Patrick Fingles is the CEO of Leap, a proprietary software company that assists with the in-home selling process. Fingles spoke with The ACHR News about the ways contractors can ensure social distancing during service calls.
The NEWS: What steps can contractors take to maintain social distancing and still serve clients?
1) Changing and adapting your processes:
The first thing is to identify things that are possible remotely and things that must be done face-to-face or on-site. I would encourage contractors to think outside of the box on some of these things. For example, to diagnose an HVAC system - what are some things that can be done from a remote standpoint? What are the mandatory things that you can only do on-site? Identify the entire list of everything that needs to happen for you to sell your products and then split them into two sides: on-site and a potential remote or virtual experience.
Once the list is together, contractors need to put together the literature that explains the process, both internally to your team and externally to your customers. Make sure that everybody understands the new changes that are in place. A new customer may have no idea what your previous process was, so they are more adaptable than somebody that works in your company.
Make a promise to your customers and then train your employees to ensure the promise is kept using training and new Standard Operating processes. Once you have identified what's going to be remote and what is going to be on-site, dedicate resources to training and creating the SOPs (Standard Operating Processes) that are going to follow. This is a bit different from the usual SOP’s that your company has in place (think OSHA). Contractors need to know what the rules and regulations are that operate within this system and environment.
A lot of thought goes into dividing your process up to remote and on-site. You cannot forget to train your employees on your new process and put an equal amount of work into training as you are dividing up your sales process. Walk people through those first processes – don’t jump on a call and say, “This is how it will be.” Create mock calls or mock a selling experience up. Create video tutorials and put those in a place where people can access them to practice and refer to. They need to understand what they are supposed to do.
2) Homeowner experience:
Ask yourself, what do your educational pieces look like for your homeowners? Typically, homeowners do not know what to expect when hiring a contractor, so they are looking to you for decisiveness.
Many contractors are making the mistake of leaving it to the homeowners to decide what they are comfortable with and giving them the option to decide. This can be tough for homeowners. It will appear like you are still trying to navigate your way through this time, instead of being a leader in this space.
Do not leave the decision on the homeowner as to what they are comfortable with. Your sales reps should not be saying, “I'm happy to come in and sit down at your table but if you're not happy with that I can schedule a Zoom call as well.” That creates inconsistency throughout your communication and gets your team out of rhythm. Determine what process is going to work best the majority of the time, for a majority of your customers, and execute against that process. Create a clear understanding of the homeowner of your process so they know what to expect.
Send the homeowners pre-marketing materials about how your social distancing process works such as a video describing the process. Train your Call Center to talk about the new process, how to set the appointments, and what the homeowners should expect. Create confidence in your customers that your salespeople and company are an expert in this space.
Drive the process. Let the homeowners know about the new process you’ve created to protect them and continue to serve them. When the sales person is on the way to the home, ask them to call the homeowner in advance and walk through how they will be practicing social distancing when they arrive.
The NEWS: What are the best practices?
Fingles: In addition to the above some practices are:
- Face masks not only for your sales reps but keep some to give the homeowners/family while in the home.
- Put on the protective gear (gloves, masks, booties, etc.) just outside of the house so the homeowners can see your team preparing for the visit and practicing social distancing.
- Wear your overalls.
- Have a PDF guide on social distancing steps you will be making ready and send to customers even before the visit.
- Ask customers about where their home project located. Ask if there are alternative ways to get to the location that limits interactions with people as much as possible.
- Ask for customer photos of the project area.
The NEWS: How many of these practices do you foresee continuing after the crisis is over?
Fingles: These practices have needed to be cleaned up for a very long time. At the end of the day, this situation will help us set higher standards in the eyes of the homeowners. Many times, contractors must go from home-to-home and carry the same tools and sales materials without wiping them down.
This is a wakeup call for society and has shown us the best practices for maintaining cleanliness and stopping the spread of viruses or germs in our industry. This situation may be the catalyst to take all contractors to a place we should have been anyway.
Homeowners will no longer be happy with contractors only putting booties on their shoes. Requiring contractors to wear booties while in your home should be a requirement and not an option. It simply cannot stop there. Contractors know that some of the places they work in will make their shoes dirty. Contractors need to take the same precautions to keep other aspects of your homeowner’s house clean as well.
This is a completely new level of expectation from homeowners. Contractors must figure out a way to make the experience as convenient as possible for homeowners while protecting their personal space and safety. Homeowners will now be wary of contractors being in their homes. Contractors must take a giant leap forward with their processes or they will be left behind. Set yourself as the authority to define a contactless experience for the homeowner.
If you’re marketing to your homeowners about the safety precautions your company is taking, the best way to meet the homeowner's expectation is to practice what you preach! Show them, do not just tell them.
Create a home entry routine for your reps. Require your reps to put on a fresh pair of booties in front of the homeowner. Have them put their masks on and use hand sanitizer as they walk in. Do not stop at thinking clean means your booties are on. Think clean as in you are not carrying germs into their homes.
Create a home exit routine that they practice diligently. Let your homeowners know that not only your reps will be entering their house fully sanitized, but their equipment will sanitize on their way out. Put a special sticker on the equipment to say that it was sanitized after it was serviced. Whether it is an electrical box or a bathroom mirror, it should be sanitized after it was touched.
For example, an HVAC technician who enters a basement to do a diagnostic of the equipment needs to unscrew all of the panels to find the problem. They then go upstairs, call the homeowners to take a look, kneeling and asking the homeowner to kneel as well and explains the problem. This was never convenient for homeowners. No longer will homeowners be comfortable with that process. Using technology, they can show the homeowner the diagnostic digitally on an iPad and explain the recommendations to the homeowner.
It does not stop once this is over. Contractors should continue to think about a different level of personal space that homeowners will be expecting. Contractors have previously relied on showing homeowner’s things they are working on physically while in the home. Now, contractors will be required to use technology to explain to homeowners what they will be purchasing. Contractors need to adapt to technology, digital tools, and software.
The NEWS: What is the best way to use this in marketing?
Fingles: Seeing is believing! This is a chance for well-informed contractors to become thought leaders. Today, virtual estimates make the experience easy and safe for homeowners. Virtual selling is not calling the homeowners and having a phone conversation and emailing them a price. From my experience, the number one breakdown in home improvement and complaint has been due to a miscommunication in the services to be done. Create a robust process using technology to mirror an in-home sale with presentations and digital documents.
The best thing you can do is to market your ability to take the homeowners through every step of the process. We have seen many contractors do this well.
- Step one – Schedule and estimate
- Step two - Take your pictures
- Step three – Video presentation
- Step four - Create an estimate
From a marketing perspective, you are not only providing a digital estimate but also actually providing a virtual experience. It is marketing that virtual experience. A virtual estimate is providing the homeowner an equal to or better experience than the face-to-face estimates.
If you are not already doing this, make some changes to your marketing mix. Facebook Ads are performing very well right now seeing as people have more time to spend in front of their computers, iPads, and phones. You may want to consider more television ads versus radio ads, as very few people are traveling in their cars during this time. The print media is also doing very well as more people in your target market are reading the paper and looking at the mail. Talk to all your media affiliates and strike a deal with them. See if you can defer payments or subsidize the rates so that you can continue to stay in business and be a good partner for the media outlets.