Ask Steve

Ask Steve: Am I Wrong to Do Over-the-Phone Pricing and Booking, Compared to In-Person Estimates?

When pricing over the phone, you have a double challenge.

man getting out of carpet cleaning vanSteve,

I just got started in carpet cleaning a few months ago and I’m loving this business. In fact, I’m getting ready for my second round of fliers. I just want to be better prepared when the phone rings. (Notice I said “when,” not “if” the phone will ring.)

With my first round of fliers, it was pretty much shoot from the hip when I answered my phone. But even so, I think it went pretty good. I am all about presenting quality and professionalism and will build my business as such.

Now when someone calls, I am still inclined to go with over-the-phone room pricing. It seems to work well for me. I just don’t want to do an in-home estimate before the job and then have to come back. Time is money.

Steve, I just feel that if I explain myself over the phone very clearly I won’t run into many issues when I get to the house. I always tell my caller that if I find completely trashed carpet when I get there or some other problem, that I may have to charge more. I tell them that everything will be presented to them up front.

I am in no way going for the old bait-and-switch. As for the 28 jobs I have already done, I have never had to charge more than I said I was going to over the phone and yet I’m still making money. In fact on these 28 jobs I have never made less than $70 per hour.

However, Steve, one of my mentors in this business tells me he learned from you over 30 years ago to always do the initial estimate in person. He has a fantastic business that I envy so I wanted to write and ask you as an expert:  “Am I approaching this over-the-phone estimating thing wrong?”

In Between in Idaho


Dear In Between,

You are asking some good questions. This “should I price over the phone versus doing an in-home inspection” is one of the most common questions I get. And I can’t resist stating that there are many compelling reasons to pre-inspect the majority of your new first-time customers. Here’s why…

When pricing over the phone, you have a double challenge. You must first slow people down enough that they will make a time investment in the phone call. Here is a typical pathetic phone exchange:

Caller: “Yeah, I’m just calling around to see how much you charge for cleaning carpets?”

You: “We charge 34 cents per foot for standard residential cleaning.”

Caller: “Thank you very much. I’ll give you a call back.” (Hangs up and of course will never call you again!)

This is just so sad. Not only did this no doubt competent and hardworking carpet cleaner not get the job, but it also cost him or her X amount of dollars just to get their phone to ring. Don’t book the job? Then you can just throw away those hard earned dollars!

And finally, the ultimate hit? Our cleaner has lost forever the “downstream dollars” in referrals and future work from this client. And why? Because the initial over-the-phone conversation was mishandled!

Your other challenge, In Between, is getting accurate pricing information over the phone. I won’t say people lie over the phone. But I do know they can be “overly optimistic” as in quoting the room size much smaller than it actually is!

The problem? Once you arrive at the job you determine the actual measurements and share the more accurate (and higher) price with your client. Voila! You are magically transformed into a blood-sucking, scum bag bait-and-switcher!

And yes, I know this is all based on your caller’s bad measurements to start with. But try explaining this to an irate customer!

Now, In Between, you justify your over-the-phone pricing position with “time is money.” I agree. Investing your time for maximum return is very important. In fact, at no time in your business will your time be more important right now than during your start-up phase. (After all, there is only one of you to do everything!)

And yet, could it be that you are forgetting the lifetime value of a cheerleader customer? You know what I mean. Someone who a) doesn’t hang up on you, b) isn’t irritated because of a pricing misunderstanding and then c) is blown away by both your quality work and charming personality.

So what does a cheerleader do? They tell all their friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers about you. Cheerleaders sing your praises from the rooftops! They literally become “unpaid salespeople” for you which means you might be able to cut back on those expensive flyers! But wait, it gets better…

Your true goal is to create “cheerleaders on steroids,” customers who post about their great experience with you on Facebook, Angie’s List, Yelp and Google. These online cheerleaders will easily and immediately tell thousands of people about their great experience with your company. Priceless!

But wait! There is a dark side of the Internet for you, In Between!  It is the double-edged sword of these Internet review sites. Yep, a ticked off customer who feels victimized by your inaccurate phone quote has enormous power to damage your business with negative online reviews.

So here’s the deal, In Between. Why don’t you at least try “pre-inspecting” (I hate the word “estimate!”) only your first time clients. Yes, it does take time. But this is an investment in your future. Plus I found the bigger job ticket from a pre-inspection more than made up for my time “invested” (not “spent”) in doing it!

P.S. Of course, you need to perform your pre-inspection right to actually book the job. (It would be a tragedy to drive all that way and not get the job!

NOTE: For a free copy of my five-step residential pre-inspection script, just write me at and put the phrase “ICS Pre-Inspection” in the subject line.

So In Between, practice this five-step pre-inspection script. Get it down exactly. Then try it for a week. My guess is you will never go back!

 Steve and ICS want to consult for you! For a personal reply write Steve HERE with your questions, problems, struggles and challenges!  Your help is on the way! Watch for a new “Ask Steve” every Thursday in the ICS eNews. Register to receive it here.

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