How and why we started a cleaning company in the first place and a few logistical complications on the way
Organizing everything in the beginning was key if we were to be successful, and the biggest hurdle initially was phone service. Each Blog post will include a summary at the bottom if you hate reading. We will do our best to link each section of this blog to the pertinent blogs as they are written. Here is a list of what we did wrong with some more details below the list:
- Used our own phone numbers…like literally our cell phones.
- Picked up an AI service with individual numbers by state…and forwarded them to our cell phones.
- Hired an answering service.
- The 800 number.
Just don’t. Using a cell phone and consequently your own phone number causes problems. First, cell coverage doesn’t always exist and people calling for in home services want you to ANSWER the phone. Calling back is not a great option if that expectation was not somehow set with the caller. Call waiting isn’t a real thing when an actual booking call takes about 8 minutes and calls pile on top of each-other. Finally, everyone now has your actual personal number. We live in a world of texting and people are going to text you, regardless of the time; day or night. You won’t get anything done on your phone anymore. You can’t be on a phone call of any importance with even your Doctor because you may have to take a work related call. I don’t mean a co-worker calling, I mean a client. We already covered that you have to answer thing…and they really may not pick up the phone should you call them back so you HAVE to answer.
None of these are great things. Do you really want to advertise your own personal number to the world??? Probably not. Can you utilize your cell phone but mask it? Absolutely. Can that still have some of the issues discussed above. Darn tootin’.
Side note: Don’t mask your cell use by getting a texting phone app thing. When people hear “the TextNow subscriber you have reached is not currently available”, they are never going to trust you again. Don’t be cheap.
ai, or in our case, CALLJOY
So, we tried something else. We found out about a service known as CallJoy. It was an automated system (read:Artificially Intelligent) answering system. Well, automated at least. We spent days working out what people would ask the fake agent and determining what information would be fed back to them or which calls would actually be forwarded, again to our cell phones (at least this time we were not handing out our own phone numbers and it went to a different recipient based on which location by state the caller was trying to reach). The rub was that NOBODY wanted to talk to or listen to an automated system. As time wore on we saw this was not going to work. We stopped using the automated feature pretty quickly and really ended up using it for the numbers we had registered with the service. We also liked that each call was recorded but otherwise the service was not great and nixed. Coincidentally, CallJoy stopped their service completely not long after we ended our service with them.
Clearly we did not try every service but we did our homework. The problem is that an automated service almost solves some problems but creates others. It sort of solves being able to answer the phone but people don’t like ai so they hang up. It also solved some routing issues since we could now direct incoming calls for certain cities to be received by whomever we wanted but 2 calls in Nashville overlapping still created this: they tolerated ai and then have to leave a voicemail? They didn’t like it. It was costly to have 4 cities on each service at 40/month, pay for the cell phones, and then lose clients to distaste for the service.
OVERALL RATING: THUMBS WAY WAY DOWN.
The humor in it:
This brings us to our first bit of comedy, that sometimes was frightening to listen to. When a person called any of these numbers they would hear “calls may be recorded for training purposes”. This means calls ARE recorded which can be for improvement of the system, actual training, or even development of a module on how to appropriately handle calls. Thing is, even before that message is played, it is already recording. In fact, when the phone is RINGING, it is already recording. I have heard people say things that just shocked me because they didn’t know they were yet being recorded or didn’t know as they spoke to the ai, or after being transferred from the ai. Short story: PEOPLE DO NOT LIKE AUTOMATED SYSTEMS. People would cuss the ai, threaten the ai, or scream obscenities because it wasn’t doing exactly what they wanted. Just avoid ai where possible.
We found an answering service that seemed to have reasonable billing and was willing to work with us as scripts were built out and their staff started to understand what they needed to do on the back end to book a client. This is all a process and it takes a month or more, so be prepared. When you first hire any service like this you have to do an initial call, build an initial script, let it go live, and watch it fail. Only when it fails do you see the problems it has and how they need to be fixed.
Humans are better, right? Sometimes…maybe? The answering service was not ALL bad. The first day the answering service burned through half the minutes we had purchased because our script was not perfect and out of 28 calls, only one was booked. Why? We wanted them to be the sales staff when we really should have used them as a message service where people were told we would call them back if they couldn’t be transferred. Ultimately this is exactly how we used this service but with script improvements the call service was landing sales on about 25% of all calls (we currently land 85%). This made calling people back on cell phones pretty simple but it became basically all we did on a typical Saturday where we were fielding some 50+ calls per day. Another upside was that all of these calls were recorded too but some of these folks were incredibly difficult to understand. The company we chose had staff in all English speaking areas but that could mean someone answering a phone in the U.K. or some other heavily accented county. In the end, the service was released due to cost, lack of sales, and time commitment needed.
Call center (inbound) Summary
Call centers CAN work for some things but not for others. If they are only answering your phone for you, have at it. They can take messages, forward calls, answer simple questions from a logic based script, but don’t expect them to make sales for you or answer complex questions or have an in depth knowledge of your company. All of that would take massive amounts of time and each person may have to know your system intimately to be able to log a call, book a gig, or make a sale. Use this option if as part of our final solution below but don’t rely on this as the way to answer all of your incoming calls.
Another side note:
In the interim it should be known that when you are receiving upwards of 50 calls a day EACH PERSON SHOULD BE TRACKED. Meaning, get a CRM (customer relationship manager tool) and use it. We did not. The only people we could later call were those that we booked. We came up with a solutions later on that has helped but every call is a potential sale at some point and you need to be calling all of them on repeat. You could be throwing away thousands of calls, frankly squandered most of the info you need to keep that you probably paid for. That happens no longer. When you get to the section on staffing woes and then systems later on, you will know exactly what I am referring to.
Okay, phone.com, what a neat tool this thing is. This is like an advanced in house phone system that is entirely virtual. The options are literally endless with what this thing will do and we are trying them all. Currently we use the system for it’s menu capabilities, call routing, recording, voicemail, extensions and phone numbers. When we found this we wanted to replace Ai and the Answering Service. We purchased a vanity toll free number first and got it setup up to send all calls through it. We build a menu so people could HEAR a human for simple info but GET to a human if they wanted. It really is a robust system. It does have some draw backs but the benefits far outweigh them thus far. In the beginning we used the Queue feature they have where you can roll the call (forward) from one party to the next if the last one was busy. It is awesome and immediately solves the “who the heck is going to take an incoming call if I am on the phone with another client” problem. We would never miss a call again. Later, we changed this practice to shotgun calling. The system can send every incoming to a particular number to a bunch of phone numbers or extensions all at once and whoever answers first takes the call. This works really well to some numbers and not so well to others. You can download an app that allows a cell phone to be used as an extension rather than forwarding a call direct to a number (this is handy if you want clients to hear a company voicemail rather than “you got Joey, I ain’t answering, leave a dang old message or text me”).
The app is incredibly useful for sales staff too because now their personal phone can call out on ANY NUMBER you have purchased with phone.com, which is how we use the system for outbound calling. We have a phone number for each city and the toll free number. The system can even be set to tell you which phone number the call is trying to reach so you can answer it appropriately or have some idea where service will be done. This helps to avoid “where are you calling from exactly”. Why does that even matter? We have found clients want to hire locally for the most part and this allows you to answer “CleanIt Nashville” or “CleanIt Phoenix” which gives them instant satisfaction that they have called the right place.
The system can be used with regular desk phones (okay, VOIP desk phones) too with assigned incoming calls to specific extensions on those phones or from those phones. For example, the 1st extension on my personal desk phone rings in as our toll free number and dials out on the same. One minor issue is having a VOIP phone on a satellite internet connection which creates latency (a delay in my speaking to your hearing it and vice versa), otherwise a GREAT solution.
We decided after considerable growth in number of calls that our best solution is not JUST the flexibility we get with phone.com but to also have all the calls answered under one roof in a mini call center where we control what is said and how jobs are sold. This is a work in progress even right now. We will keep you posted on that front.
In summary; make mistakes but don’t continue to make the same mistakes week after week or you will pay in the long run. Information is power and even if someone says ‘no’ right now does not mean you can’t send them a thank you card for calling you or warm calling them in a month and trying to earn their business, but keep copious notes and use a CRM.
In part 2, we are going to talk about booking engines and why spreadsheets and the CRM alone WILL NOT WORK.
SUMMARY, Part II
We started this with an idea. To build the best damn cleaning company ever built with systems that support it so well it simply cannot fail. Each section of this blog will have a link…eventually. We will add to it under this section to address your questions and comments.
- Part 1 – In the beginning…
- Part 3 – Tracking and Client Booking Software
- Part 4 – Staffing Woes
- Part 5 – Dishonesty Control
- Part 6 – Advertising mistakes
- Part 7 – Social Media Disconnect
THE GOOD FROM THE BAD.
- Part 8 – The Percentages
- Part 9 – Supply Coordination
- Part 10 – Locations
- Part 11 – Systems
- Part 12 – Debt
- Part 13 – Death and Taxes
- Damage Control and Prevention
- Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up.
- Things to Avoid altogether.
- The Best Type of Clean