Above all, selling services requires strong communication between you and the customer. It’s essential that you explain exactly what you’re going to do, why it needs to be done, and how much it’s going to cost. It’s even more important that you listen carefully to the customer to make sure that you’re both on the same page. Does he understand what you’re proposing? Is it what he wants? Does he have any unasked questions?
Establishing and maintaining open communication is especially important for a service job because you often encounter unexpected problems as the work proceeds, which can undermine the trust you’ve built up with the customer unless the news is delivered properly. No one wants to leave their car in your shop for a dash panel upgrade only to come back and learn that a major instrumentation repair has been added to their bill as well. The time to talk to the customer about unanticipated repairs is before they’re done, not afterwards.
Another source of customer dissatisfaction that can be eliminated with better communication is pricing. Some routine, straightforward jobs can be sold at a published flat price. Most of the work you do is probably not simple and routine, however, and you don’t really know how much time it’s going to take until you do it. Pricing tools like automotive flat rate manuals can help, but they’re far from the total solution, especially for complicated work that comes with high expectations.
Again, the solution is openly communicating with the customer at the beginning of the transaction.
Emphasize that the amount of labor, parts, and material required for the job is an estimate. It’s based on your experience with similar jobs so it should be pretty accurate, but it’s still just an estimate, not a guarantee. Explain that you’ll do everything you can to keep the amount of hours under the estimate and assure them that you’ll let them know as soon as possible if it looks like there’s going to be an overrun or if there are additional parts required due to an unforeseen complication.
Then do it! Make sure you have telephone numbers where the customer can be reached during the day while the work is being done and call whenever there’s the least question about any item beyond the estimate. It’s a great temptation to skip the call in the interest of time, but it’s a false economy if the customer blows up when he finds out about the work later. Even if the work is absolutely necessary, it’s going to leave a bad taste in the customer’s mouth and make them hesitant about trusting you in the future. And those kinds of grudges not only last a long time in the customer’s mind, they linger on the word-of-mouth grapevine forever.
Service is the heart of every business. With the growth of online retailers who can sell merchandise below the brick and mortar shop’s costs, selling those services is more important than ever. Following these simple guidelines can make the experience less painful for the customer and more profitable for the shop owner.
Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.