October 2009 archive

Unsolicited Advice for the Professional Service Industry

The recent explosion of information and tools available through the internet has changed things in a variety of industries. One industry that is slow to be transformed? The professional services: painters, landscapers, movers, appliance repair, etc.
Whenever I look for someone to help me with one of those tasks, I’m amazed at how stuck in the past these vendors are. That makes it a real opportunity for someone willing to get with the times.

The experience of hiring a contractor is a little unsettling. When looking for a furnace repairman for example, you’ve got to find someone qualified for the job even though you don’t know much about furnaces. What questions do you ask? What is a reasonable price? Am I inviting a weirdo into my house?

Ultimately, the issue comes down to trust. Trust is everything to contractors.

Getting people to trust you is tricky. It’s hard to put customers at ease, especially if they have just shelled out a bunch of money.
Most vendors don’t help the matter at all with their behavior. I’ve found that even simple acts that build trust like calling someone back when you say you will or showing up on time are missed by your average painter or handyman. Here’s where technology can help.
The internet can be a great equalizer. Small operations can use design templates to create a good looking website that will be miles ahead of the crappy designs that typify contractor sites. Using basic SEO practices, a 2-man lawn mowing service can rank for relevant keywords, boosting their credibility. (Because these jobs are performed by local contractors, ranking for local terms is very doable.) Blogging is a great opportunity to demonstrate expertise and build trust too.

Tech savvy companies could really stand out if thought about using new services creatively. Why not use Google Voice to ring multiple phones from the same 800 number and manage voicemail quote requests online? Or allow customers to see a live schedule for estimates on a website and book their own time? Or offer GPS tracking of service trucks so customers can know when to expect their service person to arrive?

The amazing thing is that the tools to do these things aren’t prohibitively expensive or hard to use. They’re cheap or even free.
And for these types of jobs, each additional sign up is huge. A typical painting job might be worth $2,500 and keep a crew busy for the better part of a week.

So why don’t more professionals take advantage of the free tools available? I’m not sure. I think it has to do with the fact that often times the same person fixing your plumbing is the one handling lead generation. They are focused on their trade and don’t want to think about the business side more than they have to. Marketing is something to get out of the way so you can get on with your work.
If that’s right, technology can’t help after all. The effort needs to come first.

For a company willing to try new things though, today’s tools present an opportunity for extremely efficient marketing which costs very little money. The industry will change eventually so this opportunity is only available for a limited time.