Dollars In The Water

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Courtesy of The Pool MannCourtesy of The Pool Mann

You make the water clean and clear. It sparkles in the summer sun. That’s your product, and your customers are pleased with it.

But every business needs to grow. How can you make more money with the same resources? Is there a way to look at clean, clear water in a way that makes it more valuable to the customer?

The answer is yes, by tying your product to your customers’ powerful emotional needs for security and assurance. Broadly stated, the way you package and present clean, clear water to your customers can make a difference to your bottom line.

Successful companies focus on this. For example, car rental companies found greater success selling accident insurance when they started calling it “walk-away” insurance. Customers like the sound of that better, but it’s, you know, just insurance. What they are buying is the reassuring vision of being able to just “walk away” from an accident. That pleasing notion costs the rental company nothing at all.

Another example: I bought a wireless router at Radio Shack just last week, and the clerk gently nudged me toward “the security of a 2-year replacement warranty.” It’s a great profit center for the company — they’re selling the same router, only getting more money. At the same time, it’s a satisfying buy for people who are happy to pay for the feeling of “security.”

Never Again

In like manner, service companies across the country have gotten creative in the way they present their product in order to boost revenues. Instead of just supplying what customers expect and think they’re already paying for — an algae-free pool — A&M Corson’s AquaValue in Scottsdale, Ariz., offers a “Never Green Guarantee.”

The company knows how to keep a pool clean and clear. But according to Cerah Gray, company coordinator, this special program is aimed at customers who are frustrated with the failures of other companies to deliver on their promises. They crave a sense of certainty — and that’s what AquaValue is offering.

“Our target customer tends to be the one who has experienced pool service without guarantees by service people who aren’t trained in water chemistry and pool equipment repair and maintenance,” she says.

“Our normal service fees start at $85 and can range up to $200 per month for larger, more complex pools. When we provide our quotes, we include the option to choose the Never Green Guarantee. For an extra 8 to 10 percent, the client is guaranteed their pool won’t turn green. If that happens, we will clean up the pool at no extra charge to the customer.”

While the program nominally provides insurance against the cost of cleaning up an algae bloom, which Cerah says can run as high as $80, it also delivers a deeper marketing message: It attests to AquaValue’s customer commitment and the company’s confidence in its capability.

In practice, Never Green Guarantee pools are treated with a phosphate remover and an enzyme product to make sure the promise of an algae-free pool is fulfilled and AquaValue doesn’t lose money on the deal.

“We are able to absorb this cost with our customers because we are actually backed up by the manufacturer of the products we use,” Cerah says. “We wouldn’t be able to make this guarantee otherwise.” About 50 percent of AquaValue’s customers sign up for the Never Green Guarantee program, she adds. They enjoy the peace of mind it provides.

A Daring Plan

Across the U.S. in Orlando, Fla., Blue Water Pool & Repair has an even better idea. According to Fred Johnson, operations manager, Blue Water recently offered a clean-pool guarantee — but instead of asking customers if they wanted the company’s algae prevention program, the company simply announced it as an accomplished fact and gave them the opportunity to opt out.

A flyer was included with the monthly bill that explained the company would apply an algae prevention treatment and guarantee algae-free water for three months for a flat fee of $90. Customers who didn’t want the treatment could contact the office.

It was a bold strategem, and one that, understandably, caused a twinge of anxiety in the high command. “One of the owners of the company was very nervous about my plan,” Johnson says. “He felt that, in this economy, many homeowners would not be inclined to pay more for this type of service and we might actually lose customers by setting the program up in this manner.”

However, only 21 customers contacted Blue Water and declined the treatment, and the net result of the initiative was a boost in profits for the company.

“I could not believe the profits generated with this program,” Johnson says. “We have now treated all of our pool accounts with this system with an average profit of over $70 per pool. Enough profit was generated that we could have purchased a new truck in the first month of implementing the program even after paying for the product, fuel and our labor.”

The company continues to receive calls from customers pleased with their pools after implementation of the program, and as word has spread, Blue Water has garnered new clients seeking the same deal. “More and more people call to say they would like to use us to service their pool after they have seen and experienced the water in a friend or neighbor’s pool,” Johnson says.

Pool Sitting

Leaving home and abandoning care of one’s pool is another common anxiety for homeowners, as they dislike the uncertainty of an unmonitored pool and worry about coming back to face a swamp monster in the backyard. By addressing this concern with a special program, Underwater Pool Masters, West Boylston, Mass., gives customers the confidence and tranquility they seek while boosting revenues for the service and repair company.

“This is a service we offer to customers who are going on vacation and don’t want to come home to a green pool,” says Phil Trumbull, maintenance manager. “We charge a premium for the service and ask the client to give us ‘free rein’ to treat the pool water as needed while they are gone to ensure crystal clear water when they return.”

It’s a simple idea that has paid off handsomely for the company. “The profit margins for the ‘pool babysitting’ service are excellent. And the service continues to grow among our customer base, year after year,” Trumbull says.

All three of these stories contain a common element — a service company that has looked deeper into the lives of its customers to find emotional needs related to pool care that can be met with existing products. With a little inspired thinking, any business can do that trick.

Communicate Well

Customer communication is the foundation of any program, whether it’s a special arrangement meant to satisfy a specific need or a company’s bread-and-butter service. It’s especially important to help customers understand the nature of the special problems that are particular to the region.

Metals and algae are the most common issues in Dave Goulart’s service area, and his company, Aqua Hero Pool and Spa Service in Livermore, Calif., just east of San Francisco Bay, offers a special service for cases of each.

Many of the company’s customers are on well water, and others are vulnerable to metals picked up in corroding pipes, so the threat of staining is often present.

These same customers — the ones with wacky water — are located in one of the big wine-producing regions in California, and when the wind picks up, phosphates from commercial fertilizer can easily blow into the pool.

The key, he says, is to make customers aware of these issues — phosphates from external sources, metals from source water and crumbling pipes. If they don’t understand the reason for an algae bloom or incipient stain, they may be tempted to point the finger at the service guy.

“I tell them, ‘Phosphates make things pretty and green, and when they get in your pool, they do the same thing.’ When I say it that way to the customers, they get it,” Goulart says. “You just have to take the time to explain where problems come from.”

“Just recently a customer called, she was very upset, said her pool was green, and to come out right away. I got there and asked to see her pump remote control. And she said, ‘Why do you want to see the remote?’”

And I said, “I need to see how long you’re running the pump every day.”

“When she showed me the control we realized she was only running the pump a couple hours a day! And of course that was what caused the algae. It wasn’t anything we were doing in terms of service, it was just a customer trying to save a few dollars on her utility bill.”

“So communication with customers is really important. I think one of the most important things to do — and I fall short on this sometimes, too — is just to make sure to find the time to get back quickly to the customers who’ve tried to contact me. I’ve realized that the sooner I do that, the more satisfied they are.”

It’s not easy, Goulart admits, to excel at this part of the business. It takes energy, often at a time when energy is in short supply.

“A lot of us are really busy, and especially early in the season, you find yourself saying, “I’ll get back to them tomorrow,” and before you know it it’s been a couple of days, and your customer may already be thinking about getting a new service company.”

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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