You're offering a special discount, so you send an email to your customers that's filled with flashing banners. You're starting a new training program for your engineers, so you email them a link to the details in a Google Drive document. You want to share the news that your company just won the prestigious Hot Air Award, so you email a jargon-heavy press release to your customers—and, because you're a savvy promoter, to the local newspaper as well.
So why is it that are your customers aren't clamoring for the discount, your engineers didn't show up for the first training, and no one else seems to be excited by your news?
It's because instead of thinking about the best way to reach your audience, you're using whatever method is handiest—not to mention confusing your readers with an inconsistent style. (Flashing banners one day and a dry-as-dust press release the next? What exactly is going on here?)
You're probably thinking, 'Give us a break, we're a small field service business. We don't have the time or money to pull off huge campaigns, develop a complicated intranet for our employees, or kiss up to the press.'
Nice try. This might have been the case ten years ago, but now there are cheap or free tech tools that can handle just about every communications-related need you have—and they do it fast, too.
Why do I need a communications plan, anyway?
It may sound like a pain to sit down and draft up a plan, but take it from us—a few hours of effort up front will save you an incredible amount of time and trouble later, for four very good reasons:
- You'll be automating your communications so that you don't have to think about it every single time. ('Oh jeez, I need to follow up with that customer.' 'What if I send a calendar invite my engineers about the new training and they don't use the same calendar?' 'I should post something on LinkedIn...but what?')
- You'll look pro. If you're looking to grow your business—say by winning estate agent contracts—having a communications plan will show that you're a professional who can handle big-time jobs.
- You'll build loyalty. When you have a plan, it's easier to maintain a consistent brand image that creates loyalty and trust among your customers and employees.
- You'll get more jobs. Regular, consistent communications with your customers and prospects will help your business attract more work. Also, because you've streamlined your communications, you'll have more time to wow customers with your stellar services.
Convinced? Good. Here's how to make it happen. Just to make it extra fun, we've included a challenge for you at the end of each step. (Okay, maybe it's not extra fun, but it will simplify the process for you. At the end, you'll have a strategic communications plan all fleshed out and ready to go.)
Step 1: List out your communication needs.
The big question is: Who do you communicate with in your business, and what do you communicate with them about? For example:
For customers and prospects you may need to...
- Tell them about new services and promotions.
- Let them know when you're closed for holidays or inclement weather.
- Send news and special promotions to your email list subscribers.
- Send service reminders.
- Send appointment confirmations and follow-up messages.
- Keep them up-to-date when you're waiting for a part to arrive.
- Send proposals and invoices.
When it comes to your office staff and engineers, maybe you need to...
- Communicate with them about new policies, trainings, and so on.
- Request/receive updates on jobs in progress.
- Give them information on new jobs.
- Keep everyone on track with project timelines and to-do's.
- Let them know if the office is closed due to bad weather.
For your social media followers and blog readers, your to-do's might be to...
- Post regularly to Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.
- Write thought-leader articles for LinkedIn.
- Keep your company blog updated.
- Notify the right people when you have a new blog post, LinkedIn article, etc.
You may want to alert the press or reach out to the public at large about...
- Company news.
- New hires.
- Industry news.
These are just a few examples; depending your business, you may come up with even more.
CHALLENGE #1: Write down your communication objectives for each of these four groups. Feel free to add other groups, such as suppliers or estate agents. Once you have a broad sense of the who and the why, we'll talk about how to organise and streamline your communications for the best impact.
Step 2: Decide on your formats.
If you're like many field service companies, you rely on email and your website to get in touch with everyone from your prospects to your engineers. The problem is, many people are so inundated with email that your messages get buried at the bottom of their inbox—and sometimes even your non-spammiest emails get caught in spam filters.
Also: We hate to break it to you, but unless you work your SEO, update your website frequently, and proactively drive people to your site, not many people are heading there to check for your latest discount or news. Hear those crickets? That's the sound of people not checking out your website.
We're trained to look to email and our websites for all of our communication needs, but there are many other channels that may work even better for you. For all the objectives you listed in Challenge #1, think about whether you might instead use:
- In-person events; for example, a free live seminar on how to winterise your home as a way of promoting your business to the local community.
- Mail. (Through the post! Like in the olden days!) This could be sales letters, newsletters, postcards, press releases, and more.
- A team collaboration platform like Slack, Asana, Trello, or Basecamp for communicating among your staff and keeping them on track with projects.
- Phone calls. Yes, old fashioned sales calls do work!
In some cases, you can let your customers choose how they'd like to hear from you; for example, you could drive customers to a form on your website where they can choose to subscribe to your email list, give permission for text messages, or opt in to postal mail or calls. (By the way, under the GDPR you need to ask for customers' consent to collect their data and add them to lists. Read more about how you can become GDPR-compliant by the May 2018 deadline; that post also includes a downloadable GDPR guide and workbook just for field service companies like yours.)
CHALLENGE #2: Think about (and write down) the channels you'll use to communicate with customers, employees, etc. We don’t care how you do it: Mind map, whiteboard brainstorm, whatever works for you. (Here’s a guide from IQ Matrix on how to mind map if you'd like to try that.)
Step 3. Create mini-plans.
Each time you send out a message, it magically spawns even more—so you'll want to create plans for each type of communication. For example:
- When you post to your blog, it's smart to mention the post on social media, send a link to your email list subscribers, and notify people in your industry who may want to share.
- If you email your customers about a special promotion, you could also post it on social media and your blog.
- When you notify staff of a new training program, you might create a FAQ of the most common questions you get about it.
- When you text customers to let them know you're closed due to snow, you'll then have to contact them to reschedule their appointments.
- When someone makes a funny or useful comment on one of your social media posts, you might want to share it with your own followers.
- A press release to the local media could be turned into a newsletter article for your email subscribers.
Don't give up! At this point things may be starting to look insanely complicated, but remember that once you develop a plan and begin to implement it, everything will run more smoothly. You won't be scrambling every time you put on a sale, have news to share with the media, or put up a blog post—you'll know exactly what to do.
CHALLENGE #3: Sketch out a plan for each type of communication your business is involved in. (Remember, you wrote these out in Challenge #1!)
Step 4: Schedule your content.
If you run a website, blog, email marketing list, internal newsletter, or social media accounts for your field service business, keeping them all up-to-date can mind-boggling. That's when we start seeing blogs that were last updated in 2013 and Twitter accounts with egg avatars and zero posts.
The solution? Create a content calendar. Chances are you know what's coming up in the next six to twelve months for your business—special promotions, new services, new hires, industry events, etc.—so you can create a schedule of blog posts, press releases, marketing emails, newsletters, or whatever types of communication you use to promote your business and keep in touch with your customers.
You'll find plenty of free content scheduling apps and templates online; here at Commusoft, we use Trello to keep all our content-related tasks in one place and on track. CoSchedule also offers a free downloadable content calendar template plus a nice tutorial on how to use it.
CHALLENGE #4: Download a content schedule template (which is also sometimes called an 'editorial calendar') and start to fill it in with content ideas. Don’t worry, they make erasers—and the Delete key—for a reason.
Step 5: Automate what you can.
Many communications can be automated so you're not sitting in an office all day, well, communicating. For example:
- Use free apps to schedule social media posts. We like Buffer and HootSuite.
- Blog posts can be scheduled ahead of time in whatever platform you use, like Wordpress or Hubspot.
- Zapier lets you connect two or more apps to perform tasks automatically. Zapier integrates with more than 750 apps that you can string together in various ways, including communication apps like Facebook, Twitter, Slack, Trello, LinkedIn, Pinterest, MailChimp, and Wordpress.
- Never lick an envelope again: Commusoft can handle that task for you with our Print & Post feature. You simply purchase credits, and we use CFH Total Document Management Limited—one of the UK’s leading document outsource processors—to fulfill your print and post requests.
- While we're bragging, Commusoft's field service management software lets you schedule everything you need—like confirmations, appointment reminders, follow-ups, and service reminders to your customers.
- Email marketing platforms like Aweber and Mailchimp let you schedule emails in advance. Last brag, we promise: Commusoft integrates with Mailchimp!
See? We told you that developing a communications plan would make things easier on you. It just took until Step 5 to show you how. We like to reward those who have patience.
CHALLENGE #5: Check out the apps and other resources we've listed here, or search online for more options. Sign up for or download the ones you feel would work best for you. (No stress: If it ends up they don't work for you, there are plenty of others that will.)
Step 6: Make it mutual.
So far, we've talked about you sending out things for other people to read, listen to, or watch. A final part of your plan should be interacting with people when they respond to one of your messages. After all, communication goes both ways. (Ever hang out with someone who talks your ear off—and then, when you have something to say, they suddenly become intensely interested in the beer menu? Yeah, you don't want to be the field service equivalent of that person.)
How you handle this depends on how many employees you have, how much time you have, and how many communications you receive. Maybe one staff member is tasked with checking the social media accounts, your company blog, and review sites for shares and comments, while another responds to sales inquiries. Or, if you're short on staff, schedule different platforms for certain days of the week so you're not scrambling to respond to tweets, comments, emails, and calls as they pop up all day long: Social media and email on Monday and Thursday, review sites on Wednesday, blog comments on Friday, and so on. (Many experts suggest responding within an hour to any kind of communication, but we have to be realistic here. Of course, customers contacting you about jobs get priority every day!)
CHALLENGE #6: Outline how quickly you'll respond to calls, social media comments, reviews, emails, and so on. Then, plan out who will check the various platforms you use, how often they'll check them, who will respond, and how they'll do it. Need more help? Hubspot has a great flowchart on how (and whether) to respond to social media mentions, and here on the Commusoft blog we have a post on how to respond to bad customer reviews.
Step 7: Pull it all together.
You've already written down the types of communication you do, and with whom; developed a plan for each type of communication; researched apps and signed up for the ones you feel would be the most useful in automating it all; and started developing a content schedule.
This is where it gets real: Now you'll put all this together into one comprehensive plan that you can share with your staff. Keep in mind that your strategic communications plan is a work in progress—no one gets it right the first time. The more you work the plan, the more it will develop into the perfect blueprint for your business's communications.
CHALLENGE #7: Gather up everything you've done so far. You can turn it into a PDF guidebook, upload it all into a Google Drive folder to share with your staff, or even print it out to distribute (if you're not into the whole paperless office thing).
Win Estate Agent Contracts Through Better Communication
Ready to grow? We're guessing yes, so we created a detailed guide and workbook on how to win estate agent contracts. Our guide walks you through each step, from prepping your marketing materials to writing a bid and proposal—and it has a big focus on perfecting your communication process to give you an advantage over the competition.
Download our free guide below—and start winning those contracts.