The Plumbing "Courtesy Inspection"

Don't present the price until you've earned the right to their business! by Charlie Greer  

The quicker the price comes out, the quicker the price objection comes out.  Some service techs and salespeople are always in a hurry and walk into the call, price book in hand, do a cursory diagnosis, whip out the price book, point to the price, and then wonder why they're getting the price objection. Don't present the price until you've earned the right to their business!


When I first arrive on the scene, I leave all sales materials in the truck and only carry in a few light hand tools (small channelocks, small crescent wrench, a six-in-one tool, a flashlight, a telescoping inspection mirror, a thermometer and a Leatherman "Supertool").

The first thing I do is take a look at the problem that prompted the call.  Once I'm confident I can resolve the issue and, without going into a lot of detail, I reassure them that I can and will take care of their immediate problem, then volunteer to do a "courtesy inspection" all their fixtures, drains and exposed piping.

Here's the scenario: I went to the immediate problem that prompted the service call, checked it out, and said, "Okay. I can fix that. That won't be a problem," thereby putting the customer's mind at ease.

I then said, "You know, Mrs. Smith, whenever I come out to someone's house, I always do a quick, courtesy inspection of all their fixtures and drains, just to see if there are any little free adjustments I can do."

At that point I go around and do exactly what I said I'd do.  The "free adjustments," I do could include but are not necessarily limited to the following:

  • Tighten loose toilet seats 
  • Attempt to tighten any loose toilet bowls 
  • Clean and possibly replace aerators at no additional charge 
  • Tighten loose packing on valves 
  • Tighten handles on faucets and valves 
  • Tighten plastic drains 
  • Basically, anything that we can do that we wouldn't want to warranty anyway. 
  • I flush all the toilets and lift the tank cover to see how its insides look.  
  • I run water in all the drains to see how they're running.  
  • I'll also check their water pressure.  
  • If your company does HVAC work, you can even take a quick gander at their equipment.  You don't need to know anything about it, just see if it's dirty and could use a little maintenance, then you can sell them a service agreement (see below for a quick story on this).

Here are eight things that a courtesy inspection does for you.

  1. It builds value. 
  2. You earn the right to their business. 
  3. It obligates them to you, especially if you find a few little free things to do for them right away. 
  4. It provides time to establish your own personal credibility. 
  5. It provides time to build rapport. 
  6. You will sell yourself on the job, which is important.  The selling process works from the inside out.  People can see right through you, and when you're sold on the necessity of the work yourself, they'll see that as well.  In other words, when you make your recommendations, don't base your recommendations on the benefits you'll receive by the customer accepting them.  Forget about the money and base your recommendations on the benefits the customer will receive by accepting them. 
  7. When you do a complete inspection, you suddenly change in the customer's eyes from someone who's simply trying to sell them something, to a true professional who's merely doing his job and looking out for their best interests. 
  8. You'll sell more add-on tasks. 

If you're concerned about efficiency, don't try to make it up by cutting the inspection short.  The more thorough the inspection, the more credibility and rapport you'll have, the more you'll earn the right to their business, the more problems you'll find and the more likely you are to make the sale.

Another concern techs have is that they will be accused of breaking something that was either already broken or was due to break.  I can see how that could happen if you look and act shady or like you're grubbing around to get extra work or don't make eye contact, but so far it has not been a problem for me.

Drain cleaners often think they can't do the inspection when there's an outside clean-out.  Actually, that's the type of call where you really get to differentiate yourself from other drain cleaners who've visited their house.
Say, "When I show up to clean a drain, I don't just start cleaning.  First I check every drain in the house, starting with your lowest drain, then I work my way up to the drain at the highest level of the house.  Then I clean your drains.  Then, when I'm done, before I leave, I'll check them all again."

This sets you apart from other drain cleaners and permits allows you to see nearly every single plumbing fixture in the home.

Here are just two of many stories I've received regarding the courtesy inspection:

A HVAC salesman wrote to tell me that when one of the company's techs offered the courtesy inspection it resulted in a sale and averted a major problem for the home owner.   The customer walked him over to the boiler and asked, "What is that right there?"  The customer pointed to a hole in the side of the boiler that was oozing carbon monoxide.  The tech immediately shut down the system and contacted the office.  The salesman was dispatched and the customer signed up with not only a new boiler, but a ten year parts & labor warranty and a service agreement.  What was a $90.50 call that turned into a $6000 sale!

One of my regular one-on-one customers recently visited the shop of a friend where he explained the courtesy inspection to the techs there.  The very first day they saw an increase of 70% in their average ticket, 50% in the number of tasks per call, and no one got a turndown.   Everyone saw an increase; even people who met the info with a less than enthusiastic reception.

The stories above illustrate that you don't have to be Charlie Greer for this to work for you and, in the case of the second story,  you don't even have to be taught by Charlie Greer for this to work for you.

Just to be certain I've made my point, here's a list of "Do's and Don'ts" for the courtesy inspection:

DO:

  • Be very matter-of-fact regarding the inspection.
  • Find little things you can do for "free" IE. Tighten toilet seats or flush handles. 
  • Ask to customer to accompany you (although it's okay if they don't). 
  • Ask for permission to move from room-to-room or open cabinets. 

DON'T:

  • Don't humbly beg for permission to do the inspection.  This is a courtesy on your part, it's free and there should be some appreciation on the part of the customer.  Remember, you're providing a service.  That doesn't mean you're a servant! 
  • Don't go into detail on what you're going to do and what you're going to look for or they'll tell you they don't need it. 
  • Don't expect asking them if they've got any other problems they want you to look at to do much good.  Most of the time, they'll say "no," despite having an average of three other things that require attention that they've either forgotten about or are unaware of. 
  • Don't talk too much. 
  • Don't talk to their plumbing, your tools or yourself. 
  • Don't force your opinions on the customer.  Instead, when you see something wrong, ask: "Are you happy with the way this operates?" or "Does the way this operates bother you?" Don't be "intrusive" Don't move around too quickly (makes people nervous). 
  • Don't appear anxious to find problems and glad when you do. 
  • Don't ring up "code violations" that have been there for years, haven't hurt a thing and pose no danger. There's nothing wrong with bringing up code violations, in fact, there's everything right about it.  Just don't make it your whole pitch.  People buy benefits; so bring up the benefits of fixing the code violation.  Also, you don't want to be seen as the "code police" 
  • Don't bring up anything that doesn't require attention 
  • Don't take all day about it, but don't worry about time either.  This is where you establish credibility and rapport.  The longer your inspection, the higher your likelihood of success. 
  • Don't do little mini-sales pitches as you go along or they'll hear the cash register ringing in the background and make you stop before you complete it 
  • Don't quote prices as you go along or even bring up the topic of money. 

Occasionally it can be a challenge to gain permission to perform the courtesy inspection or the customer will want you stop your courtesy inspection before completing it.  I believe that's caused by one or more of the following:

  • They didn't see the value in the inspection (the inspection works best when I am able to find some free thing to do in the first room I go into) 
  • You gave too many mini-sales pitches as you were going along 
  • You were intrusive 
  • The customer had something to hide, such as a mess.  

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