How do you determine a flat rate for your trip charge? I say it should be \$19, \$29, \$39, \$49, \$59, \$69, \$79 or \$89.

Two Types of Contractors
For the purpose of this discussion, we'll divide contractors into two groups. One group has all the work they can handle. The other group is short on work.

If you have more work than you can handle, go with a trip charge in the higher range, such as \$69, \$79, or even \$89.

You might say, "If I do that, I'll lose half my customers!" That's the point. Because you have more work than you can handle, you can use a higher trip charge to discourage overly pricesensitive consumers.

If you're not in the position to lose a few customers, then you should go with something more moderate, such as \$49.

If you're really hurting for business, remember this: The lower your trip charge, the fewer hangups you'll get, and the more service you'll run. Go with a number on the lower end of the scale, such as \$19 or \$29.

To this you might respond, "Go out to the house for \$19? I'll go broke!" No, you won't.

The Pricing Strategy
Most flat-rate pricing systems have two prices for every task. One is called the primary repair; the other is the secondary or additional repair.

The primary repair is any repair priced somewhat higher than the same repair would be if it were a secondary or additional repair.

It's more cost-effective for the service company to do as much as is needed on one call than it is to do the same amount of work over several trips. Therefore, you can pass the savings on to consumers in the form of lower prices for additional tasks. These are the secondary or additional repairs, which are priced lower than the same task when classified as a primary repair.

If you're offering a cut-rate trip charge just to get in the door, you can recoup those expenses by incorporating them into the price of the primary repair.

From a sales point of view, it helps me to get a higher average service call by offering customers an incentive to buy more now. I can say, "The more we do while we're here, the more you save."

You might wonder, "What if we have a technician who's always just charging the minimum charge? Won't we lose money with a low diagnostic fee?"

The answer is absolutely yes. Any one of your technicians who consistently collects only the diagnostic fee either needs some additional training or should be let go so he can work for a competitor and cost that company an arm and a leg in lost business and profits.

Nearly 100% of the calls that I run with technicians involving non-working equipment result in our doing the repair.

This isn't to be mistaken with people calling around looking for prices on replacement equipment. That's an entirely different conversation. I'm talking about people with nonworking equipment who are looking to have it repaired.

My experience has been that by the time I get to their home, these customers have already done their price shopping. They want it repaired, and if they didn't think it would cost money, they wouldn't have called me out there in the first place.

People calling around comparing service rates will often use your trip charge as the only factor in comparing your service prices with that of your competition. In other words, a cut-rate trip charge could actually convey the message that your service rates are lower than your competitions', when in reality, they may be considerably higher.

It's funny. Your trip charge gives customers the least amount of information regarding your company, yet it influences their entire decision. Forget about the quality of your service. You could be sending people out on a prison work release program to do the work. However, they will never know it, because they based their entire decision on your trip charge.

The Incoming Price Inquiry
How the incoming call for service is handled is vitally important. You don't want customers to be uncertain about what it costs to have a service technician out to the house. It's nice and easy to say, "For \$x we'll send a tech out to look things over. At that time, you'll get a firm price on everything that needs to be done."

That beats the daylights out of trying to explain hourly rates over the phone. Anything requiring a lengthy explanation should be simplified. It's too easy to confuse people, and a confused mind always says "no."

What to Call It
Don't call your trip charge a diagnostic fee. That term leads to all kinds of unnecessary arguments.

Take your pick from the following:

• Trip charge
• Service charge
• Service call fee
• Minimum charge
• Dispatch fee.

Should You Waive It?
If you incorporate all the costs associated with your showing up at the door and getting the job into the primary tasks, you can "waive" your trip charge if the work is done while you're there. Another way of wording the same thing is to say you'll "apply" the minimum charge to the work. Experiment with both and see which you're more comfortable using. Many of the discussions about your minimum charges go away when you're willing to waive the trip charge, so it can help you to book more calls.

This is especially helpful if the person answering the phones isn't a particularly good closer. Waiving the trip charge makes justifying your price easier, and I'm all for taking the easiest route.

Some Final Words
The trip charge is your "regulator." It allows the people taking the incoming calls to give simple answers to simple questions. If you need more calls, reduce it. If you have too many calls, jump it up a bit. Use the law of supply and demand to your benefit.

Charlie Greer is the creator of Tec Daddy's Service Technician Survival School on DVD and the instructor for Charlie Greer's Sales Survival Schools, held every spring and fall in Fort Myers, FL. For additional essays on pricing, visit him on the web at www.hvacprofitboosters.com. For information on Charlie's seminars and products, or to order a copy of his catalog, call 800/963-HVAC(4822), or email him at charlie@hvacprofitboosters.com