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If Tony the Plumber can do it ...

If Tony the Plumber can do it ...

This is a true story about customer experience...

As we were tucking ourselves into bed recently, my wife and I heard a strange sound of water flowing. With the summer heat in full force, I thought it was the air conditioning battling the humidity but, as often happens (well, always), my wife knew better and we found our shower was cascading water on its own.

Quickly ruling out poltergeists, we knew we had to get the shower faucet valve replaced. The thought of going away for a weekend and possibly coming back to a mess along with a huge water bill got us searching for a plumber.

Luckily, a house in our neighborhood has a service van plastered with “Tony the Plumber” signs on it. We’ve been in the neighborhood for a while and never needed a plumber and we didn’t know them but felt having someone within emergency distance and giving a mom and pop the business were good ideas.

Here’s where it got interesting.

Tony the Plumber is a one man plumbing business (I found out later that Tony actually runs two businesses himself) and I fully expected my voice mail to be returned after work hours, likely after 7pm or even later. These 1 person operations have to manage everything – marketing, sales, inventory, billing, bookkeeping, vehicle maintenance, and family – all with just 24 hours a day to work with.

What I didn’t expect was this text message, received 2 minutes after I left the voice message (not 10, not 5, but 2 minutes later):

“RE: Voicemail to Tony C – Tied up please text xxx-xxx-xxxx or leave message”

I thought, wow, Tony’s got some auto responder that sends a text message to the phone leaving a voicemail – instant acknowledgement of request, thus satisfying the need for speed in response. Pretty impressive for a very small business.

5 minutes later, I received another, more detailed message:

“Auto Response Tony C Plumbing. Sorry I didn’t pick up, I’m busy at the moment. Please leave a message or text me at xxx-xxx-xxxx. I always return all messages and texts after I’m done with a client. Thanks”

Whoa, what is this 1-man operation up to? He just addressed a bunch of vital service customer needs that many large service organizations haven’t even come close to:

  • Immediate response (1st to respond often gets the business)
  • Additional information (one of the biggest customer complaints – limited information)
  • Text or Voicemail options to communicate (multi-platform)
  • A promise to respond (he has set himself up to be trusted)
  • The utmost importance of each client (customer focused)
  • Appreciation

Within 10 minutes he used the briefest possible message to instill confidence and, because of the industry I’ve been in for 10+ years, real amazement.

Now I was now curious to see how much Tony could handle. It was 10am, and he was in the middle of a job, but I figured I’d text over a description of our valve problem.  His response (okay, this took 5 minutes):

“I’m sending a link to a replacement valve I install”

He sent the link, which had a detailed description of the valve, photos, an explanation of new state plumbing regulations that required anti-scalding features for all new and replacement valves, the price (with options), his availability and even a discount offer.

I texted that we wanted to go forward with the work, he texted an estimated day and time, and that he’d confirm that within 24 hours and asked for our phone, address, email information.

Later that night (at the time I expected the first response), Tony emailed a more formal confirmation even included an estimated duration of job and an arrival window. Here it is:



When I meet him yet I’ll ask him what kind of system he has and why he uses it. I’m guessing his answer will be as direct and honest as his communications with us; something like this “it’s not brain surgery, everyone’s been a service customer for something, everyone always asks for the same thing – tell me what, when, how, how much and communicate often”.

If Tony can do it, every service business can.


Written by Mike Fuller

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