Jason Morjaria, founder at Commusoft, provides advice on what digital tweaks to make to your business to help your company prosper in a COVID-19 world.

Heating and plumbing companies are busy making plans for life after the pandemic.

Top of the priority list? Profitability and customer retention.

Companies who will thrive in the next few months are making these simple tech tweaks.

Send quotes faster

What’s your company’s process for assessing a job and sending out a quote?

If you’re like traditional companies, you send out a surveyor, salesperson, or engineer to a site. Then you draw up a quote and send it out – often several days later.

Here’s the issue. The time you spend quoting is time you aren’t generating revenue.

The other issue is speed. If you take days to send a quote, you’re giving that potential customer too much time to check out your competition.

The owners I talk to who are securing the most jobs are sending out quotes within a day of assess the site.

In fact, I’m seeing some companies ask the customer to send photos, video, or even having a live video chat so an engineer can assess the issue remotely. Then they have a good idea of what to charge.

That way, the customer gets a quote faster, and you save a site visit.

How can you turn around a quote faster? There are lots of different approaches you can take. Ultimately, you need to see what processes work best for your business, but one I’m seeing more often is charging flat rates for common jobs.

It means you can give potential customers a quote straight away, and since most people want their problem solved as soon as possible, they might accept right away.

This tactic is a bit risky. On the one hand, your speed could help you land more jobs.

On the other hand, you could pull up the floorboards and realise the job is more expensive than you quoted.

But from what owners tell me, it tends to average out. They lose money on a few jobs, but they come ahead on a few. Plus, their customers are happy with fast service, and there’s less time wasted on quotes that don’t turn into jobs.

Your team members have all the tools they need right in their pocket thanks to smartphone technology. They might just need a bit of encouragement to use them.

As reported by HVP, only 8% of plumbers speak to customers online with tools like Facetime. Talk to your team about making these digital tools a bigger part of their work.

Small job? Help customers fix it themselves

When the pandemic hit, companies found they had far fewer engineers available.

And research shows 28% of engineers don’t feel safe doing home visits right now.

That’s why so many companies take advantage of the ‘soft fix’. That’s when you help customers fix a simple issue over the phone.

It saves the hassle of a site visit, and makes your customer happier because they get a quick solution. After all, customers hate it when an engineer spends five minutes fixing something, then leaves behind a hefty invoice.

Even if you can’t solve the problem on the phone, a video chat could help you diagnose remotely so you know exactly what needs to happen next.

Some companies use more advanced digital tools, like augmented reality apps to make notes on screen. Those are helpful, but not essential to helping customers. All you need is a basic smartphone and a decent internet connection.

Change the way you talk to customers

When I started helping field service companies a decade ago, everyone communicated with customers through letters. Now email is king, though we’re seeing a growing trend of texting.

A smart move is using a messaging service like WhatsApp. Just recently, an engineer said he sent an invoice by email but didn’t get a response. After a few days, he sent the same invoice by WhatsApp and got an immediate reply.

That’s because we treat email as a ‘send and forget’ tool. Yet with WhatsApp, we expect a conversation. It’s a great way for businesses to interact with customers, especially domestic.

Change the way customers talk to you

People don’t like to call companies. They prefer digital interaction like texting or the ability to schedule appointments online.

It’s wise to give them different options so they can choose how they want to talk to you. For example, I still see annual service reminders that ask the customer to phone the company. Instead, why not get a simple online scheduling system that lets them book appointments directly without the need to talk to anyone?

If you make it easy, they will be far more likely to do business with you. It’s all part of delivering the great customer experience they expect.

Get paid up front

Finally, avoid cash flow drama by charging for jobs up front. Yes, you might feel awkward at first, but remember your customers are used to paying for everything else up front – from booking a holiday to buying groceries.

I have helped a few companies implement getting paid up front. Most were nervous that it'd put customers off. But businesses can start small by taking payment upfront by card from only new customers. Then they can eventually build that out to all customers.

This will give them confidence that it won’t cripple their businesses and will reduce small debtors.

Make these small tweaks, and you’ll improve customer satisfaction and profitability.