A revolution in home repairs

I have spent the last 3 years of my life aiming to bring about a revolution in the world of home repairs by founding and leading the business DAD. That journey came to a premature conclusion primarily because our backers preferred evolution to revolution.

Of course the thing about a revolution is it means changing everything. That’s why we call it a revolution. It takes imagination, hard work, time and courage. That means it’s essential to have the right foundation for your venture from the outset. I have detailed my thoughts about why DAD failed if you’d like to dive into that rabbit hole. This story is different. It’s a glimpse at how we thought about introducing an order of magnitude difference to the home repairs market.

To keep this post from becoming a monster I have made an assumption that you are already familiar with DAD. (You can quickly gen up if that’s not the case).

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The three T’s

Right from the outset we identified that the key attributes to get right in order to change this industry were Trust, Transparency and Timeliness. Why? because fundamentally these were there attributes most desired by the end customer and most underserved by the incumbents.

See, the thing is, you might have a local guy who you trust to sort out your plumbing. That’s great. Let’s call him Steve. Steve is a really good plumber but that means he’s booked up for at least 6 months in advance. And, there’s no hiding it, whilst Steve is great with his hands, he’s not the best at paperwork. No matter – this works for Steve – his order book is full and his customers rarely complain at the scraps of paper he issues as receipts. He gets away with it because he is trading on his local reputation and trust is so fundamental in this market the customer puts up with his failings.

Steve delivers on trust but is way behind modern service standards for timeliness and transparency.

Now lets look at a different approach. The regional player. ABC Heating Ltd.

These guys you will be all too familiar with – they guarantee to be with you in an hour. That of course is even before they have even asked where you live!

They know that speed (timeliness) it important so anchor their offering around it with the fabled 1 hour response. They don’t actually care when they turn up or whether they let you down on that initial promise as these guys are entirely transactional. Exploiting the fact that you are desperate they work with a wide network of tradesmen often of varying quality and of course they charge you a premium for being there quick and running a highly inefficient operation.

At this point I should give you an example of a business in this market that positions it’s offering around transparency. Thing is I can’t. It’s doesn’t exist. Sure the local guy might actually be very good at this but it’s rare. The local firm might also have a good process for upfront quotes and followup paperwork but it is definitely not the norm.

There is an example of a business that gets all three T’s right in London and that’s Pimlico Plumbers. Reliable, high quality, punctual and transparent. They will carry out the work to a high standard and charge you exactly what they said they would. Sounds amazing. And it is, until you see the price tag.

The way Pimlico have been able to deliver on the T’s is to charge a significant premium for their services. yet they are still making a small margin. Why? Because their operating costs are high. It is after all a highly analog business in desperate need of technology transformation.

That sounds to me like an opportunity.

So how is DAD different?

Here’s how we used pseudo-science to quantify the ten fold improvement we would bring to the home repairs market through DAD. There a lot of assumptions in this as of course intangible improvements in customer experience are subjective and hard to measure accurately. The things is it’s the essence of the improvements that is important not the absolutes.

Expertise on tap

It would be hard to source statistically relevant figures without expensive and wasteful surveys but we assumed that the average time to wait for a tradesman to show up at your house and take a look at your issue was approximately 10 hours. From personal experience I believe that is very generous, but it works for the purposes of this calculation.

The essence of this is the time it takes to get the homeowner to feel the reassurance from having a skilled professional take a look at the issue.

If we could bring that down to a genuine 1 hour time frame we would be introducing a factor of 2 improvement.

In fact by providing video calling as the initial interface to DAD and allowing customers to speak face-to-face with an expert in less than 10 seconds. we were improving speed by at least a factor of 4.

The tortoise vs the hare

We knew from the outset that it was important to get an expert in to the home as fast as humanly possible. Having done that via video we could take our time to send round an engineer. That afforded significant opportunity to plan schedules and routes efficiently.

Of course, being technology centric we were introducing significant opportunities to improve the logistics. Whilst not novel in their own right we figured that by combining features such as efficient travelling salesmen calculations, real time technician tracking and automated appointment reminders we could create a service that was at least twice as good as anything we’d experienced from someone in this market.

Reputation is everything

“I want to use the local guy”

If you ask a customer about home repairs, that is what they will tell you. It’s a bit like the classic Henry Ford “faster horses” quote. (please, for now, ignore the fact he might not have actually said it!). The thing that’s important here is that if Mr Ford had asked why, he’d have gotten an answer along the lines of:

“I want to get from A to B as fast and as comfortably as possible”.

That gives rise to the automobile in much the same way that if you asked a homeowner why they would say that they want the local guy as his reputation is on the line.

An alternative local argument stems from  the desire to help and support the local community. Of course that’s entirely valid and morally great. I am sure those same people said the same thing about their local greengrocer before Tesco moved to the village. When a viable, reliable and economically superior competitor arrives – actions speak louder than words.

No. For me, local is all about reputation.

John the plumber tries hard to do a good job for all his local clients as he knows that nearly all his business comes from word of mouth. A bad review can be very, very harmful.

With DAD we just took that concept and designed it on a global scale. It’s what Uber to the taxi market and it’s inline with the macro shift towards reputation marketing and away from the world of megaphone marketing where those with the biggest budgets win.

By focusing on quality and referrals you keep marketing budgets lower and you keep customers happy. But more than that, if you create a reason for people to share an experience with their friends you give them social kudus which turns transactional customers into loyal advocates.

To achieve this requires a fundamental shift. To place the customer at the heart of the business. No one in the home repairs world has actually designed their business to be customer first and in my view that gave DAD at least a factor of 2 improvement.

Transparent first

Another vital part of the video call was that it allowed us to capture a tight brief upfront.

Everyone knows that the better a brief provided to a designer the greater the likelihood that the deliverables will be inline with what you expected. The same goes for a management consultant and hairdresser. The same of course applies to heating, plumbing, electrics and handyman work, yet, pre-DAD most work was estimated blind or estimated with highly inefficient pre-visits often covered by exorbitant call out charges.

In my opinion that’s at least twice as good as anything that had come before. Remove those inefficiencies and you have a factor of 2 improvement.

An order of magnitude improvement

Let’s combine those:

  • Speed to reassurance – factor of 4
  • Reliability – factor of 2
  • Reputation marketing – factor of 2
  • Upfront pricing – factor of 2
  • At least a 10 fold improvement on what had come before.

Sadly DAD did not work out but that was not because of the upfront strategic thinking. I am convinced this approach will be taken in this market and continue to believe that the above demonstrates the opportunity that exists in this market for a business prepared to be truly customer centric.