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Stop Driving for Dollars: The Power of Virtual Estimates

Ryan Gaus Dec 9, 2022 6:13:36 AM

In my "side hustle" real estate business, I work with a lot of home service professionals who drive all over God's green earth to provide quotes and estimates for potential jobs. To stay competitive, most of them provide free quotes and don't charge a trip fee. Have you seen the price of gas?!

We live in an age where even your grandma knows how to FaceTime, tools like SimplyOn are commonplace for business meetings, and Zoom has become a noun, adjective, and verb... but home service professionals still routinely schedule you for "Tuesday between 8am and noon," then hop in the truck and drive out to your home, just to tell you how much it'll be to paint your living room, or what it's going to cost to pack up your apartment and move it across town. It's kind of crazy when you think about it.

SupBubble from LiveSwitch is looking to change the paradigm and give plumbers, electricians, handymen, movers, and other home service professionals (ahem) "another tool in the toolbox" by bringing virtual video estimates to the masses.

It's true that virtual video estimates are not a totally new concept, but there are several things that have prevented them from fully living up to their potential and being more widely adopted:

1. They don't always work on any device.

Even though my grandma does, in fact, know how to use FaceTime, she can't figure out how to video call with my brother on his Android phone, or my aunt who prefers to use her laptop. When we tried to get her to install Zoom for my twins' virtual birthday party during the lockdowns, she missed "Happy Birthday" (sorry, Nana!).

2. They often require a customer to download an app.

This is a huge point of friction. Who likes downloading an app for what will probably be a one-time use, from the perspective of the customer? "Oh, you want me to download an app and enter in all of my info (and then likely be on a spam list forever? Thanks, but no thanks.)? Couldn't you just come and see me on Tuesday between 8am and noon?"

3. They aren't instantaneous.

Most of the virtual estimate solutions I've seen still require an appointment to be scheduled for some point in the future, and cannot happen right then and there. While this may be preferred in some instances, in many other cases it would be better to give the estimate right then and there. Points 1 and 2 certainly play a role here - if you have to manage different types of devices, and you are asking a customer to download, install, and register with an app, it makes it more difficult to provide a virtual estimate on the spot.

4. You can't always record the session. 

This is generally true of solutions like FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Skype. In its free version, Zoom only lets you record (locally) using the Desktop app, but not Android or iOS. This is not ideal if you later need to review the customer's preferences and requests for the job, or the list of inventory for that apartment move.

5. "That's not how we do business here."

One owner-operator recently told me:
"I am my business, and customers choose to use me because when they see me, they trust me."

I've heard a variation on this theme a few times, and while I do appreciate the benefits of a good face-to-face meeting, I strongly believe a video consultation can be just as (if not more) powerful. If Covid taught us anything, it's that we can do a lot more remotely than we ever thought possible. Many customers have come to expect this sort of flexibility as table stakes from professional service providers.


Luckily, SupBubble has been built with all of these common pitfalls in mind, helping home service professionals avoid them.

For one, SupBubble works on any device. iPhones, Android phones, laptops, desktops, iPads, tablets... you name it. The back-office staff can easily initiate calls or receive requests from their computer, while the experts in the field can take calls on their smart phones between jobs, from the truck (while parked, of course!), the coffee shop, or anywhere else.

Customers will love the fact that they can instantly join a video session with one click, either by requesting the call directly on the home service professional's website, or via a text message they receive with a link to join a call, which the professional or their back-office staff is easily able to send. There is nothing to download, nothing to install, and customers don't need to register or enter in any of their personal details. As much friction as a clean sheet of ice!

Recording is a breeze and can be initiated whether you are on a computer, phone, or tablet. All recordings are saved to the SupBubble console, and neatly organized by the date and time of the conversation, so they can be referred to when polishing up the estimate, or in case of any misunderstanding between the estimate provided and the job to be performed. Recordings can be downloaded and saved locally, as well.

And remember our friend who thought "I am my business," and was reluctant to provide virtual estimates for fear of losing that edge? He had been thinking back to the days of providing estimates over the phone, which is admittedly a more impersonal medium. Interestingly enough, he found that video allowed his personality to really shine through, and customers felt more comfortable with the "face-to-face" interaction, even though it was over a screen.

The home service professionals I've spoken with overwhelmingly agree that virtual estimates are the future. Aside from the obvious time- and cost-savings (did I mention the gas prices?!), other benefits may be less apparent at first glance.

One owner of a moving company I recently spoke with told me that they are able to provide 2x the number of estimates compared to what they were able to do previously.

Another service professional mentioned that implementing virtual estimates has allowed him to win more business on the spot, noting "Rather than scheduling an in-home visit later in the week, and allowing [the customer] to call around to other providers and get other quotes in the meantime, I'm able to start a video session right then and there, diagnose the problem, provide a quote, and win the job."

Yet another mentioned that it shows her customers from the very first interaction that they are "easy to do business with and are customer-centric."

There's one thing I may disagree on with the home service professionals I spoke with, however. Virtual estimates don't need to be the future. With tools like SupBubble by LiveSwitch, they can be easily implemented today.