The plumbers of Lombardi Plumbing crowded into the training room. It was early. Most of the public was still asleep or just starting to rise for the day. This was life for the plumbers. They were at the shop by 7:00 a.m. to attend a service meeting and get their trucks restocked.
Danny Jameson sat down next to Buddy Baker. Buddy was one of the old hands and Danny was one of the newbies, assigned to work with Buddy.
Vinnie Lombardi walked in holding a pipe wrench, which he set on a table. Buddy groaned a little. “Here we go again.”
“What?” asked Danny.
“He does the same thing every year,” said Buddy.
Vinnie interrupted Buddy, saying, “Buddy, why don’t you get us started.”
“Yes sir,” said Buddy. “Everyone let’s face the flag. Join me in the Pledge of Allegiance.”
The room rose to their feet in unison. Everyone put their right hand over their heart and joined Buddy, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”
“Thank you Buddy,” said Vinnie. He liked to start every service meeting with the Pledge. Vinnie was patriotic and like many in the service trades, a military veteran. He liked to remind his team that they were fortunate to live in the United States.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance, Vinnie had everyone recite the company’s mission statement together. They said in unison, “At Lombardi Plumbing we put our team first so they can put the customers first and protect the health and sanitation of our community.”
After they finished, Vinnie held up the pipe wrench. “Gentlemen, and Lady,” he said with a nod to Jen Franks, the company’s female plumber, “this is a pipe wrench.” Most of the plumbers in the room joined in, finishing the sentence.
“Alright,” laughed Vinnie, “You’ve heard it before. Well, you’re going to hear it again because our business is built on good fundamentals.”
“So, is this a technical class?” whispered Danny to Buddy.
“Nah, just wait.”
“All of you are good mechanics, even though experience levels differ. If you weren’t you wouldn’t be here. The problem is every service call involves broken plumbing and a broken customer. If you don’t take care of the customer, you’ve only made half of a repair.”
Vinnie continued, “What this means is we need to make the people feel comfortable when we arrive, assured they called the right plumber and delighted when we depart. This starts with our appearance. You guys know we belong to the Service Nation Alliance. Every other year, they survey the customers of Alliance members, including ours. That’s a lot of customers. Anyone guess what the most frequently mentioned concern about plumbers for our customers and the continent as a whole is?”
“Showing up late,” shouted Danny.
“That’s a good one and it sure is important, but it’s not the most frequently mentioned, especially by our customers. Does anyone know why showing up late is less of an issue for us than the country as a whole?”
“We’re fast drivers,” said one of the plumbers.
“Better not be,” cautioned Vinnie. “Remember, if you speed I get an alert from GPS. The reason we show up on time isn’t due to your efforts. It’s due to our dispatchers. Take the time to thank them from time to time because, without their skill, you would show up late more often. And what’s it like when you show up late?”
Buddy jumped in. “The customer is irritated and cranky.”
“And we all know how much Buddy likes cranky customers,” said Vinnie, eliciting laughter all around. “But back to the most frequent concern. Any ideas?”
Vinnie looked around the room. “It’s poor grooming.”
“Grooming?” asked one of the plumbers.
“Grooming. Tell me, what is the stereotype for a plumber?”
“Three hundred pounds, shirt untucked, greasy hair under a dirty cap, and a buttcrack,” offered Jen, the company’s female plumber.
“Exactly. Customers are letting you into their homes. Their home! When you show up neat, clean, and professional, you are sending the customer a sign of respect. It’s respect for the customer and it’s self-respect for yourself.”
“Some of our customers need a little self-respect,” said one of the plumbers.
“Remember the lady who wouldn’t throw anything away?” asked another with a shudder.
Vinnie took control back. “That’s true, but even if a customer lacks self-respect the customer deserves our respect. These are the people who keep the lights on here and who allow us to feed our families. So, every morning, I want you to shower, shave, except for you Jen, tuck in your shirts, and show pride in your appearance. Every person here represents the entire customer when you are out there.”
“When you show up looking sharp, the stereotype goes out the window and the customer says to herself, ‘Wow, these Lombardi guys are different.’ So, what else matters?”
“Parking,” said Buddy. “Park at the end of the drive so the truck doesn’t obstruct traffic, but get permission from the customer to leave the truck there and move if asked.”
“Yes sir,” said Vinnie. “And when you park at the end of the drive, perpendicular to traffic, you maximize the exposure of our beautiful vehicle wraps to more people.”
Vinnie looked at Danny. “What do we do next?”
“Um,” said Danny, shifting in his chair. “Uh, breath spray?”
“Nailed it,” said Vinnie to a beaming Danny. “We want to look sharp and we want to emit no odors whatsoever.”
“Aw come on,” said Jen when the plumber next to her loudly passed gas, causing everybody else to crack up. “Don’t tell me you’ve been saving that up.”
“Who? Me?” the guilty party replied innocently.
“Okay, smart guy,” said Vinnie, “Or, should I say fart guy? What’s important in how we interact with the customer?”
The plumber rolled his eyes but knew the company processes down cold. He said, “We want to respect anyone with a concern about the virus by keeping our distance and asking if the customers want us to mask up, even though dispatch had already told us. We want to make eye contact, smile, and nod to acknowledge the things the customer tells us and repeat them back to make sure we got it right.”
“And,” added Vinnie, “We always want to thank the customer for the opportunity to be of service. Remember, the customer pays for everything around here. The customer pays your paycheck and mine. She pays for your trucks, tools, insurance, and training. The more ways we can serve the customer, the more the customer pays us. How can we do that?”
Danny’s arm shot up. He said, “We ask questions and present options. We never decide for a customer. We let customers choose to repair a problem, replace a product, or upgrade.”
Vinnie held up an invoice. “What do we call this?”
“Paperwork,” was the shouted answer.
“Do we ask the customer to sign the paperwork?”
“No,” said one of the plumbers. “We ask them for their approval or authorization.”
“Excellent,” said Vinnie. “We want to use soft language and avoid terms like paperwork, signatures, and signing. And, we always want to conclude every call by asking if there is any other way we can be of service, thanking them for their business, reminding them of the importance of referrals, and finally, as a personal favor, because your boss measures you on this, ask them to scan the QR code to provide a review.”
Vinnie wrote on the board…
SOFT SKILL FUNDAMENTALS
1. Neat and Clean
2. Odor Free
3. Park at the End of the Driveway With Permission
4. Respect Customer Health Concerns
5. Make Eye Contact
7. Actively Listen
8. Confirm Understanding
9. Ask Questions
10. Present Options
11. Never Decide For the Customer
12. Use Soft Language
13. Thank the Customer
14. Ask for a Review
“Now,” said Vinnie. “Let’s get outta here and go serve some customers!”
Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mobile at 214.995.8889.