Jerry ran a 15-man technical services firm. He got a nice-sized project at a local manufacturing plant. Jerry’s technical contact at the plant was impressed with the firm's methodical work, efficiency, and attention to safety.
Several times, Jerry and John, the plant engineer, had a conversation about entering into an ongoing maintenance contract that would put most of Jerry’s electricians to work on a regular basis, and provide Jerry an opportunity to expand.
Jerry told his crew to make sure to clean up every day, because there was an opportunity if they continued to make a good impression. The morning that the job was done, Jerry personally did a walk-through. It all looked good. Jerry told his crew members they did a fantastic job, and lunch at a local restaurant was on him.
After lunch that same day, John approached the plant manager about hiring Jerry’s firm for that supplemental maintenance crew contract. The plant manager said to find somebody else. The reason? “Those guys left a mess. I found all kinds of trash outside the overhead door they were using. They didn’t clean up very well inside, either.”
John walked out that overhead door, and sure enough trash was strewn around. What John didn’t know was none of that had come from Jerry’s crew.
The trash was already outside the door when they started, and the mess seemed to grow overnight. Jerry’s crew cleaned some of it up each day, just to avoid having the trash follow them inside. The mess inside wasn’t near where they worked; the plant manager just assumed the mess was theirs.
Fortunately, John told Jerry the problem, and Jerry’s explanation got his company a second chance after John did some fact-checking. But why leave things to second chances?
An alternative version
Here’s an alternative account of how it could have happened. See what lessons you can learn.
The job took six weeks. At 9 a.m. every Wednesday, Jerry walked the job down with his technical contact. This had two purposes. One was to listen to that customer’s comments on the work and the crew. The other was to subtly “sell” the contact on what a great job was being done. For example, one day he’d point out the nice labeling done on the wiring and terminals. On another day, he’d point out something in the job specs and ask the customer to take a look at how that was done. Over and over again, the customer would be directed to examples of excellent workmanship.
An off-the-cuff comment can make the cash register ring. In Week Two of this alternative version, the contact said it would sure be nice to have the one-line show on the switchgear cabinets. “Great idea, let me get you a price on that” is the only correct response.
That second week is also the week in which Jerry starts identifying problems that aren’t his company’s fault. And always, he tries to use those as an upsell opportunity. Examples:
• “Someone’s been dumping trash by the door we use. Do you want a price on cleanup and haul-away, or did you want to handle that yourself?”
• “We pride ourselves on keeping our work area clean.” And then he points out exactly how this is being done.
• “See the dent in that 75kVA dry-type transformer? That’s not ours. But we can replace that unit and put up bollards to protect the new one.”
• “How old is that bus up there? Does it look dirty to you? Have you ever done any thermographic imaging on it?”
• “You’ve probably noticed some poor safety practices in your maintenance crew, as I have. We won’t charge you a thing for two of your people to attend our safety meetings if you think that will help.” This last one isn’t an upsell opportunity, but it does help to build the relationship with the customer while addressing a problem that must be addressed. You do not bolster your business by letting safety problems slide.
Too much hassle?
Does doing a walk-through every week seem like it would take too much time? Compare that with the time visiting new customers to gain new work, or the costs involved in callbacks or lost opportunities. Making opportunities to “touch the customer” is a basic marketing function.
Your technical contact should appreciate the opportunity to be updated on the project. That person is going to look good in staff meetings when asked about the project. And that brings to mind another point about the walk-throughs. The worst time is right after a staff meeting, the best time is shortly before. If there’s a weekly staff meeting at 9 a.m. every Tuesday, try to schedule that walk-through for 8:00 a.m. every Tuesday.
What about that final walk-through? We saw what happened to Jerry’s firm. Employees don’t like getting into trouble. If they do something wrong and can blame the contractor who just left, what do you think they are going to do? That’s one reason why regularly scheduled communication (e.g., weekly walk-throughs) and a final walk-down are necessary.
Showcase your fine work, answer any questions, re-cap problems and their solutions, and summarize what work was done. To prevent overlooking something, develop your final walk-down checklist as the job progresses.