The person who sets the appointments for service calls and estimates at your company is your front-line representative. People in this position are usually referred to as customer service representatives (CSRs), but that’s too general of a term for this article. Let's go with a more descriptive term and call this person your "appointment seller."

A good appointment seller helps you make the most of your advertising dollars. Let's say that the average dollar amount of a service call at your company is $333. At that amount, three inquiries for service that are not set due to a lack of salesmanship on the part of your appointment seller would cost you about $1,000 in revenue. If that happened an average of once per day, we’re talking about $5,000 per week, and over $250,000 per year in lost revenue that your advertising dollars earned but you never received. At some companies, this estimate is probably on the low side.

The appointment seller sets the tone of your relationship with your customers. Ideally, everyone’s initial telephone contact with your company is such a positive experience that it sets a high level of expectation in their minds.

A good appointment seller also opens the door for the service agreement sale.

I've been focusing much attention on training appointment sellers, and I've been doing what I suggest you do: listen in on their telephone conversations.

I've listened to people who, despite being very well spoken when they were off the phone, pick up and the phone and sound as though they thought their job was to get rid of callers. I've heard others speak to people as though the service company was a utility and the customer had no other choice in providers.

In one case, I heard a customer balk at the company’s dispatch fee. In response, the incoming call-taker said, "Well, if you don't like the way we work . . . " and then just let his voice fade. In that case, the customer, who seemed to me to be an excellent prospect for a big-ticket item, got off the phone without setting an appointment.

The minimum you should do is call your own office every once in a while to hear how the telephones are answered. Were you able to understand the name of your company? Did the person sound glad you called and give you a warm feeling, or were you treated as an inconvenience?

I suggest you subscribe to one of the many reasonably priced telephone call recording services, or invest in equipment that will enable you to record your incoming phone calls and give them a listen. You may be in for a stomach-turning surprise.

The Dispatch Fee Challenge
Running "free estimate" type calls on equipment sales is OK, but not service calls.

Every time you run a call and don't make the sale, you've just spent money to generate bad publicity for your company, so it's vital that your techs make a sale on every call. This means you want to make it as easy as possible for your techs to close sales.

Running service calls for free makes it entirely too easy for people to collect bids on simple repairs and makes it difficult for your techs to close sales. My observation is that companies with no service call fee tend to have high rejection rates. When it doesn't cost anything to send the tech packing and get another price from someone else, about half the customers do just that, then buy from a lower-priced competitor.

People requesting that a service technician come to their home or place of business should have a financial interest in the service call in the form of a minimum charge.

When it costs money to have your tech come to their home or place of business to provide them with recommendations, options and prices, they’re more likely to buy on the spot.

This minimum charge is usually called the service call fee, a vehicle fee, or a dispatch fee.

The dispatch fee can range in price from a low of $19 to more than $100. The lower the service call fee, the easier it is to book appointments; the higher it is, the more difficult it is to book them.

If you want to make it easier to capture calls (set appointments on inquiries about service), and close more sales, you can waive the service call fee when the customer has your tech make at least one repair during the initial visit. In this case, the higher the service call fee, the easier it is to close the sale on the first call.

Click here to read more on the dispatch fee: "Don't Get Tripped Up By Your Trip Charge," CB, December, 2005.

The Need for Salesmanship
When you have local competitors who will run service calls for nothing or next-to-nothing, and you’re charging a service call fee, the appointment seller will need sales skills to capture service calls.

Appointment sellers are usually on the lower end of the pay scale and receive little or no sales training. For most of them, the whole concept that they’re in a sales position and that what they’re doing is selling appointments is new to them.

Most of the offices I've visited have clerical personnel doubling as appointment sellers.

There are exceptions, but as a rule, clerical help are vastly different from telephone sales help. Equating a clerical employee with a phone sales rep is the equivalent of making your outside sales personnel double as clerical workers. Clerical workers and salespeople tend to be entirely different types of people.

Next month, we'll talk about recruiting the right appointment seller.

Charlie Greer has developed an audio series specifically for appointment sellers. It covers everything from recruiting and training to how to answer the telephone and overcome objections. He'll also be conducting a seminar on this topic at HVAC Comfortech 2011. For more information on this and other Charlie Greer products, call 800/963-HVAC (4822), or go to www.hvacprofitboosters.com. E-mail Charlie at charlie@charliegreer.com. For more information on HVAC Comfortech, visit www.hvaccomfortech.com