The No Tell, No Sell Syndrome in the Service Industry

If you want to sell a car, do you a) park it in your garage and cover it with a tarp or b) wash it, park it by the road and put a For Sale sign on it?

If you chose the first option, chances are good you aren’t going to get any buyers, and that car is going to be around for awhile. If you want to sell something, be it a product or a service, don’t hide it—tell people about it.

I get a fair number of local calls from people asking how much would I charge to pump their tank. My standard answer is, “About ten grand. I don’t have a truck so I have to use a straw and I’m getting tired of the taste.”

After they stop laughing, I ask them their location and refer them to a pumper in their area. Then, in most cases, I start answering the many questions they have, “How often should I have my tank pumped? What kind of toilet paper should I be using? Should I be using an additive?” The list goes on.

Being an educator, I not only give them the answers—I explain why. But I don’t stop there. I also tell them about effluent and washing machine filters and risers and why they need them. The common question they always then have is, “Why didn’t my contractor tell me this stuff?”

When it comes to the silent treatment they receive on this issue, there are a few valid reasons, and time is one of them. We contractors only have so many minutes in a day, and we don’t always have the luxury of spending those extra minutes giving customers a crash course in Septic 101.

But one of the biggest reasons all service people practice the No Tell, No Sell Rule is because of the customers they had 40 years ago. Harken back to the 1950’s, -60’s and -70’s. Consumers were a little tighter with their wallets and they didn’t spend their hard earned cash frivolously.

However, there were reasons they were careful with money. Most of those people had lived through the Depression and the shortages of World War II. They knew what it was like to go to bed hungry and not know if they would have a roof over their heads the next week. Live under those conditions for awhile, and you learn to respect money.

Although the economy boomed in the 50’s, and these people were living well, they still remembered the lean years and lived by a few rules:

» If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
» If it does break, fix it yourself.
» If you have to call in a professional, stand over them with a stop watch and don’t let them pad the bill.

Any other suggestions: forget about it. The customer was already complaining about the price of the service call—they sure weren’t going to spend any more money than they absolutely had to. Service people learned to get in and get out ASAP. No wonder they didn’t waste time trying to educate the customers.
But that was then, this is now, and there is a big difference. Today, most consumers are more open to preventative maintenance, and if you tell them the whole scoop on their system, they will listen, particularly in this economy where few can afford to replace that system if it fails.

You can even see this happening in other industries. Five years ago, if a washing machine flamed out, it would get tossed, and a new one would be delivered in short order for around $600. Now, consumers are calling the repairman and spending the $150 to get it fixed. Rather than getting a new car every few years, people are keeping the old ones longer by taking better care of them.

A few issues back, I wrote about how the new construction side of the septic industry is dead and not coming back anytime soon. The only real work is going to be upgrading existing systems and maintaining them with annual inspections. I began doing this in my own neighborhood last fall. Naturally, I used money as the motivating factor.

I told people if our township mandated pumping every two years, the price to pump would double. Then there was the pipe. In 1990, it was three miles away from my house. Now, it is just three quarters of a mile down the road. Eventually, they could make the move to our streets, and we would be looking at $30- to $60,000 each for this utility.

People listened and began signing up. We got one system totally replaced before the snow buried us here in Minnesota. Getting that first one in was the tough one, but now, as the rest of the neighbors are seeing a brand new system in the ground, a few more are looking at replacing their outdated systems this spring, and those that have good systems are calling to get their risers, effluent filters and washing machine filters installed. I figure, by summer, we will have 75 to 90 percent of the homes on the program, which would be enough to vote down any proposed pumping mandates or pipe projects.

I actually had to go door to door and talk to people, so it was a lot of work. It wouldn’t be that tough for everybody. Print up a flyer and send it out to a homeowners association or neighborhood telling homeowners why they need to do this and how it has already been done elsewhere in the country. No one wants to be the first, but they sure don’t want to be the last.

Jim vonMeier performs educational programs directed at homeowners teaching them the health and environmental need for proper septic systems and how to find a certified septic professional to inspect/design/install/maintain their systems. He has also represented homeowners in their fight against public sewer projects and speaks at contractor programs around the country on the subject of customer service.

Contact Jim at 1-763-856-3800 or
Story by Jim vonMeier

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