If conducting virtual troubleshooting diagnostics and appointments were not part of a hot tub dealer’s customer service pre-COVID, many dealers began implementing the service over the last year. Meanwhile, retailers who were already conducting business this way have continued to experience time-saving results during the pandemic without skipping a beat.
Hans Kissmann, owner and president of Georgian Hot Tubs in Barrie, Ontario, has been offering virtual services to customers for 13 years. Kissmann believes this not only saved money and time from the start but also gave him a leg up on the competition when the pandemic began.
“During the pandemic, some other local stores had to curtail their business to keep in line with local health regulations,” he says. “I have seen that our virtual service has increased significantly as our competitors were not set up for this and did not know how to start.”
Kissmann says his business has gained clients during the pandemic because of its virtual approach to diagnostics and customer service. “[Customers] have indicated that our approach is what they were hoping to get from their own store that originally sold them the hot tub or swim spa,” he says.
David Townley, owner and president of Townley Pool and Spa in Little Rock, Arkansas, has been offering virtual diagnostics for 15 years. Townley says he was motivated to provide this service to build trust between the business and its customers.
“It’s part of our DNA,” Townley says. “We try [to] avoid unnecessary service calls if we can help troubleshoot the issue over the phone. People can text us photos and videos of their hot tubs.”
Having this practice already in place, Townley says, gave customers the option to avoid in-person visits to the store, an option that became even more appealing in the pandemic.
Kissmann and Townley both say their customers were keen to participate. “I think people are more than willing to try and help us help them,” Townley says. “We do not need to convince them.”
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One of the first things Kissmann’s company does when a customer calls is ask how comfortable they are with basic troubleshooting. “This allows the customer to be part of the process,” he says. “We are just trying to give the customer the confidence over the phone that they can indeed complete some of the steps themselves with the right direction from a properly trained person.”
Townley says looking at the problem before traveling to the site helps his techs have the parts needed ahead of time. “Some of our far-off customers are willing to allow us to send the parts directly to them, and then get back on the phone or FaceTime while they install it,” he says, adding that one of the only challenges has been making sure phones are fully charged.
After an initial virtual diagnosis, Kissmann says customers decide whether to make the repair themselves. If the customer doesn’t feel confident, they request a technician. “They are in control of the cost,” he adds. “No surprises.”
Virtual diagnostics also give technicians a better idea of what they will face when they get on-site, which allows for better time management and planning, Kissmann says. This also enables technicians to squeeze more repairs into a single day, he says.
“The main challenge is ensuring all staff are trained correctly and they learn from the same trainer,” Kissmann says. “This ensures a solid baseline of knowledge and that everyone is diagnosing the same way.”
Townley and his team use Broadly, a platform that allows texts to come in via their main store’s phone number to maximize communication with customers. “This way, all staff have the option to see it and avoid missed texts,” Townley says. FaceTime, texts, videos and phone calls are also virtual diagnostic methods most customers are already familiar with.
“The sole reason I started this service was so we could better serve our customers, and in approximately half of the cases that we solve virtually, the fix is something simple,” Kissmann says. He believes quality customer service will keep a hot tub store alive and healthy. “We have an opportunity as a retailer to sell a customer a hot tub once,” he adds, “but [service] will keep that customer coming back to you for chemicals and support.”