Getting Out of the "Only You" Trap

Life is good. And why shouldn’t it be? You are an expert at transforming dirty carpets into clean carpets, you like the flexible hours and you are making more money than you ever dreamed possible. Even better, you love your customers and your customers love you! But a problem rears its ugly head...

You see, the previous paragraph is all about you. And if you are your business, then your life can get real bad real fast. All it takes is one idiot running a stoplight or a drunk driver hitting you head on. Or, less dramatically, lifting that floor machine off balance and there goes your back. What would three months without work do to your bank account or credit rating?

But let’s say you are super careful and very lucky. Nothing catastrophic will ever happen in your life. Congratulations! (I only wish I could be so sure about my future.) But even so, work this “success math.” Calculate in order:

  1. The number of jobs you personally can physically clean per week.
  2. The average net profit each job will average.
  3. How many weeks you can (or want to) work each year.
  4. How many more years do you want to work? If this math exercise gives you a dollar amount that will support your family and achieve your dreams, wonderful!

However, very likely you found that you personally can never clean enough carpet to achieve the financial goals you dream of. The answer is obvious: “clone yourself” by hiring employees. But this getting-yourself-off- the-truck process always hits a huge obstacle.

Your customers are addicted to you. The problem is you, and only you have been personally wowing your clients for years. You are practically a member of the family. So your long-time clients will vigorously resist you sending (in their view) a pitiful substitute into their home.

I went through this “weaning my customers off of me” cycle and yes, it is a painful time for all concerned. But if you do it right you can grow your company through employees that are both technically competent and that will continue your great customer service tradition. How?

  1. Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. Are you really sure you want to “get off the truck”? You must be absolutely resolved to make this business transition work. Many owner-operators are ambivalent on giving up their comfortable routine of actually doing the work. So they jump at any chance (such as a complaining customer) to go back on the truck and their hiring employees/ business expansion plans fall apart.
  2. Hire well-groomed, mature, quality people. Simply put, your customers must feel comfortable with your employees that are working in their home. (Yes, I know that hiring is a difficult subject.) But remember that with the right people business is both easy and a joy. With the “wrong people” it is agonizing. Nothing, absolutely nothing is more essential to the future success of your company than finding the right individuals that will buy into your business vision.
  3. Orient your new hires on the Emotional Dynamics of the Home Front. Do this before you ever let them touch a scrub wand. Homeowners, especially women, feel intimidated, trapped, invaded and very fearful with strangers (usually men) working in their home.
  4. Give your employees a script. Develop Value Added Service techniques that answer the customer’s fear filled “Unspoken Questions” with “Unspoken Answer.” These Unspoken Answers are given based on how your technicians act and speak with the homeowner. Put these steps down in writing and rehearse this script with your new employees before they ever ring the customer’s doorbell.
  5. Teach your new employee how to clean. This is the easy one. But even so, remember to focus on not just the “how” but also the “why” of carpet cleaning. Your new employee needs the confidence that he or she can fill your shoes and you give this to them with knowledge.
  6. Don’t surprise your previous customers. Remember that over the years you have trained your clients to expect you. Instead, start your customer “weaning process” by following this script after booking their appointment. Make sure your tone of voice is routine. You want to convey the idea that this slight change is “business as usual.”

Statement No. 1: “Mrs. Jones, you remember James, don’t you? He will be your lead tech on Monday and Bill Smith will be assisting him. They will arrive at 9 am Monday.”
Client (swooning): “Oh no, I only want YOU!” (Yes, I know. All this customer adulation is great for your ego, but bad if you don’t want to get old pushing a scrub wand!)
Statement No. 2 (with a small laugh): “Now Mrs. Jones, we both know James did all the work last time anyway while you and I stood around and talked all day. James is a better cleaner than me and I guarantee you will be happy. My job is making sure you stay that way no matter whichever one of my employees comes to work in your home.” (Use the plural in referring to your employee here – even if you only have one right now!)
Client (hesitating): “Well, I don’t know...”
Statement No. 3: “Mrs. Jones, I truly believe in my heart that James and Bill will do as least as good a job for you as I have done. They will be using the same equipment, the same cleaning agents and the same cleaning techniques I have always used in your home and that you have always loved. And, I personally have trained both of these guys and I vouch for them. But tell you what, I’m going to personally call you on Tuesday, the day after your cleaning, and verify that you are just as happy with James and Bill as you were with my work. And if you aren’t absolutely delighted, the cleaning will be on me! How does that sound?”
Client: “No, I only want you in my home.”
Statement No. 4: “I understand, Mrs. Jones. You want the security of having the owner there. And believe me, when you have James in your home that is me, because I personally stand behind his work and character. However, I personally am not available. If you really and truly only want the owner of the company working in your home I can refer you to a friend of mine that does all of his own work. He doesn’t use the same powerful equipment we use but he does an OK job...”

Trust me on this one. Follow this phone script exactly and you will seldom get to Statement No. 4. Your few stubborn customer holdouts will always cave in when you offer to let them call your competition. Remember, they’re addicted to you.

But you and your staff better be ready to perform and yes, I use that word deliberately. When your employee walks into a home where the customer really wants your presence the technician faces an uphill battle to impress the doubting homeowner. It will be exactly like an understudy substituting for the stage play star with an audience full of skeptical critics. So your technician better have his or her customer service script down pat.

The problem is the vast majority of owner/operators trying to get off the truck are not willing to invest the time and effort to “write the script,” much less train their techs how to perform it.

Now, for those owner/operators who can’t or don’t want to follow the above getting-off-the-truck process, that’s OK. Keep on doing the job you love. However, if your business is going to continue being based on you alone, I strongly suggest you follow these four steps:

  1. Raise your prices. (Your customers will pay a premium for having the owner actually doing the work, but only if you ask them!)
  2. Start an aggressive personal investment plan. Don’t blow the excess profits created by step No.1. Instead, you need to focus on providing for your retirement without a large business to sell.
  3. Purchase a good disability insurance policy. Remember your life (and your earning power) can change in an instant.
  4. Buy lots of life insurance.

But don’t put yourself, your employee and your customer through the agony of sending poorly trained technicians into the same home where you personally have been wowing this client for years!

If you want to get out of the “only you” trap you must train your technicians with the same intensity you have reserved for becoming the best carpet cleaner in your town. Script out each step of the Home Front “stage play” and who knows, you may face the wonderful but bittersweet realization that your customers actually prefer your employees to you.

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