Have you ever been caught off guard with a tough question?

“Can you just send me a bill?”

“How much for a water heater?  I’ve been calling around.  I’ve heard prices from $250 – $400?”

“My regular plumber finally called me back.  He said you ripped me off!  What are you going to do about it?”

“Well, are you ever going to ask me to marry you?”

Perhaps you stumbled through and muttered something incoherent.  Probably you got defensive and made a bad situation worse.

How would you like some snappy answers to tough questions?  I’ve picked up these ideas from smart contractors across the country.

Read and learn!

“Can you just send me a bill?”

This really means, “Will you loan me $350?” if that’s the amount on the invoice.

Use this…

“Mrs. Fernwicky, would you like to defer your payment?  We’d be happy to put today’s services on your credit card.  Do you prefer Visa, Master Card or American Express?”

(Financing programs help you out here, too.  Check into one for your company.)

“But, your father used to send me a bill.  Why can’t you?”

“You knew my dad?  He taught me a lot about plumbing, and business.  One thing he taught me is, ‘Keep your costs low.  Wasted steps mean higher prices to your customers.’  As part of an overall plan to run an efficient business, we are eliminating paperwork that can cost you money.  So we are collecting on the job now.”

You may also want to head off this question by addressing the payment issue when the call comes into the shop.  Instruct your call takers to ask, “Will you be paying with cash, check or credit card today, Mrs. Fernwicky?”  If you have good customer service history, you can ask this only of existing customers who have been billed in the past.

“How much for a water heater?  I’ve been calling around.  I’ve heard prices from $250 – $400?”

Try this…

“Mrs. Jones, I understand you want to get the best value for your dollar.  It’s no fun spending money on home repairs!  When you get a quote for plumbing service over the phone, keep in mind that the price may change once the serviceman arrives at your home.  Perhaps the current plumbing isn’t to code, or maybe there is some problem that the serviceman wouldn’t discover until he takes a look at your water heater.  So, the price could change.  We don’t like to work that way.

“As a professional, our serviceman must see the problem before he quotes you a price.  You know how…you can call the doctor because you KNOW you have strep throat, but the doctor must see you before he writes a prescription?  That’s because he is a professional.  When he comes to your home, our serviceman will inspect the water heater, and visit with you about your home and water usage.  Then he will make professional recommendations to repair or replace the unit.  He won’t begin the repair until you have approved the written proposal.  And we will hold to the written price.  No surprises.  May I schedule you for a service appointment.”

So…Mrs. Jones says, “No, thanks.”

Oh well.

Then you say…

“No problem.  Mrs. Jones, would you do me a favor?”

She’ll be surprised, but say, “Uh, sure.”

“If you have any problem with the service you receive today, give me a call back.  I will send my top plumber to your home ASAP to take care of you.  OK?”

She’ll say, “Ok.”

You may not get every water heater call.  Don’t say anything like, “You get what you pay for!”  Or “You’ll be sorry!”  She’ll never call you again if you make her feel like an idiot.

However, what are the odds that the company that quoted $250 will charge her more than that once they get to the job?  Close to 100%.  So, their credibility drops…and your credibility goes up.  Mrs. Jones may have a dreadful experience with another company.  She may call you back.

“My regular plumber finally called me back.  He said you ripped me off!  What are you going to do about it?”

First of all, negotiate for a bit of time to collect your thoughts.  It’s hard to answer such a tough and personally challenging question, especially when it’s “sprung” on you.

“I understand that you are upset.  Let’s make this better.  Could I get some information from you?  Name, address, and when we were out to your home?  May I have a few minutes to pull the paperwork, and then call you right back?”

Let him vent.  Keep your cool.  And end the call politely.

It is in your best interests to get the whole story behind the job before you call back.  The more time that passes, the worse off you will be…so move quickly.  Aim for ten minutes.  Use that time to talk to the employees involved and gather the paperwork.  Perhaps there was a mistake in math, or in communication.  Whatever happened, you want to put water on the fire.

Save yourself some grief and aggravation.  Cut to the chase.  Find out what he wants you to do…and do that.

“Mr. Smith, I wish it were not so expensive to run a professional plumbing company.  The trucks, the insurance, the training, the inventory, the safety programs, the 24 hour phone service, the wages for top notch plumbers…it costs a lot to put this show on the road.  Our prices are based on our costs of doing business.  Our prices are fair, and we try to provide great service.

However, in this instance we have failed to communicate the value of that service to you and for that, I apologize.

Our goal is your 100% satisfaction.  What’s it going to take to make you 100% satisfied with our service?”

Listen.  Then do it.  Plus a little bit more.  This approach will avoid lots of wrinkles and gray hair.

“What kind of discount will you give me for being your (circle one) BEST FRIEND     BEST MAN     BROTHER-IN-LAW     MOTHER?”

There are lots of people in the world who need a helping hand.  Life is not fair.  Ask yourself, “Is this person one who is in real need?”  You can put away “X” number of dollars a year to give to folks who need help.  In fact, I think it’s your responsibility to do so.

A really great friend would not want you to endanger your company by giving away free inventory (i.e.: time and skilled labor.)  And, raise your hand if you have ever done a real bargain price job, and the “friend” still thinks you ripped him off.

Take preventative measures here.  Owners, stay off the phone!  If at all possible, let someone else answer the call.  Put on the spot, you will probably “cave” and
agree to some ridiculous deal, a deal that your team will have to suffer through.

Also, you may set up a “Family and Friends” discount program.  Lay out some guidelines for offering 15% off to folks you know and love.

If you agree to a deal that is NOT in the best interests of the company, then consider doing the work yourself.  This may be enough of a deterrent to keep you from saying, “Sure, we can remodel your bathroom this Saturday at no cost to you.”

As for your mother, do whatever she wants you to do with a smile.  J

Learn the basics of these scripts, and make them your own.  It won’t work if you read them.

So, PRACTICE first.  Role Play the above scenarios with your team.  Practice until the words sound natural.  Be prepared.  This will help you and your team feel a lot less stressed when confronted with tough questions.

As for this question…

“Well, are you ever going to ask me to marry you?”

…you are on your own.  Good luck!