With hurricane Irma heading for a direct impact in the service area of my screen enclosure company in Southwest Florida, I knew demand was about increase. Phones were going to blow up, and there was no way a handful of sales staff could handle a mere fraction of all the inquiries. With an easy way to request estimates through our website, I took our phone numbers off the website. That would cut down on some of the calls but not all of them, as our phone number was searchable on the web, and in many print documents such as invoices and business cards. The next step was putting up a recording on our mainline directing prospects to our website for an estimate request or reminding current customers that they could call their project manager directly.
The day after the storm, the amount of inbound phone calls was far greater than imaginable with over 3000 calls, and several hundred inquiries coming through our website. The daily count would continue to grow even higher a couple weeks after the storm, as we were buried in inbound inquiries alone. Not answering phone calls would do the trick of allowing us to get to what we could as efficiently as possible.
Now a few months past the storm, things have gotten a bit more manageable, but I have decided not to put the phone numbers back on our website. Do note that this doesn’t mean abandoning customer service, as our internal office phone number is given with an estimate so all customers who get an estimate. Throwback to before the storm and onslaught that followed, I had long since thought about removing the phone numbers.
Here Were The Major Problems, some as reported in Call Rail which reps press a button post call.
Solicitors / Spam – 15% of calls.
Day in and day out, we got calls from people demanding to speak to the owner (this is a solicitor trick), or calls from “Google”, or calls about a business line of credit. All junk.
Information requests (non saleable) – 20% of calls.
We do a lot of content marketing, in which we publish informative articles on our website. This does display our
knowledge, showcase our projects, and establish our expertise, but it also suggests to those looking for free advice, such as what size a beam needs to be when they have a 30’ span and a post height of 10’, that we are the go to source and our phone number is a helpline. It wasn’t uncommon for us to get calls asking how to hold tools (not
purchased through us) or complex engineering questions that a licensed engineer would charge a few thousand dollars to answer.
Practically speaking it’s not feasible to answer all the questions, and opens us up to an uncompensated, worm can of liability. Unfortunately the folks that ask these questions, generally aren’t please when we can’t provide the info they are looking for. I discuss the issue more in an older post.
Requests for estimates outside our service area or services not offered – 25% of
With coveted organic traffic from google resulting from the content marketing our website now shows up to thousands of people nationally — well outside the 4 county region we service. While our service area is clearly listed on the website, our awesome reputation, and professional online presence often leads to a phone call to see if maybe,
just maybe, we offer services 3 states away or if we know anyone that does.
We also get calls for services not offered. Garages… we’ve never advertised for them or built anything like a garage, but we get many calls for them. Landscaping as well.Contractors and Home Service Business Owners, let’s talk about that elephant in the room. Nobody knows how difficult it is to run, and grow a business where you send your guys out to your customers homes, in your company trucks, representing your name, to complete services. That's why we created this group.
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Like the the information requests, referral requests would open us up to an uncompensated, worm can of liability.
With phone calls you do run into folks that are just making dials, and making dials, with no regard to who they are actually calling or their reputation, as indicated by the quote “what company are you with again (after they dialed us)”. Sometimes they’ll even call us again after the first call not realizing they’re dialing the exact same number.
We don’t get into tracking these, and they aren’t bad but it is a lot more pleasant doing business with someone that is a warm prospect that has researched prospective companies and is proactively seeking a company with a positive reputation.
Customers disappointed with hold times.
Inbound phone calls really tend to cluster. The first 2 hours after we open at 8 am calls would come in faster than we can answer them. Lunchtime – 2pm, Its pretty quiet. As result, some inbound calls would have to wait on hold for 10+ minutes. This wasn’t good for customer experience and generally started discussion out on a negative tone. [I’m aware there are options out there for solving this such as callback requests, but nothing easily implementable with our current phone system]
All this leads to:
Frustrated sales team.
Taking a few phone calls in row of inquiries for information, that you have to turn down politely, yet still speak with a disgruntled person for a few minutes (get yelled at), isn’t pleasant. It’s not fun. And it wears on you. The same applies for reminding the customer who they called. Or informing them that we don’t build garages, and can’t recommend someone does.
Whether you’re a one man show, or a sales team these problems slow you from doing what you’re best at.
How Does Not Answering Phone Calls Help?
In short, you can work efficiently without the frustration of answering call after call for discussions that amount to no value. You don’t need to put a hammer down to explain to someone that they are 4 hours outside of your service area. You don’t need to drop what you’re doing to listen to a miserable attempt at a sales pitch.
- Solicitors / Spam. These simply don’t come in
- Information requests. Very few of these will get submitted through the website as the complexity is difficult and lengthy for the user to type out, but when they do, it is much easy, efficient and the decline is much more well received with a simple canned response that takes 2 seconds to fire off compared to a 5 or 10 minute call which can ruin the spirits of even our most tried CSRs
- Requests for estimates outside our service area, services not offered or materials. Again these can handles with a simple canned response that takes 2 seconds to fire off
- Cold prospects. When the customer must interact with our website, they get to see our reviews. They can read what over 200 past customers have had to say. They get to see our featured projects from start to finish so they can see firsthand how our projects go, and they can learn about all our services from the blog. This warms them up so they are familiar with the level of service we offer and the commitment we put in to exceeding our
- Customers disappointed with hold times. Obviously there is no hold time with a web lead (contact form submitted on website). A call back within a few hours is well received by everyone we interact with.
- Easier Analytics Tracking [not applicable to most home service operations but I’ll
update here when I don’t feel carpal tunnel coming on]
Your team can work efficiently where they’re needed most. They can focus more time on giving the prospects that may actually hire you a better experience. They spend more time working with existing customers who have post sale inquiries (in home service customer specifications can change drastically after sale). And without the compounding frustration of frequent go-no-where discussions, they’ll be even more pleasant when it matters the most. Personally, I don’t have the frustration of repeatedly having to answer the question “hey boss, what do I tell
If you’re a one man show, putting your tools down to answer the phone it is even more inefficient.
Only time will tell, but I am very confident that this approach to handling inbound inquires will lead to an increase in sales.
I’m Not The Only One To Come To This Conclusion
Marcus Sheridan (aka The Sales Lion), an owner of River Pools And Spas, a local company like mine, took his company to new heights with content marketing. The amount of attention his local company gets dwarfs mine, and just like my little South Florida screen enclosure company, I’m sure his local pool company has had a challenge managing the inbound inquiries via phone. Since I first started entertaining the idea of not taking inbound inquiries by phone 3 years ago, I’ve notice that his website doesn’t make the phone number easily visible.
What Does It Take To Pull This Off For A Home Service Business?
You can’t just turn the phone off, and expect to get business. Besides having a internal phone number for existing customers, here’s a few things you need to effectively be able to take inbound inquiries without a phone number;
A solid website that effectively captures leads.
In an industry known for ineffective websites this is going to throw most home service business owners a curve ball. You need a professional website that encourages the user to intuitively input their information and click the ‘submit’ button. I say, your website needs to breathe.
Valuable Content and Rave Reviews Establish Your Reputation
For some, unless they are a referral, just getting to the website isn’t enough. You need great content which shows you professionalism, and reviews from past customers which show your reputation.
A pleasant recorded message for your main phone number
You can’t just leave the folks that call your main number hanging. You need a message that directs them to go
to your website to request an estimate, and also reminds existing customers that their is another phone number they can call to get through. I’m not a fan of jedi mind tricks but the purpose of the reminder is to let prospective customers know that there will be a phone number they can reach you at should you work together.
The recording doesn’t need to be professional, but it does need to pleasant. Accent free, with crisp enunciation will convey a perception that resonates your reputation.
A second phone number.
This post isn’t about eliminating customer service. Your existing customers need to be able to get through to you, so a second phone number, that is given out with your estimates, which customers can call at any point, is a must.