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Soft Skills: Handling Customer Small Talk
There’s a sweet spot between being personable with a customer and staying on the topic of the service call. Find it and you could establish the trust that gives you a customer for life.
Running a service business requires excellent communication skills.
From the time you receive the phone call to the time you're en route to the customer, you should be in a positive attitude, calm, methodical, and have a warm smile when the time presents itself. Maintaining a good impression starts with your voice command. Be in a positive and helpful mood and smile when you first talk to a customer. Be sympathetic, calm and pleasant; you are there to help them get through a problem, not add to their worry. Don't give in to the urge to correct them over the phone or in their house. For example, if they call something by the wrong name, don't correct them. Don't argue when customers start telling crazy stories irrelevant to their situation. Instead, listen, smile, take notes, and nod to confirm that you are hearing and comprehending what they are saying.
If you run into a very straightforward customer who gives off the vibe that they aren't interested in conversing — they just want the problem fixed — smile and say, “OK, sign here and I'll get right to work.” The only significant verbal thing you need to avoid is talking too much. Heavy talkers do two things: They give away way too much information to the customer that the customer could later use to try to get out of paying the bill, and they also come off as a salesperson, which turns customers off.
Another tip is to keep the conversation focused on the problem the customer is having and avoid any other forms of exchange unless the customer brings it up first. Keep the personal conversations on a tit-for-tat basis. If the customer wants to ask you whether you have a dog, keep your response light and straightforward. If the customer wants to ask you if you are married with kids, keep the response simple and don’t branch off the conversation into other topics. Typically, if a customer brings up something over and over, it means they are trying to get you talking to figure out whether they can trust you or not. For example, they might say, “Oh, did you grow up in town here?” This is not the time to respond by saying, “How often does this drain clog.” The customer is probing you for conversation to make a judgment, and you need to answer the question honestly without going into extreme unnecessary detail. “Yes, I grew up here, and I went to XYZ High School; how about you? How long have you lived in this house?” That is exactly how you respond to that line of questioning. There is no need to go on and on about how you played football, who you dated, or name-drop to find familiar friends and neighbors.
You must learn through trial and error and common sense the sweet spot of responding to a line of questioning. Don't ever ask personal questions off subject to what the customer has asked you, either. Just because the customer asked you a personal question doesn't mean you respond with a barrage of personal questions. Remember, they are probing and interviewing you quickly with a few simple questions as you begin your service process. Give them the answers they want about you. They may fall in love with you as their go-to plumber because you gave them all the reason they needed to trust you — nothing more, nothing less.
Using Technical Jargon
We all talk the same and use the same vocabulary because we are constantly around tradespeople and talk about the trades all day and night.
Let me give you an example of how it negatively affects us. I have never met you, the reader. Still, yesterday I had a call where Handy Andy cut the sanitary tee off when they remodeled last month, installing a quarter bend in its place. He then plugged the galvanized branch line with insulation and left the VTR causing a smell in the brand-new kitchen. So, what's my point? If you talk to customers this way, they'll have no clue what you're saying. The customer will feel that you're using technical jargon to confuse them and scare them into buying something.
Keep explanations simple, clear and concise without using technical jargon. The simpler the analogy, the better. Make analogies to everyday things like a thumb over a straw to show the workings of an adequately vented plumbing system. Explain the importance of regular drain/plumbing inspections through the lens of oil changes and essential car maintenance. Stick to the facts, and most of all, keep it professional.
About the Author
Anthony Pacilla is a registered master plumber for McVehil Plumbing in Washington, Pennsylvania. He has over two decades of experience in the plumbing and HVAC trades, and has a bachelor’s in business and economics from Thiel College.