I’ve spent the last 20 years or so either owning small businesses or working in some kind of sales or marketing role.
And whether it’s a small 3-person service operation or an 80+ person team, there’s been a tension between the sales side of the business, and the operations side (the people actually doing the work) of the business. Tension doesn’t necessarily mean dysfunction, but it’s a dynamic that’s been present in every organization I’ve been involved with. The two functions are focused on different parts of the business and it’s impossible for them to completely understand the role the other is playing.
Summit is no different. We’ve been growing at 30+% a year for the last several years. For that to happen, marketing and sales is making lots of promises out in the field, and operations is making good on them. In a typical retail sales or manufacturing business, good communication is all that’s needed to keep the tension at a minimum. In the restoration industry though, it’s not so simple.
At any given time, capacity at a restoration company is changing. One moment, we could have 70-80 people ready and available for service. The next moment, a major water damage event at a distribution center takes 20 of our team and, all of a sudden, our capacity shifts for a few beats. Meanwhile, our sales team in the field is selling our capacity to respond to all damage events, of any size. Relative to other industry players, Summit has tremendous capacity to handle both enormous scale of damage and volume of jobs in process. But there is a limit, and when we bump up against that limit, there’s the potential for us to disappoint people. This is true of any restoration company in the industry.
It’s a tricky business- on the one hand, people want to know that we have the ability to help them no matter what comes up, but if it all comes up at once, something has to give. This balancing act is a daily reality in the restoration business.
Becoming the Backstop
So, how do we try to manage it? Behold our baseball analogy. (Ever appropriate following the Beavers jaw-dropping World-series win recently.)
Well, we’ve landed on this idea of backstopping our brothers and sisters in operations. If you’ve ever gone to a game, you’ve seen crazy foul balls and wild pitches fire off toward the fans in the bleachers- sudden death or disability prevented only by the backstop fencing or net. Our marketing team is that backstop. It is impossible to prevent the occasional wild pitch (our mistakes) or wild foul balls (other mishaps). What we can do is prevent them from injuring the fans and ballpark staff in the stands.
Marketing and sales has to engage in the service delivery process too. It’s not common in the industry, but we’re finding it’s the only way for us to buffer against service failure in this industry.
So, what does this look like in practice?
Every Monday our marketing/sales team reviews a report of all referred jobs we’ve received during the current week. Each “player” takes ownership of jobs received from their referral partners and they spend the better part of a full day going through the report and reviewing the job notes for red or green flags. We refer to this as our “Admin Day,” and it’s one of the most important days of our week.
Aside from notes that might indicate a wild pitch or foul ball, the team is also hunting for inspections that have been scheduled for a referred customer but haven’t yet happened. We know that one of the most sensitive times in a projects life is right at the beginning. Just like with a Comcast technician, it can be really difficult to arrive on time to an appointment, and customers can get very frustrated. That first inspection appointment sets the tone for the days or weeks that follow in the project and potentially results in the first bit of feedback to our referral partner that sent us the job.
We make it a point to calendar the dates and times of those initial inspections, so that we on the marketing team can make a courtesy call or text to our technicians or project coordinators an hour before they’re due to be there. If they got caught up in a conversation during their prior appointment or had to swing by Home Depot to grab something, our team can call the customer ahead, avoiding frustration and disappointment.
“The goal is to stay in front of events that we know have a high potential to frustrate or disappoint.”
But, of course, it doesn’t stop there. Once the project begins, there’s a multitude of at-bats where things can happen. So, each Monday we’re also doing a 4-week audit of jobs that are in progress:
• We text and call our project coordinators to get the low-down on the jobs
• We step in to help with communication, follow-up calls, and reminders
• Take responsibility and apologize well, if needed
• Add a thoughtful touch with the customer or referral partner: a well-timed, in-person visit to review the latest job notes with them, deliver a personal note and bouquet of flowers, send photos of recently completed work, etc.
What has it done for us so far?
Here are 4 benefits we’ve noticed as we’ve been doing these exercises and playing this hybrid role:
• Our operations team trusts us more-they’re reaching out to us for help, giving us a heads up before we ask.
• Disappointments and negative perceptions with referral partners are decreasing-we’re catching more potential problems before they happen.
• Our team is learning to speak the language of our operations-we’re learning more about the way things work, and what challenges are common on the service delivery side. This helps us share more relevant info with referral partners and set better expectations.
• Net profit is up YTD. Less problems actually reaching a customer mean less service recovery is required, which means our job cost is lower.