The Lovely Marianne and I were out to dinner with our daughter, Erin, who bought our business when we retired a few years ago.
We were in a nice Italian restaurant and the waiter had told us about the specials for the day. He gave us time to think about it and was now returning to see if we had reached a verdict.
“I’ll have the chicken parmesan,” Erin said.
“Excellent choice!” the waiter said, and I could tell that he really meant it. Erin smiled. She loves her chicken parmesan.
“And for you?” the waiter asked The Lovely Marianne.
“I’d like the shrimp with linguini,” she said.
“Excellent! Excellent!” the waiter said.
“Sir?” the waiter said.
“I’d like three raw eggs in a tall glass,” I said. “And I’d like a straw.”
“Excellent choice, sir!” the waiter said out of habit.
OK, so I made up that last part. I really ordered the salmon. The waiter thought that was a brilliant choice on my part.
“Contractors should do that,” Erin said after our waiter had scurried away.
“The excellent thing?” I said.
“Yes, there’s a lot of power to that. The waiter made me feel like I was the smartest woman in the restaurant,” Erin said.
“What about me?” The Lovely Marianne said. “He also thought my choice was excellent.”
“We’re all excellent,” I said. “Truly.”
“Imagine if a heating contractor reacted to a customer that way when the customer finally chose between this boiler and that boiler,” Erin said. “We could use more of that sort of spirit in the heating industry.”
I had to agree. And I also have to say I’ve never heard a contractor shout “Excellent!” when a customer chose a particular product. Usually, it’s just a nod and a smile. No passion, though.
Last year, I had cataracts removed from both eyes. Now if you’ve never had the pleasure, I’ll tell you that the procedure is painless. My doctor used a laser, which costs me more, but was worth it. The whole operation on each eye took less than an hour and all the while he was doing his work he kept saying, “Perfect! Excellent!” That pleased me, as you might imagine. I mean he was cutting into my eyeballs and replacing the lenses with plastic ones. I was very happy to hear that what he was doing was excellent.
He did the same sort of self-praising during my follow-up visits, but I had the sense that he was praising me as well as himself. I had made the right decision when I went to him for the operation. He was letting me know that, and I loved hearing him say my vision was now excellent. I was able to see colors other than sepia again. Excellent!
And while this was going on, I thought once again about what Erin had said about contractors and their customers. Oh, and you, too, I suppose.
When a contractor orders something from you, do you say, “Excellent!” or “Great choice!”? Do you tell the contactor you love that product and that the contractor is so smart for choosing it? And for choosing you?
Why not? It doesn’t cost anything to do what the best waiters and great eye surgeons do, and I’ll bet your contractor customers will feel even better about both themselves and you if you start telling them about the great choices they’re making. Hey, it’s human nature to want to hear that everything is excellent.
The art of the nod
And it’s not just the words; it’s also the gestures. When I was learning about steam heating, I sat at the knee of the late, great Frank Gerety. Frank was a P.E., a New Yorker, and he was obsessed with steam heating and all that goes with it. He researched it deeply and introduced me to many of the Dead Men. He wrote books about how to get the most of out of old steam-heating systems for New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development and so many people benefited from his passion.
Frank was the first person to explain the ins and outs of steam pressure to me and it was not easy getting that concept into my thick skull because I do not have an engineer’s mind. He explained that when you raise the pressure on a steam system, the steam doesn’t go faster; it goes slower. I had believed the opposite.
I thought if you wanted more heat in a building you should raise the setting on the pressuretrol. Frank smiled and told me to do just the opposite. I fought him on this, but Frank gave me analogies that slowly made me understand. I began to see it in my mind’s eye, and then he showed me the Moody Diagram and taught me how to use it. That classic engineering diagram proved he was right and he got through to me, a non-engineer.
But his analogies were just a part of the magic that Frank brought to the party. When he talked to people and he wanted to make a technical point, he nodded. And I don’t mean just once. Frank nodded like a bobblehead doll. His head never stopped moving and it was a full-swing thing. His noggin became a forward pendulum that was irresistible. It was impossible to disagree with him when his head started bobbing. I found myself nodding along with him like we were listening to B.B. King play the blues. I couldn’t help myself and it’s very difficult to say no when your head is nodding yes. Try it. Say something you know is true. Now say it again but let your head bounce up and down. It feels even more definite now, doesn’t it?
Now say something that’s not true but keep nodding yes while you’re saying it. People will believe what you’re saying is true even if it’s false. Here, try saying this while nodding yes:
The New York Jets will win the Super Bowl this year. The New York Jets will win the Super Bowl this year.
Nod, nod, nod, nod.
Look around at all those nodding people who are now agreeing with you.
OK, maybe not as many if you’re not in New York, but there will always be some.
Nod. Nod. Nod.
A contractor stops by to see you. He has a problem on a job. You know this guy. He likes to argue. He thinks he knows it all, but he’s coming to you for help. You tell him what to do. He smirks and says, “Ah, I don’t know if I should do that. That’s going to cost too much.”
Now try this: Instead of just telling him what he really needs to hear, tell him that he came to the right place and that his question is excellent. Then start nodding while you tell him what he has to do. Get excited. Finally, tell him that the job is going to be excellent when he’s done. Tell him how happy his customer is going to be when he, the contractor, is done doing his excellent work. Tell him he’s brilliant — the best there ever was.
He’ll believe you. And he’ll love you and want to keep coming back for more.
And it cost you absolutely nothing to do this. Try it; you’ll see.
(Nod, nod, nod.)