Ian* came to me a couple of years ago, quite stressed out with his business, which is a local plumbing firm. He has been a plumber for 25+ years and was beginning to find it more challenging from a physical point of view to do the work.

On top of this, he was constantly moving between feast and famine, being either overloaded with business or worrying about not having enough, I don’t know if this sounds familiar?!

One of the exercises we initially carry out with clients is something called the Customer Journey. This is a great way of mapping out every step the customer experiences when using your service. It is a valuable way of stepping back to see where things could be improved and bottlenecks removed.

With Ian we identified the following:

  • All the enquires were coming to him
  • There was no-one in the office to look after booking of jobs, invoicing, chasing of payment etc.
  • There was money being left on the table due to these issues
  • Domestic customers were being invoiced rather than being asked to pay on completion
  • There was a lack of templates etc. to help streamline processes
  • There was no measurement of the customer experience
  • No follow up calls were being made

Think of your business like a sausage machine, the aim of the game is to get everything through the sausage machine as quickly and efficiently as possible. All this exercise does is to highlight where things are getting stuck, and then identify the solution to free them.

I can often see in trades businesses a huge amount of business being lost due to it getting stuck, generally at the enquiry and quoting stages, and then again at the payment stage through invoices not going out in a timely fashion.

So…. My top tips are:

  • Map out your customer journey from beginning to end to highlight where there are bottlenecks
  • Have a specific person to deal with enquiries, this could be an outsourced service, or part time office assistant
  • Have a dedicated person looking after all the administration, believe me they will more than pay for themselves!
  • Take payments for domestic jobs on completion by using card payment machines or take payment details over the phone to speed up cash flow
  • Consider using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system specific for the trades e.g. simPRO allowing you to track and project manage all jobs
  • Create templates for any process that you have to complete on a regular basis, enabling others to be trained to collate the right information
  • Carry out follow up calls to customers to measure their experience – again this is something an office assistant can do and often generates more work in the process!

Alison Warner, Founder of Evolve and Grow Coaching and creator of the ‘BUILD system’, specifically for construction and trade businesses.

Alison is the Author of Build and Grow, How to go from Tradesperson to Managing Director in the Construction and Trade Industries, published October 2017.

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the individual