In any service profession, the goal is to gain new customers and win the job.
To that end, knowing when and how to charge for an estimate is the
question in today’s economy.
My answer is to remember that we are consumers too. Think about
this: Would you hire someone or go to work for a company without
agreeing on a pay rate first? Of course not!
The question of whether to charge for an estimate must be looked at
in a few different ways.
Let’s start with a homeowner who is on our route for weekly
cleaning service. Mrs. Smith calls and says that her heater is
broken, and of course, it needs to be working by the birthday party
this weekend. The first thing to consider is when her regular
service day falls in relation to this call.
Mrs. Smith’s day may be coming up, or it may have been
yesterday, and you have no reason to be in her area again all week.
What do you do?
In these situations, my policy is that if the pool is scheduled for
regular service before the party, I will diagnose and repair it
with their authorization after providing an estimate. I remind the
customer that they get 15 minutes of free diagnosing and after
that, the hourly rate begins. Most heater problems can be spotted
within 15 minutes. I also indicate on the invoice the amount of
what would have been the hourly cost and write “WAIVED PER
OWNER.” This lets them know of the freebie.
Conversely, if Mrs. Smith’s pool was just serviced yesterday
and I wasn’t planning to be in the area, I charge an hourly
rate. It’s tough, I know. Charging a good customer is never
easy, but I hold fast to my expertise. I let Mrs. Smith know that
calling an outside source can cost more money and the job may not
be done right.
This is a business. I remind my customers that by having me come
out, they are getting an honest company, one that has already shown
its trustworthiness. It’s hard to not give people a deal, but
your service should be worth it.
When to charge for a service/estimate call is pretty well defined
at our office. If we have to take tools out of a truck to
“look” at anything, we charge the customer our standard
rate. This defines all of the different free estimates that people
are looking for. Period.
Many customers want Nordstrom’s service at Kmart prices and
then complain about the quality.
On the other hand, it’s fine to provide a free estimate when
bidding on a green pool or weekly cleaning service. You’re
not trouble-shooting anything, instead it’s more like a
professional submitting a bid to paint your home. In that case, he
is there to look at the house and win the job.
But when providing a customer with your expertise, you should
charge for that knowledge. Nowadays, with the internet and YouTube,
people can attempt to fix anything on their own after having you
come out to point them in the right direction. But for that
service, they should be charged a fee. Keep in mind that federal
law mandates that if Mrs. Smith’s boss calls her in on a day
off to have her help with a problem, then she must be paid a
minimum of four hours regardless of how much time she spent
working. You are just asking for one hour!
In closing, remember, word of mouth is the strongest advertisement.
Customers will take you more seriously when you charge a service
fee. And this way, you set yourself above the rest. Anyone can go
work for free. I would rather not do the job and not get paid, than
do the job and not get paid.
Finally, at all times, in every situation, maintain three policies.
Be honest. Be consistent. Be fair.