Seeking the Cheapest Plumber in Town

June 10, 2011

By Steve Coscia

Customers have a license to misbehave. I tell my clients that "A customer's job is to do what's best for them. Customer's care little about whether their behavior upsets a plumber's phone rep." A customer's bad attitude and subsequent unruly behavior shouts the assertion "It's all about me!"

This happens when a customer needs a plumber to fix a broken hot water heater and calls numerous service companies seeking the lowest quote. In the customer's mind, the "It's all about me" attitude drives this behavior. It's all about getting the lowest price. The customer is not interested in a business relationship; instead he is seeking a commoditized service, performed at the least expensive amount. During the customer's quest for a cheap price, the feelings of the responding phone reps at a plumbing company are of no consequence.

"How much do you charge to fix a hot water heater?" asks the customer in a terse and perfunctory manner. If the phone rep begins to qualify symptomatic details or asks when the hot water heater stopped functioning, the customer may abruptly attempt to steer the phone rep back on the "just tell me how much you charge" track with even more curt mannerisms.

Anyone in the plumbing business understands that quoting exact prices over the phone is a precarious practice because in the absence of vital details and visual confirmation, there's a good chance a price quote will be incorrect. But customer's still demand a price as a result of their "It's all about me" attitude. So, if the customer doesn't receive a quote, they feel justified in calling another plumber until they get what they seek. The customer ends any hope of a business relationship and slams the preverbal door shut. Any hope of re-opening the door is remote due to the customers focus on price.

On the receiving end, the strategy I recommend to phone reps at plumbing companies, in handling price-shopping customers, includes shifting the conversation from price to value.

So when a customer asks, "How much do you charge to fix a hot water heater?" the phone rep's response should be, "That's a great question and we can give you quote after we get visual confirmation about what is wrong. Shall I schedule an appointment for you today? Our trucks are fully stocked, our technicians are all certified and our work is guaranteed. May I please have your name and street address?"

When a phone rep focuses on value rather than price in a well-paced, articulate and friendly manner - a new dialogue begins. This new dialogue challenges a customer's mindset about whether a customer should entrust their home and their family's safekeeping to the cheapest guy in town. It's subtle and effective, and in many cases customers will pause and consider a value-based proposition. World class plumbers view all customer inquiries as opportunities which require a courteous and constructive response.

The icing on the cake occurs when a skilled phone rep invites a customer to call back after searching for the cheapest guy in town. So if a customer insists on making more calls to local plumbers, a phone rep should close the call this way, "If you don't find what you're looking for today, please call me back. We have been servicing this region for years, my name is Steve and my extension is 272 and I'll be ready to help. Okay?"

This invitation is known as "keeping the door open" and it is very effective. Success with keeping the door open strategy lies in the reality that a customer's search for the cheapest guy in town will often fail. This predicament puts the customer in a difficult and sometimes embarrassing situation, because the hot water heater still needs to be fixed. So who will the customer call now? The customer will call the home service company who extended the nicest invitation along with a persuasive value-based explanation.

In all customer relationships there exists a door through which a business relationship can emerge and this must become part of a plumber's service culture. It is the role of managers and company owners to ensure that their staff is well-trained to deliver a value-based service message which invites customers to call back.

Steve Coscia helps Plumbing and HVACR companies make more money through increased customer retention, improved upselling and reduced on-the-job stress. He is the author of the HVAC Customer Service Handbook. A best selling author, columnist and customer service specialist, Steve presents keynote speeches and facilitates HVACR customer service workshops. To learn more about Coscia Communications go to or contact Steve Coscia at 610-853-9836 or

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