Most contracting businesses have one person who answers the phone and, yes, that's one (albeit old-fashioned) way to do it. Ideally, however, you’ll have four different people whose jobs involve the telephone:

  1. Operator: This can be a clerical person with no sales skills at all who answers all incoming calls and directs them to the proper person.
  2. Appointment seller: This person books appointments for service techs and salespeople.
  3. Follow-up sales/"happy calls": Calls from this person go out to everyone for whom your company has performed service. This position is an upward career move for an appointment seller. Follow-up phone calls require too much product knowledge for new recruits from outside of the industry to perform successfully.
  4. Complaints: This person is a manager, not an appointment seller.

Appointment Sellers
The person who sets the appointments for service calls and free estimates is the front-line representative of your company.

Good appointment sellers are worth their weight in gold, but are usually at the low end of the pay scale and receive little or no sales training.

Appointment seller is an entry-level position. It pays an hourly wage plus a $2 commission per service agreement sold by technicians. The hourly wage is what the appointment seller is paid to set appointments. The $2 is for setting the stage for the tech to sell a service agreement.

Happy Calls and Follow-up Calls
Happy calls can open a can of worms, so new appointment sellers should not make them. Moving from strictly selling appointments to making happy calls is a promotion.

The next step up the career ladder from making happy calls is making follow-up calls to close people on recommendations that were made by the techs. For that, they should be paid some healthy commissions, but that role requires experience and product knowledge.

Who Handles Complaint Calls?
Don't have your appointment sellers also handle complaints. You want to shield your appointment sellers from all negativity. That's why you should have someone other than your appointment seller answering ringing phones.

It's vitally important that your appointment sellers have positive feelings and enthusiasm about the level of service your company provides, so they will project that positivity over the phone in a sincere manner.

Even the most positive of people can lose their enthusiasm for the company when they’re exposed to negativity in the form of complaints on a daily basis. I've seen daily exposure to complaints cause appointment sellers to start questioning the quality and value of what the company's service techs deliver, and consequently start feeling reluctant to set the expectations high when they talk to people on the phone.

Put the Right Person in the Position
Appointment seller is a telephone sales position. When you're charging a dispatch fee for service calls your appointment seller will need to be as good at sales as anyone else in the company.

Most of the offices I've visited have clerical personnel doubling as appointment sellers. For most of them, the concept that they're in a sales position and that what they’re doing is selling appointments is new to them.

There are exceptions, but as a rule, clerical help are vastly different from telephone sales help.

You must distinguish yourself from the competition. When people call around to shop for a service company, the only thing you have to distinguish your company from everyone else is the person who answers the phone. When people call your shop, do they talk to a warm, inviting, sympathetic, and understanding person?

Call your own office 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 an inconvenience?

If you suspect that you have the wrong person in that position, you're probably right. People tend to sound good on the phone and enjoy making their living by talking on it, or they don't. Unless you truly enjoy what you’re going, you'll never get really good at it.

You're better off getting someone who is a natural in that position than you are trying to train someone to do something they're just not good at (and may not even want to do).

The Office Environment
In addition to having the right person on the job, it's also important that your office personnel have the right environment.

  • Separate appointment sellers from dispatch
  • Make the room quiet
  • Place mirrors in front of everyone who uses the telephone
  • Use handsets and headsets, not speakerphones.

Next month, I'll cover recruiting your appointment seller.

Charlie Greer has worked with HVAC contractors for more than 20 years. He's the creator of "Who Answers the Phone?" which is an audio series that teaches HVAC contractors how to recruit and train an appointment seller, and teaches appointment setters how to do their jobs better. Check it out at www.hvacprofitboosters.com or call 800/963-HVAC (4822). Email Charlie at charliegreer@gmail.com.