I use a script to find out about a potential customer's carpet cleaning needs. I can't give a realistic quote if I don't know how long it's been since a professional carpet cleaner has worked on it, whether there are any remarkable spots, stains or heavy soiling, whether there are misbehaving pets in the home, etc., etc. I am glass smooth with the script - I've done it thousands of times and I probably could do it in my sleep, carefully recording the responses and working to make the connection that will land us the job.
Because I am experienced and skilled at running the script, and because I am a person who can juggle a lot of balls at the same time, I go a bit afield while booking the job. I listen for age and accent. Do I need to speak up a bit or speak more plainly in order to best communicate with the caller? I listen for the caller with a good curious mind to open the door to me - I'll give 20 minutes of Pet Urine 101, if that's what the caller wants. If the potential customer is bad-mouthing Stanley Steemr or Chem-Dry, I can tell them the reason the methods used by those companies aren't effective for their needs.
I use True Colors to the extent that I can through the phone - if I've got a brand new mommy on the other end, I become as blue as I really am. "Oh, my baby is 19 now, but I remember the earliest days . . ." If I detect vivid gold (these people live by the clock and count the seconds), I'll try to give them the first appointment of the day so I can safely say, "I'll have a team of two at your doorstep promptly at 7:00 a.m." None of this is false or smarmy. I'm simply trying to relate with people in a way that seems will be most comfortable for them.
I talk to enough people to lump them into categories. I can give a short label and any one of the homes knows what's up. "High squirrel factor, home dudes! Anything can happen." "Limes, was this person kind of difficult when you booked her?" "Dandruff, homey!" The customer seemed flaky to me. "Limes, this man needs all kinds of pet treatment but is only willing to pay for a basic!" "Squeaker, home dude." The customer came across as so tight he squeaks. It's a bit different with David and me. We only talk to the customers on the phone. We don't see them in person. But we have a code of our own, as well. "Limes, I need you to finish booking this one. It's a whiner." What David calls a whiner, I call a hem-and-haw-er, but I still know what I'm getting into. This is the person who won't be able to choose between having service on Wednesday or Thursday, but will subject me to the intricacies of the maze in her head while she tries to make that torturous decision.
In the days when the phone jangled so persistently I could barely manage time for a meal at my desk, I was a bit cavalier. If I had a complete and total idiot on the other end of the line, I could pull the plug in any manner I chose, from simply hanging up the phone to delivering up some sharp words. But not now. Now I bend over backwards to get the job. It means I bite my tongue as difficult people speak rudely to me. It means I do not audibly sigh as the caller yammers on for 10 solid minutes about his calendar and the difficulty of fitting in this life-altering activity of having the carpet cleaned. I do not try to rush the confused. I slow down my rapid-fire speech. I use the word "Sir" to men who don't deserve that little show of respect. I speak gently, as if to a child. Mostly I do pretty well. Last week, however, I lost two jobs and was told off by people from a group I almost always enjoy and who usually find me pretty OK ~ the elderly.
The old gentleman (when I use the word "old", count on the person being at least 80) had a soft, but gravelly voice. A long-time smoker, I would guess. He was a talker. I let him ramble. He had no sense of humor. Believe me, I always try. When the other person has none, it puts me at a disadvantage. He talked on and on, giving me no useful information. I'd finally spent enough time with him to know I needed to take the lead. "Sir, I have a few short questions to ask you about your carpet's condition and then I can give you a responsible quote." I asked what rooms he wanted us to clean, "like, living room, dining room, bedroom . . . . " "Well, I have 1,725 square feet of . . . " Folks, I don't need square footage. I need a list of rooms. He continued the stream of words, never directly answering my question. I tried for the next question in my script: "Can you tell me the last time the carpet was professionally cleaned?" He proceeded to answer that with what brand and color the carpet was. "Sir, are there any spots or stains or heavy soil on the carpet?" He took a biting tone and told me to shut up so he could tell me what he needed! I was stunned. But I hung in there. (I need to tell the reader that "shut up" is particularly difficult for me.) I am not exaggerating. The man talked for 10 minutes. He finally said, "Madam, are you there?" "I am, Sir, but you told me to shut up, so I was letting you finish what you had to say." "I believe I'll find another company whose 'secretary' isn't so snippy!" Slam! He pulled the plug! I don't care for "secretary". I don't care for "shut up". And I hate to see my batting average slip. I went into David's doorway and got my attitude back up with a little conversation and giggles.
The next morning, I answered to an elderly lady. She had a sense of humor, so I was more at ease. She got it about giving me a list of rooms she wanted to have cleaned. She could tell me when the carpet was last professionally cleaned. I asked about spots, stains or heavy soil. "Well, we do have a puppy." Uh-oh. Carpet cleaning red flag. Urine requires extra attention and sometimes major restoration work. I need lots of information if there is pet damage. "M'am, is there urine on the carpet?" "Yes, there is." "OK, well, we're experts and we can take care of that, but I need to get a better understanding of how extensive the pet damage is . . do you think there is pet urine in each of the rooms you've listed? How big is the puppy and how long have you had it in the home?" "You're asking me too many questions!" Slam! She pulled the plug. Yow.
In my ears right now: Not enough phone traffic. I need to talk to a few people in order to book a few jobs. I read an article this morning that said the recession should end in the third quarter. We're in the third quarter. Let it end. Please.
Something that charmed me: For every difficult person I talk on the phone with, there are three nice ones. A nice, nice man called in one time and I divined that he had a good curious mind. I went into Pet Urine 101 with fervor. He never interrupted me except to say, "OK, I get it". "That makes sense." When I had run out of words, he said, "Damn, Lady, did you go to college for that?" The Badger dubbed me the Ph.D. of Pee.
Photo credit for half-portrait of the blogger:
J. D. Morehouse