The "Hidden" Marketing Missions Of Delivery Personnel & Service Techs
By Rich Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.
"Your company's propane delivery people and service technicians are out in the field every day meeting the home comfort needs of hundreds of residential customers. Do you think of your team members as propane delivery personnel and service technicians, or as marketing agents? Could they be both? They can, if you plan it that way."
The best way to build your business is to have a great business. There are no substitutes for superior products and top-flight service. It is not even enough to have the best people working for you. You need to train them to make sure they keep developing their skills. And to earn a shining reputation, you and your staff - of course — must be respectful, honest and fair in all dealings with customers. Then, you need to guard that reputation like it's buried treasure—because it is.
All entrepreneurs, including propane dealers, can sometimes get confused about this issue. Some believe that "slick"marketing can cover up deficiencies, and fill in gaps where a business may have some obvious weaknesses.
The fact is, marketing cannot "create realities" that don't exist. But if you have a quality business, or are at least taking new strides towards higher quality, smart marketing can go a long way in drawing attention to what's so great about your company. It can help mobilize your business and place around it an appealing, hard-to-resist aura. When this happens, it's a lot easier to retain current customers, and to find success in winning over new ones.
A hypothetical, but very realistic scenario: Gorgeous October morning...propane delivery truck slows down on a quiet suburban street, and stops in front of a customer's home—a home with a storage tank that needs two hundred or so gallons on this day. Driver pops open the fill cap, fills tank, re-caps it, and then leaves the neighborhood. Motoring down the lane, he notices some tree leaves turning gold and orange, and he smiles—life is good.
And though, yes, life may be good...while the driver was efficiently doing his job delivering propane to this home, its owners were toiling away at desk jobs in the city. Propane in their tank, assuring a warm comfortable home in the months ahead, was the last thing on their minds.
Problem: when these residents—people just like your customers—arrive home from work, they see their invoice wedged into their front door's jamb. "Oh," they said, "another bill—propane company filled the tank today." This may not sound like a problem—but it is. It's a problem of perception. On the other side of the coin, it's a communications problem. And therefore, in the end, it's really a marketing problem.
The homeowners in this story were thinking one-dimensionally—and who could blame them? Their propane service provider is all but invisible to them because what they see and feel is only this: a ticket torn from a triplicate form. Sure, there's a logo at the top of the sheet reminding them who is bringing their home comfort for autumn and winter. But bottom lines being what they are, the pink paper these customers briefly study is mainly about money. It's the kind of paperwork consumers like least—"you owe!"
It doesn't need to be this way. And it shouldn't be.
DELIVERING THE GOODS
Ask yourself: "Is our field marketing passive or energetic?" Propane service providers who think proactively can set up marketing that prompts in customers a wealth of positive associations whenever they hear or see their dealer's name—even if it happens to be on an invoice asking them to "please pay."
What if...you gave your staff a bit more responsibility? Most of them would warm up to the idea of an enhanced role—especially if some sort of incentive or team-building program is involved. What if you let them know that propane delivery people are not only drivers and tank fillers who write up invoices or tickets, but couriers of good news? Especially—good news about your firm that means enhanced benefits for customers.
In line with a more proactive marketing approach, when a propane delivery driver is done with his tank-filling duties, he should seamlessly glide into image-boosting, promotional mode by leaving behind quality marketing materials; for example, placing a custom-designed door-hanger where the customer is most likely to see it. Door hangers, when done well, are hard to overlook and can be a great investment. After all, there are virtually no delivery costs — you're already at the home you're targeting!
Lively door hangers come in many different guises, and should always include a positive, upbeat message about your company. This is a great way to cross-market your company's innovative products and services. As you're making your spring deliveries, for example, how about promoting your full line of central A/C products and services, and offering early-bird tune-up specials?
Energized marketers know that there's a lot more that propane deliverymen can do. For example, riding alongside delivery tickets can be "special edition" newsletters, or premium promo items (such as logo-branded refrigerator magnets, scratch pads, pc-screen dust-squeegees, etc.) Or, perhaps even better: specially designed invitations to visit the dealer's new—and interesting / informative /educational/entertaining—website. The main idea is to take away the sting of bills and invoices with things that show customers you appreciate them. "Show and tell" them that your company is highly professional and reliable, and that you are looking out for their best interests. And always remember - "Relationship building starts at home—at your customer's home!"
FACE-TO-FACE DIRECT MARKETING
An exceptional service technician's marketing value is great. At the same time, the damage done by a tech who often commits "social errors" with customers can also be great—even if he happens to be a competent, reliable tech.
As with any corporate or sales executive, when a service technician makes a call, he is not just another person in your customers' eyes—he is the COMPANY itself. Your company. And if he is projecting the wrong kind of image physically, verbally, or professionally, that tainted image is what lingers in customers' minds after he leaves their home. On the other hand, if he/she projects a positive, confident-and-competent, personable image, then that is what will linger in customers' minds—and motivate them to remain loyal.
As the legendary coach Vince Lombardi once said: "Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all time thing. . . . you don't do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time." Being a winner - and a truly positive extension of your company—takes time, training, the right attitude, effort and practice (aka, experience). And it all begins, naturally, with training. The service tech must understand that detailed preparation is the key to his, and his company's, success.
Being prepared encompasses everything from parking outside the homeowner's driveway (not in it), to being neat and clean in appearance. It includes being polite and respectful at all times in talking with homeowners, and keeping work zones spic-and-span before, during and after repairs or installations.
Service techs are best off working from a checklist. Unless it can be remembered by heart, one should be kept handy so it can be referenced discreetly at any time. Below is a detailed sample checklist. It is not meant to be the final word on service calls; but its basic concepts should always be considered in some form or other:
- Courtesy phone call Make (or have company dispatcher make) a call 20 or 30 minutes before your arrival at customer's home if there's been an extended wait or if the appointment had been scheduled forward a bit. Don't show up early and catch customers off guard; and don't keep them waiting if you're late. An unplanned delay requires that customers be called again and updated -which is a clear show of respect for their personal or family time, and privacy.
- A self-check inventory This includes "a check-up from the neck up." Maintaining a clean, neat appearance is half the battle, but frame of mind is equally important. Don't bring any "chip on your shoulder" to customers. Stress from an earlier call, or from some other problem, must be banned from the premises. There are many ways of getting into a much sunnier frame of mind instantly, by using visualization techniques and internal dialogue...but these require a little faith, and a lot of practice.
- Greeting Before engaging in the business of home comfort, making sure the homeowner feels comfortable is key. Service techs should get in the habit of smiling and offering a firm, friendly handshake when homeowners welcome them. To inspire complete confidence, techs should also be sure to have their company picture ID visible as a badge or affixed to their clipboard. A distinctive business card that's clean and un-creased sends all the right messages and should be given to the homeowner as soon as any conversation begins.
- Customer interview Now, it's time to talk with the homeowner. There are two elements to this. First is getting all the nuts and bolts information about the physical job at hand. Second is getting to know your customers' perspective on your company and the products and services you offer. Just as in sales, it is wise to let the customer do the talking. The more they talk, the more the tech learns about the home, the job, and the homeowner himself. Techs always need to be scouting too, for new product installation/upgrade opportunities. Usually this requires asking a lot of direct questions—with composure and confidence—about the "hardware history"of the home. Smart questioning can lead logically to creating awareness in the customer about the need to upgrade his/her heating, cooling, or hot-water-making equipment.
- Referrals If a homeowner has developed a feeling of comfort and confidence in the tech servicing his heating or A/C unit, he or she becomes a lot more at ease when asked for local referrals. In a very competitive market, referrals can be the lifeblood of a healthy propane dealer's business. Therefore, after a rapport has been established, a customer's job has been squared away, and the work area all cleaned up, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a tech politely asking: "Would you recommend our services to a friend or neighbor?" A special leave-behind that the customer can fill in and mail back listing referrals is very effective. Usually there is an incentive built into the piece to increase the odds of getting the recommendation.
- Farewell Whether or not the customer is able to supply any referrals, another hearty handshake and smile should be proffered to them upon departure. Thank them for their business sincerely. And, just like "upgraded" delivery drivers do, service techs should present to customers company brochures, flyers, newsletters, or any other kind of dealer-promoting (and relationship promoting!) materials. Tasteful, image-building advertising and promotion is much more likely to be read and kept around the house after a service tech has done his job competently, and in a personable way.
At the end of the day, home comfort marketing takes place in your territory all the time. The question is—are you the one doing it best? The competition is real, and residential customers take notice, consciously or not. They respond to a range of images and perceptions that you deliver to their homes. These perceptions are formed by the personnel you deploy to the field, by your print materials and by your Internet presence. All of it is marketing, whether it seems to fit the classical definition of marketing or not.
If you think your company's marketing efforts have become too passive and have lost their zing, you can decide to energize the field marketing of your delivery drivers and service technicians. It takes some hard work, but the pay off is huge.
As always, if you have any questions, or stories to share, just give us a call. We're happy to help.
Richard Rutigliano is President of PriMedia, Inc., a full service marketing and communications firm with offices in New York City, Long Island and Boston. The company is now offering free marketing consultations to Oilheat retailers. Phone: 800-796-3342, or visit their Web sites at www.primediany.com and www.propane-advertising.com.