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The Power of Processes

Imagine going to your doctor and telling her what your ailment is only for her to reply, "Well, what medicine do you want me to prescribe?" Or imagine you're injured. bleeding, in pain. You call 911 requesting help right away. The paramedics to come, lay you down on your coffee table, and say, "okay Mr Jones, tell us what you want us to do."

Ridiculous, right? Any medical professional who allows their patients to diagnose and prescribe themselves won't be in that profession very long. We trust these experts because we trust their ability to diagnose. For certain, Doctors face self-diagnosed patients all the time. They know better than to just accept their patients' internet-educated guesses and start prescribing. That approach would land any doctor in deep and constant legal trouble. Doctors do not let their patients dictate their diagnostic process, thankfully. And neither should good contractors.

Think about your last visit to the doctor's office. You first filled out a questionnaire covering your basic health status. Next there was a questionnaire asking about the reason for this specific visit. What's wrong? You did this while waiting in the waiting room. Once it was your turn, you were first weighed and then your blood pressure was checked. From there you were led to an examination room. Depending on the issue being experienced, you may have been asked to remove certain items of clothing. After that, typically a nurse would enter the room and consult with you about your questionnaire, ask follow-up questions, and conduct a physical examination. After that, finally, in comes the doctor. And like a miraculous genius he is able to diagnose your issue in a matter of a few minutes, prescribe next steps and thank you for stopping by.

Doctor Wonderful has a great PROCESS for diagnosing patients. With this system each patient has received plenty of personal attention to diagnose their condition. From the time they started filling out the questionnaire to the time the doctor finally came into the exam room, that patient has been engaged in a supremely efficient patient diagnosing system. This frees up the doctor's time to really focus on the more challenging cases. Most patients will be accurately diagnosed before the doctor ever sets foot in the exam room. He just needs to confirm the diagnosis, issue his prescription, and move on. Some of these patients will be better served seeing a specialist. The doctor, already aware of this, can have referrals ready to go as he enters the exam room. Patients that this doctor isn't equipped to help need to move on as soon as possible to get their health concern addressed by the best possible practitioner. Having an efficient and thorough process allows doctors to help many, many more patients than they'd otherwise be able to if they tried to handle all of these tasks on their own. It's an excellent system, when you think about it.

Imagine again, calling a doctor and saying "I want you to make a house call" without giving him any information beyond, "I think I need a doctor." Instead of seeing dozens of patients a day and helping many dozen a day, how many house visits could an average doctor perform per day? Not many. And how many would turn out to be a waste of his time? That he could have better spent serving others who really needed his expertise? We don't have house call doctors any more, for good reason. Who makes house calls now? Paramedics. For life threatening emergencies. That have still been diagnosed as necessary by a 911 operator.

I think you might see where I'm going with this. Almost every day I receive at least one call with the request, "can you come and give me a bid." If I did that, it would be akin to the doctor skipping the whole process. It's like calling over the Paramedics every time you think you might, maybe need to go to see a doctor. It's going to be really hard for a contractor who acts like a free paramedic to stay in business. Contractors should be employing their own similar diagnostic process when a customer calls.

Sharp contractors will engage every phone caller asking for a bid in a process similar to what the doctor's office personnel do. First, the questions. Is this even within his scope of work and expertise? Is it a job size that the contractor can handle? Can the contractor and customer agree on a schedule? If the answers are yes, or even probably, then next, he should conduct an exam. But not in person yet. This can be done with a few cell phone pictures and a follow up call. After that, the contractor can decide if it's a job he can perform well, if he wants to do it, and when he could do it. Now he can offer his verbal price estimate to the caller. EVERY job should be estimated verbally before any commitment is made for a site visit. Site visits cost contractors their most valuable resource: time. Site visits to estimate a job increase overhead expenses on all jobs so they should be rare. Site visits should be like the doctor entering the exam room to confirm the diagnosis and offer the prescription.

Beware the small contractor that loves giving free on-site estimates without performing any of the above diagnostics. When he arrives at your job, he's already invested. He has created a need to sell you his services to not lose money on this trip. Rather than relying on a diagnostic process that saves everyone time and money, he's going to rely on his ability to talk potential customers into buying his services. This means he is going to try to give you his best sales pitch. He's likely read all the high pressure sales techniques and tricks books and will put you through the ABC Selling Routine (Always Be Closing). If this has happened to you, I feel for you. It sucks not to know a price for something and then having a salesman standing in your home asking you to make a split decision for something that you had no idea what it was going to cost.

Like doctors, professional contractors shouldn't need to Always Be Closing sales. Their price should be based on THEIR value. Specialists in every field make more for a reason. They announce their prices up front. They don't have to use persuasion techniques.

This reminds me of a doctor and patient joke told by the late Norm McDonald:

A moth goes into a podiatrist's office and the doctor asks, "What can I do for you today?"

The moth says, "I'm so depressed doc. My moth wife and I just can't get along any more and I'm worried sick we are going to get a moth divorce. On top of that, with all the tension in our moth home, my two moth kids are a mess. I'm afraid that my moth son is on drugs and he is failing every subject in moth high school. My moth daughter has an eating disorder, stays locked in her room all the time, won't talk to us about anything. Her mother and I don't know what to do. If that's not enough, my boss at work has said that if I am late one more time, he's going to let me go. Doc, I'm so down in the dumps. I try to think positive, but nothing works. I'm having nightmares every day about terrible things happening to us. I'm at my moth's end. I feel like giving up. You have to help me. What should I do?"

The doctor hesitates for a long time and then says, "That's all very serious stuff to be dealing with. So many struggles. I definitely can empathize. But I have one question, "I think you should be seeing a psychiatrist. I'm a podiatrist. Why did you come to see me about all this?"

The moth replied, "Your light was on."

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