The #1 Conversion Killer For Service Businesses

It’s painful to watch. Well, technically to hear.

A company invests a lot of time and money in building a strong and steady flow of traffic to their website. Maybe they’re even on the ball when it comes to on-site Conversion Optimization and do a bang up job of converting that traffic into quality leads.

A service business like that should be sitting pretty, right?

Well, not necessarily.

Gotta few stories to share with you…

In St. Louis a few weeks ago we had an afternoon of torrential rain. We easily got a few inches in an hour or two that flooded the meadow near my house and the main road next to it.

I thought we stayed high and dry… but then I looked up. The ceiling by the bay window in our living room was sporting a series of brand new water spots courtesy of Mother Nature (and some bad flashing).

Now when given the opportunity I like to reach out to current or former clients to support their businesses so I called a local roofing company we did some work for a few years ago. I sent my contact, their Director of Business Development, an email explaining the situation and told him I’d like to have them fix it.

I got a short email reply around lunchtime that he’d have one of their guys call me later that afternoon. Well, that was over a week ago and I still haven’t heard from them. So instead of giving the business to my former client, I went with a roofing company one of my neighbors works for.

Which brings me to the epidemic that I think kills more conversions than anything for local service businesses: the horrendous handling of inbound leads… especially phone calls.

And not returning phone calls or following up with leads is just part of it.

Umm, Let Me Check On That

Got another story for you from my friend Talor Zamir. He works with a number of attorneys and uses a call tracking product that records the calls of his clients.

One of his clients, a personal injury attorney, was complaining about the lack of business his marketing campaign was generating. Talor knew the campaigns were generating trackable leads so he wasn’t sure what the problem was. Well, after listening to a few call recordings the reason this attorney wasn’t gettin’ the business was quite clear.

The attorney had his niece answering the phones. On one of the recorded calls a potential client asked her if they handle auto accident cases (one of the MAIN types of cases the firm handles). Her response was that she wasn’t sure and told the caller that she was going to put him on hold to go find out. After 5 minutes of being on hold, the caller hung up. The firm lost that lead forever.

A Business Killing Voicemail

Here’s another story from my friend Richard Jacobs from Speakeasy Marketing about a pizza restaurant near his house.

He called the restaurant – during business hours – and got a voice mail (mistake #1 – if you’re in a service business, make sure you answer your phone!). The recording basically said this…

Thanks for calling ABC Pizza. We don’t accept takeout orders over the phone. If you want to place a takeout order you have to download our app for Android or iPhones and place your order that way.”

In essence what they were saying was “Don’t bother us. We don’t want to talk to you. If you want to do business with us, here are the hoops you have to jump through.

With a voicemail like that, they lost out on Rich’s business… and I’m sure he ain’t the only one.

These stories would be funny if they weren’t so sad.

Tips For Handling InBound Leads

Service businesses live and die not just by how many leads their marketing efforts generate, but how well they handle these leads. I truly think the botched handling of inbound leads (of which the stories above are just the tip of the iceberg) prevents more conversions from turning into business than anything else for local service providers.

So how can you make sure your service business does a great job handling inbound calls so you can close a higher percentage of them?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Hire an answering service. They’re not that expensive and making sure a live person is around to answer your phone 24/7 can make a significant difference in the number of calls you convert into paying customers. Just make sure you give the answering service a script to use so they answer the phone the way you want which brings us to the next tip…

2. Use systems. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I’m a big believer in systems. And if handling inbound phone calls is a big part of your business, then you should have procedures in place so calls are consistently handled the way you want them to be handled.

Richard Jacobs has some really great tips on procedures for handling phone calls.

First, use a script. Don’t let your employees or answering service wing it or, worse, when someone calls tell them you’re not available and then leave it at that.

Instead, he suggests using a script along the lines of:

Oh, Mr. Jacobs isn’t at the phone right now but he wants to make sure he talks to you so let me get his calendar. I see he’s available this Thursday at 11AM or 2:30PM and Friday between 9AM and 10:30AM. If you get your calendar out right now, let’s schedule a time to talk when it’s good for you.

This script does a few important things:

It makes the person calling feel important and valued which gives them a good feeling about your company and doing business with you.

Even more than that, it sets an appointment right then and there the first time they call. No going back and forth. No leaving things up in the air.

If you run a service business, your business’ success in highly dependent on setting appointments so why not have a system that makes sure that happens on the first call?!

The other suggestion Richard has is to train those answering your phone to screen people and gather information. Many times, especially in the legal field, the person answering the phone can be stand-offish – “Hello, law firm” – and then nothing. That doesn’t make a good first impression on a potential client.

Train those answering the phone to be more pleasant – “Hello, Johnson Law Firm. This is Kathy, how may I help you?”  Then have them start asking questions to screen out solicitors and other unwanted calls. And when someone who sounds like a good fit for your business calls, have the secretary gather information that can help you with your follow up.

The question Rich says is the most powerful to ask is “What’s the single most important thing about your case you want resolved above all others?” (obviously this is geared toward lawyers, but can be easily adapted to other niches).

This question provides really important information you can use when you follow up with the person.

For example, if you’re a divorce attorney and someone answers that question by saying the most important thing to them is keeping custody of their kids, then you can use that when you call them back – “My secretary mentioned that the most important thing for you is to keep custody of your kids. Let’s talk about that first. I’ve done some research and found…”

Think about the kind of impression that makes on a potential client.

3. Even with systems in place, it’s still a good idea to get sales training for your office staff. Seriously. If your assistant answers the phone and is handling inbound leads, he/she is a sales person. Getting them some sales training may be one of the best investments you can make.

4. If you’re not the one answering the phone, record the phone calls. There are a number of affordable services that allow you to record inbound calls (many call tracking companies have this built it to their service).

It can be incredibly illuminating (and in some cases, downright terrifying) to listen to how your employees answer the phones and interact with clients and prospects. Being able to listen to recordings of these calls to identify issues that may be costing your business is invaluable.

A 6 Figure a Year Problem

The efficiency in which your company can turn online leads into offline sales directly impacts the effectiveness of your marketing – and, ultimately, the success of your local service business.

The math involved here is striking.

A new client for a law firm, kitchen remodeling company, cosmetic dentist, etc. is worth a good 4 or 5 figures to the business. So just closing an extra 1 or 2 clients a month can boost revenues by 5 to 6 figures a year.

How’d that impact your business and life if your company did that?!

Don’t let the leads you generate online slip through your fingers. Use the strategies mentioned above to convert as many of those leads into paying customers as possible.

Do that well and you may just plug the biggest leak in your conversion funnel.