Sidebar: my mother, my daughter and I are said to have nice speaking voices. I'm not sure why none of us can sing, then, but that's for another post. It is said that when one of us speaks on the telephone, the other party wants the conversation to go on just a little longer. I am a talking natural.
On our company websites, that is my voice behind the slideshow the customers view when they book a job online. David wants mine to be the voice of A1, on the phone and in cyberspace. This means I talk to a tremendous number of people. All day, every day. I am a talking natural.
I'm also a natural trainer. I've done it in most of my major jobs and I like to train and teach things to people. I'm not very shy under any circumstances, but put me in front ot 500 people with a microphone and say "Teach them, Limes!" - I am in my element. Nowadays, when I get a live one on the line, someone who will let me tell them a thing or two, I am in my glory. I am a talking natural.
Here's how we conduct business: in a service industry, one doesn't take the working vehicles off the road to run around giving estimates. One puts a strong person on the phone with a scripted set of questions to ask the same way of every customer. Such a person needs to know about carpet cleaning and needs to listen closely to the customer's responses. It's not rocket science. I'm pretty good at determining what it will take to clean a carpet, sight unseen, if the customer will communicate with me. And therein lies the rub. Some of them are obnoxious, some of them are funny, but I think it's fair to say that many people don't listen and don't understand the value of communication. Some of what I hear is unique and some of the strange stuff is ubiquitous. No day passes without me walking to David's office door to tell what I just heard on the phone.
Most women are easier to deal with when booking a job. My first scripted question is "What are the rooms you'd like us to clean, like living room, dining room, bedroom . . . " Few women hesitate at that one. Women seem to know their homes well. Many men stop dead when I ask it. "Uh, um, well . . . " When I'm chirpy and not beaten to death, I want to giggle and say, "Sir, do you live in your home? Do you go there?" For some reason, lots of men answer my "what rooms" question with this: "Well, it's a 2,700 square foot home and most of it is in tile. We bought it 4 years ago. Do you want my name and address now?" Limes: "No, sir, I still want the list of rooms, like living room, dining room, bedroom . . . "
The scripted list of questions is not long. I need limited information to assess what's going to be needed. But people get impatient. Some interject "Why do you have to ask so many questions?" I've learned to respond with "So that my estimate will be a realistic and responsible one." That calms most down. But there are the few who blow on the second or third query. An elderly lady screamed at me and slammed down her phone, "You ask too many questions! I'll call someone else." Um, OK.
Stairs cost extra. Home dudes clean them on their hands and knees with a hand tool in order to clean every angle of every stair. In our valley stairs can range from the size of a postage stamp to the size of a theater stage. So stairs are quoted within a range of prices. Virtually no one gets that if I don't know how many stairs there are and the technician hasn't inspected the staircase and given a firm stair pricing, I can't tell you exactly how much the stairs will cost. The concept of variables seems to be beyond the ken of almost everyone I book. In addition, virtually everyone who gives me a list of their carpeted areas says, "Then there are the stairs going up . . . " When I'm chirpy and not beaten to death, I want to giggle and ask,"Don't those stairs go down, too?"
When I'm quoting for services on a really big job - carpet hasn't been cleaned for 6 years, pet urine, Kool-Aid stains, heavy traffic areas - and the caller goes dead silent, I have given him or her sticker shock. A very few people will say, "That's crazy!" or "I just can't afford that." or "Thanks for your time." But the vast majority of this type of caller says, in an escalating voice, usually with a giggle: "OK, I'm going to call you right back." Um, I don't think you are, M'am.
The worst call so far: He asked in his wispy Michael Jackson voice if we could get blood out of carpet. I said we are expert at it and asked when the bloodstain happened. "Just now. Right now." It was hard to hear him through the phone - that soft, dreamy voice. I pulled up GPS to see where all my teams were at the moment. "Sir, don't put anything on the bloodstains. I'll try to get someone for you right away. In what zip code is your home located?" He gave me a zip code of 8914. "Sir, you're going to need one more digit in that zip code, or give me two major cross streets near your home." He started to mutter and I began to think we had someone somehow impaired. I didn't want to lose a job, so I asked, "Can you help me understand which part of the city you're in? And is it human blood, sir? How big an area is stained?" Mutter, mutter, mutter in Michael Jackson's voice: "No it's not human. The whole dining room is filled with it. It's everywhere." "Yikes!" thought I. He muttered on incoherently, but then, in his loudest proclamation yet, "I didn't mean to kill my dog!" Oh, boy. The hairs on my arms rose and my anntenae began to protrude through my bangs. "Sir, I don't believe we're going to be able to help you."
In staff meeting a few days later, I brought that call up. I wanted to see what the men thought of me turning it away. Was I just being too much girl? Or was it prudent not to send someone there? I explained my reasoning. The man could barely communicate and couldn't tell me where he lived. I had no way to know if he'd accidentally sat on his chihuahua or engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a Rottweiler. "Jeez, Limes, the Michael Jackson voice and the weird zip code would have been enough for me." "The incoherence and an entire room full of blood would have been the end for me, Limes. I wouldn't have wanted to go do that job." "OK, homes, we think alike, then. I didn't want to send any one of you into that because I couldn't tell what 'that' was."
Forrest Gump said it best. Life is like a box of chocolates. I am reminded again that I have the best seat in the house. I dispatch everyone and listen to all the radio transmissions. I watch them on GPS with both amusement and frustration as they move around the city. We dish back and forth all day long. In the end, it is they who must knock on the doors of some wonderful and some truly frightening customers. While I just stay back, talking to the people.
In my ears right now: The Boss. All day long. My friend Tag posted a birthday tribute to him on his blog today. I do love me a 60-year-old rocker.
Something that charmed me: Justin and I had a little dust-up this morning during huddle. He got a little belligerent and I got a little schoolmarm-like. David walked in and heard Justin apologizing to me. "What's going on?" An impromptu staff meeting was held during which our little boat was helped to find a more even keel. On the way in from his last job, Justin chirped me on the BlackBerry. "What's up, Justin?" "Hi, Limes, I'm Gina and I'm a Starbucks barista. Justin would like you to give me your order." "Well, hello, Gina! Let's make that a tall, skinny pumpkin spice latte, no whip." He hugged me when he delivered it, too.