel good about their relationship with Amazon.

Subscription membership. Amazon offers customers a subscription program called Prime. Prime bundles all manner of Amazon services and benefits into a subscription program for which customers pay an annual membership fee. The subscription offers access to a library of books and music along with lower costs (usually free) for shipping and guaranteed two-day delivery for any purchases. Statista, the online statistics portal, estimates that Amazon had 95 million US Prime members as of June 2018.  That amounts to nearly seventy-percent of US households participating in Prime. It feels good to be a member of a club with a wide range of benefits and a subscription business model with its predictable and guaranteed cash flow is a powerful foundation from which to build a dominant brand.

Commercial service contractors should take a lesson from Amazon: making customers feel good about your services will likely lead to greater riches for your company. The best part is, many of the innovations that make customers feel good about doing business with Amazon can work for you.

They spent hours on it. Brad Boggs at B&W Mechanical and Shawn Mims of ServiceTrade met several times to discuss how to integrate B&W’s accounting system with ServiceTrade. They planned it strategically, they talked with an integrator about the details, they held several follow-up calls. But as they say, the struggle of connecting ServiceTrade’s open APIs to a closed accounting system, was real.

Brad decided that since accounting was happy with their process, an accounting integration shouldn’t stand in the way of getting a new customer service and service management system in place. B&W Mechanical got started with ServiceTrade so they could meet their goals of growing their service division.

We caught up with Brad a couple of years later to see how it’s going. In this video, Brad tells us that now, B&W measures its success by things that matter to its customers – that their systems are operational and their facility needs are being met. B&W Mechanical communicates clearly and accurately with customers so they know everything they need to about their systems so there aren’t any surprises.

Their customers really like that they get clear data and visuals with a quote or an invoice. B&W no longer has to justify what their quotes or invoices are for – the customers have a clear, rich record that tells them what they’re paying for.

As Brad says at the end of this video, at B&W Mechanical the right things get done quickly. He isn’t talking about accounting.

 

Read more about choosing good software with open APIs and why customer service isn’t an accounting function.

Amazon does not settle for “good” in the realm of customer service. It is not enough for the customer to simply get what they paid to receive. Amazon wants customers to enjoy the experience in the same manner as a guest might enjoy a good party. Great brands now want to copy Amazon because Jeff Bezos has become the wealthiest guy in the world due to the crazy success of Amazon stock. Smart business owners want the same value for their shareholders, so they are behaving like Amazon and aiming well beyond the idea of simply satisfying the customer. They truly want their customers to “feel good” about the experience of buying from them. This current obsession with the customer experience is certainly a good thing for customers. Because so many companies are now focusing on innovation in customer service, the bar for “feel good” status is climbing higher every day.

The most popular approach today for measuring customer satisfaction is the Net Promoter Score, or NPS. Wikipedia reports that more than two-thirds of the Fortune 1000 are currently using NPS. Here’s how it works.

Customers are asked a single, simple question:

How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?

Respondents are then given an option to answer that question with a number rating on a scale between 0 and 10. 0 means that the customer would never recommend the company to a friend or colleague, and 10 means that they would absolutely recommend the company to a friend or colleague.

Next, respondents are categorized into the following groups:
Promoters – those who score the business with a 9 or 10, likely to promote to others
Passives- scored 7-8, not likely to benefit or harm your brand
Detractors- scored 6 or less, a liability for your brand

The final NPS score is calculated by subtracting the percentage of Detractors from the percentage of Promoters, with the Passives not contributing at all to the score. As an example, if you were to survey 100 customers and 35 score as Detractors (0 to 6), 25 score as Passives (7 or 8), and 40 score as Promoters (9 or 10), your NPS score would be:

Promoters – Detractors = NPS 40 – 35 = 5

Your NPS for this survey sample is a 5. Anything above 0 is considered to be positive, and a score approaching 50 is terrific.

Now I think all of this is probably a little too simplistic, and you will find lots of scientific criticism for NPS from survey theory experts if you go looking for it online. My opinion and the opinion of all of the other critics is not what really matters in this case. What is important is that two-thirds of the Fortune 1000 are relying on this information in one form or another to help them improve customer satisfaction. A lot of big brands with big budgets are focusing lots of energy on measuring customer satisfaction. The other important thing to note is that this wildly popular tool skews heavily toward “feel good” as the goal for customer service. Only scores of 9 or 10 are credited positively, and anything less than a 7 is negative. I would say anyone that scores a company with a 9 or a 10 feels really good about their experience with the company. So two-thirds of the Fortune 1000 are scheming for ways to get more scores in the range of 9 to 10 because that is the only way to improve their NPS score. That’s a lot of companies with a lot of focus on making customers feel good about their brand.

What does this emphasis on outstanding customer service mean for you? Your business is going to be compared to all of the customer service innovations of Amazon and two-thirds of the Fortune 1000 because they are all “focused like a laser” on customer experience these days. NPS is hot because customer service innovations are hot because customer loyalty is hot because growth is hot because Amazon is hot. Customers are not going to compare you to your “always go low on price” competitor down the street any longer. They are going to ask “Why can’t you be more like Amazon and give me notifications when I am due for service or when the technician is en route to my location?” The customer service bar is going to be set by the sum of all of the best experiences the customer has ever encountered across all companies in both their personal and professional life.

The good news is that most customer service innovations can be observed and imitated if they fit your idea of great customer service for your company. The case of Amazon is particularly intriguing because up until a few years ago Amazon had absolutely no influence over the products customers were buying from them. They were simply a reseller of other companies’ products. Any innovation they delivered to make a customer feel good was not a product innovation but instead was focused solely on the buying experience. In my next post, I’ll discuss the “feel good” customer service themes direct from Amazon that should probably be among the guideposts you use in establishing your “feel good” customer service strategy.

welcome to Missouri the show-me state highway welcome sign

When your salespeople call on customers, what are they pitching? What do they present when they get that rare opportunity to show a high-profile prospect the benefit of working with your company?  While I have not been in the room often when a commercial service contractor is pitching a customer, I have seen hundreds of websites for these companies, and I have been to lots of trade shows where they are exhibiting.  Generally, I am not impressed by what I have reviewed. Mostly I see some version of one or more of the following themes:

We Work Harder!  It sucks to work harder than the other guy.

We Care More!  Not certain what sucks more – working harder or caring more.

Better Technicians Means Better Service!  This is the Papa John’s pizza pitch.  You’ve seen examples here, here, and here of how that’s not working.

We’re a Family Business!  The mafia is a family business too.

We’ve Been in Business a Long Time!  Really?  Why are you still such a small company?

Sadly, the website content for most commercial service contractors is typically a long and rambling word salad that doesn’t add up to much value for the customer.  Generally, Google is not impressed either as most rank pretty low for relevance in organic search results. I imagine the salespeople are equally unimpressed with the company strategy, so their pitch quickly devolves to price:

How much are you paying now?  We’ll get the work done, and it will be cheaper!  Let’s negotiate labor rates and a markup on parts!  We will be there 24/7 when things go wrong! Call us anytime and we will fix your broken equipment by working around the clock until everything is good again!

Competing on price and some vague promises to work harder and care more and fix broken equipment 24/7 and be more family-oriented sucks.  Why should the customer believe anything the sales rep is saying? How can your sales representative make an impression that moves the conversation to valuable outcomes instead of a mark-up on the cost of the labor and parts?  

Of course the most important thing the salesperson can do is ask questions and understand the goals of the buyer through some discovery conversation.  The other thing that should be offered is a premium program, but do not expect the customer to buy on the promises and platitudes of a sales rep. Tellin’ ain’t sellin!  Your sales people should be able to show the customer the value of your brand by demonstrating how the program works. I am fond of declaring that all customers come from Missouri, which is known as the “show me” state.  If you can’t show them the value, you will not sell them the program.

So what does a premium program look like? And how can you demonstrate it to the customer in a way that is meaningful to them?  Let’s have a look at some examples from other industries to gain insights into components you should consider.

Amazon Prime – Amazon offers a subscription program called Prime, and nearly 70% of US households are Prime members.  Prime members pay $119  per year in exchange for free two-day shipping, access to a library of movies, television shows, and music, and a free Kindle book every month, among other things.  The most important thing Prime does, however, is put Amazon at the top of the heap when a subscriber considers how to buy the next bag of dog food, or supplies for their kitchen pantry, or Christmas gifts for their friends:

I’ve already paid for Prime, I might as well benefit from the free, expedited shipping!

The program helps keep the Amazon brand top of mind for future purchases, and customers pay for this marketing trick through their subscription fees!  It’s brilliant marketing by Amazon. Amazon allows prospective customers to try Prime free for a month to experience its value because Amazon knows that all customers are from Missouri.  The free trial “shows” the customer why Prime is valuable instead of just “telling” the customer that it will be great if they buy.

BMW Ultimate Care – BMW is a premium automotive brand that delivers what they claim is the “Ultimate Driving Machine,” and Ultimate Care is their premium maintenance program.  You pay in advance, typically at time of purchase when financing is also a part of the conversation. Ultimate Care provides unlimited service consistent with the manufacturer’s recommended service plan.  All parts and service required for recommended maintenance are included at a thirty-percent discount. The program is only available at BMW dealership locations, so you will be bringing the car to the dealership and wandering about reviewing all of the latest offerings of BMW as your maintenance plan is delivered.  

Once again, brilliant marketing.  You pay in advance so that you will certainly use the service that requires you to come to the dealership on a regular basis.  No doubt you will get a loaner for the latest model at the upper end of your price range for any extended service requirements.  The dealership is having the customer pay fees in advance of service to help them deliver a hassle-free experience and market their latest offerings to the customer on a regular basis.

Brandt STORM – Brandt Engineering is one of the largest mechanical contractors in Texas, and STORM is their premium program.  STORM stands for Service, Technology, Optimization, Retro-commissioning, and Monitoring. When the customer buys into the STORM program, Brandt does a top-to-bottom review of the equipment while installing monitoring technology to track key performance data on the critical elements where failure results in expensive disruptions.  Once they and the customer agree the equipment condition is worthy of a performance promise, STORM is initiated. The customer receives regular communication and attention from Brandt engineers and technicians while simultaneously benefiting from lower rates on service requirements and ideally lower utility costs.

The customer is paying Brandt the money they are saving on utility bills and breakdowns as subscription fees in order for Brandt to continuously remind them of the value of the Brandt brand! That trade-off is certainly worth the risk to Brandt of a failure where Brandt must pay the premium (expedited parts, overtime labor, etc.) for recovery instead of the customer paying it.  These risks are minimized through information, and the customer is conditioned that any retro-commissioning recommendations (quotes for new equipment) based upon the data are in their best interest to avoid performance disruptions that fall outside the STORM promise. It is brilliant.

So what are the lessons you should take from these examples?  

1 – Brand the Program. What is your version of Amazon Prime? Ideally the name helps the sales rep to tell the story, to get the conversation going with the customer, and then the customer remembers your brand.  A good name demonstrates your company’s thoughtfulness in how you communicate your value.

2 – Show, Don’t Tell.  Your sales people need to be prepared to give a demonstration of the program.  Amazon gives prospective Prime members a month of free Prime membership to try out all of the benefits.  Do your sales people have a way to easily give the customer your branded program experience?

3 – Promote the Features. Can you enumerate the features of the program?  In a list? Spend some time thinking about the names of the features.

4 – Get Paid for Nothing.  If the only time you send a customer an invoice is when you have a labor or parts line item to bill, guess what?  They are going to assume your value is in the labor and parts instead of the program. The fewer invoices you send to the customer, the better.  Ideally, have them pay annually in advance. It’s better for you and cheaper for them.

5 – Offer a Good Contract. Put in place a master service agreement, a rate schedule, and a service level agreement.  Good fences make good neighbors and good contracts make good customers.

None of these elements of a premium program are rocket science, but it is surprising to me how rarely they are implemented by service contractors.  Do not let shoddy practices in your industry nor weak competitors that always sell on price dictate your business model. The executive management of your company should spend at least fifty percent of their time working on program and marketing innovations that set the brand apart from competitors.  Innovation rarely happens by accident, and it is the key to having a differentiated value proposition.

You know those signs on the back of dump trucks that say something like “Stay back 200 feet?” Those things are no joke. I found out the hard way when I was driving home from work on the interstate and heard a loud CRACK in my windshield. I definitely let loose a few four-letter words. There’s almost nothing worse than dealing with cracked glass on a vehicle. Cost aside, you’ve got to play phone-call rodeo with some auto-glass repair shop to get on their schedule, drop off your car, go without a car for a day (or more if they mess up the appointment), and then you’ve got to hitch a ride to pick up your car. What a waste of time. Personally, that inconvenience is just enough to push me to procrastinate getting the repair. That’s about the worst thing you can do with a cracked windshield as the cracks can grow and lead to more costly repairs and more damage to the vehicle if they start to leak.

Facility owners and managers handle their building systems and equipment a lot like most car owners handle their cracked windshields: defer repairs to avoid hassle. Yes, sometimes it’s an issue of cash flow. More often than not, however, I’m willing to wager facility managers are just like me and willing to procrastinate to avoid the phone-call rodeo, the scheduling nightmare, and the overall inconvenience of working with service companies. At least, that’s what I thought before I tried Safelite. Talk about easy.

I scheduled my repair online, received one quick call to confirm insurance details, and my part was done. They showed up at my office, completed the repair, and I just had to give the service tech my credit card. No hassles. Throughout the service cycle, they sent me useful notifications that reminded me about the upcoming appointment, notified me that the technician was on his way, provided my receipt, requested feedback, and requested reviews. Every single one of those MIPS (read about Marketing Impressions Per Service) reinforced what makes Safelite so much different and better than their competition: convenience. In addition to reinforcing the value for me, some of those marketing impressions helped Safelite extract value from me.

For example, when they asked, I left a review. I was happy to! That’s going to drive more customers to Safelite as they outrank their poorly-rated, less-convenient competitors online. On top of that, they managed to upsell me on new windshield wipers. From the moment I started scheduling the repair online until the technician was in the parking lot, they didn’t miss a single chance to try and sell me more products and services. Every single marketing impression I received leading up to the appointment contained all sorts of ancillary offers like new wipers and windshield treatments. I was happy to spend more money with Safelite because they had been so reliable thus far that I trusted their recommendations.

Service contracting should be this convenient for facility owners and managers. They shouldn’t defer repairs in an attempt to avoid the hassle. Instead, they should prioritize the services and repairs you perform because they know it’s going to be easy compared to the mountains of other work they need to get done. Put yourself in their shoes and think about what it’s like to work with your contracting company. What steps might cause frustration? Here are a few common examples:

  • Calling to schedule an appointment and connecting with someone who doesn’t understand your facility which leads to long hold times or callbacks.
  • The “phone-call rodeo” to confirm dates, times, and equipment details because the contractor doesn’t have organized records.
  • Having a technician show up who is not qualified to perform the correct work because a dispatcher didn’t have access to the location details, equipment information, or service history.
  • Forgetting your appointment date or time and being caught unprepared when a tech shows up at an inconvenient time.
  • Being handed a pile of loose, triplicate forms that need to be filed and collect dust as opposed to searchable, digital records that include complete service history with pictures and videos.
  • Receiving a quote as an email attachment that can’t be opened on a smartphone and must be printed off, signed, scanned, and returned as an email.
  • Having questions about past services and needing to go through another phone-call rodeo to get the answers.

The list goes on. These pain points are cracks that can grow into a chasm between you and your customers. With technology, like ServiceTrade, that’s designed to help your entire team collect, organize, understand, and present service information to your customer online, you can eliminate all of these frustrations. Instead of the phone-call rodeo, give them a way to access rich equipment history and request services online. Send them MIPS that remind them about upcoming appointments, notify them when the tech is on the way, summarize completed work, request reviews, and provide online quotes with pictures and videos that can be approved with the click of a button. Give them this level of customer service and they’ll be happy to pay you more for the premium you provide because they will trust you more and appreciate how easy you are to work with. Don’t let the small cracks in your customers’ experience grow beyond the point of repair. Give them the Safelite experience so they can see that you are the most convenient, trustworthy contractor to work with.