Arnold “Woody” Woodall is somewhat of a legend here in the contracting space. 45 years of working in the trades and a retirement dedicated to educating those that’ve come after, Woody is a force for positive change.
In between running Customer Focused Solutions where he offers his specialized training, he’s also an advisor to BuildOps, so we sat down to pick his brain. Here we talk about customer service and what it means to provide an exceptional experience as contractors. We discuss how you take such a thing from a cliche to a differentiating feature and how to truly engage techs in doing so.
We had a lot of fun doing this interview and highly recommend checking out Woody’s trainings for your own teams.
If you haven’t heard the name…
As a former MSCA leader, lifelong advocate for the trades, and one of the most genuinely kind people out there, Woody Woodall is hard to miss in this industry.
Woody has dedicated his life to teaching, coaching, and helping contractors be successful. He spent 45 years working his way through every job title in mechanical contracting. He’s served on countless committees, taught apprentices of his own, and finally after serving as the National Chairman of MSCA, he decided it was time to retire.
But retirement for Woody doesn’t look like rounds of golf and beers on the beach. Rather, it’s more of an extension of his passion for education in the trades.
“I’ve had a chance to be around some of the most brilliant people in my industry — folks that are really focused on doing things right and improving at every turn. So that’s helped me to have that same mindset and learn from both the good and not-so-great things I’ve seen,” says Woody, reflecting on his life in the trades.
As a technology company on a mission to transform the way contractors do business, we are thrilled to have Woody as an advisor. Our conversation has been edited for brevity, but never sentiment. Read on to learn more about his advice on customer service and the work he’s doing with Customer Focused Solutions, Inc.
You’ve helped a lot of contractors be successful over the years. To what do you attribute your own success in the trades?
I think what has worked for me over the years and what I try to teach is just focusing on and caring about the people that work with me and around me.
Everyone has a full plate as it is — stuff at home, things that they have to get to on a regular basis, commitments elsewhere. But if I can help folks care about one another, I can develop a great team that’s truly working together and enjoying each other’s company. That’s still the basis of everything I do today.
Tell us more about your training classes.
I teach a little bit of everything and work with all parts of a contractor’s business, not just the technicians. Whether it be accounting, the person that answers the phone, everybody that touches the client in some way — I think it’s important for everyone to be on the same page.
In addition to customer service, I also have a class on project management and one for evaluating your service processes — how do you know that what you want to deliver is actually being delivered? I have classes for developing value propositions, sales coaching, sales management, and selling in general.
And on top of that, I’ve got some smaller vignettes that I teach on being present, understanding the importance of each moment and each day, and how we treat one another, not just those paying our bills.
There are a lot of mechanical contractors out there that don’t have a process in place from beginning to end. So the goal is to provide structure, set expectations, and get everyone on the same page, working the same way.
When you go into a training session, how do you connect with technicians that don’t want to be there and just want to get their work done?
I’m pretty fortunate because I worked as a technician for a number of years myself, so I can relate to what their challenges are and what they’re doing.
But I also take it a little further too because I relate the topic to their home life. I try to help them understand that, by focusing on the client and providing that exceptional service every single day — they’re creating an atmosphere not just for the clients and themselves, but also for their team members and their families at home and all of the folks in their lives.
Because now, all of a sudden, they’re focused outside of themselves and on others a little bit more than they have been in the past.
Do you find that contractors that codify and train their employees on customer service have better employee retention?
I’m a huge proponent for letting people know what you expect of them. And the only way, especially when it comes to customer service, is to do that type of training. And I tell all of my clients that this is just the first step.
This has to be cemented every single day. You’ve got to include and get feedback from your customers, your vendors, your associates. Everyone has to know where they stand and how they’re doing.
It’s amazing how much improvement people can make because now, all of a sudden, they’re excited about their work because it’s a clear shot. “Hey, this is what they want me to do? This is what I gotta do, let’s go!”
They’re going to have more fun at work, be better at what they do, and you’ll be able to hang onto them for a long time.
That just goes to show that a good customer experience is actually not just about the customer.
Right. And sometimes we get a couple guys saying things like, “This is BS. I do my stuff and then I head on home.” So I try to twist it a little bit and relate it back to their situation.
I say, “Let’s think about this, guys. What would happen if your significant other’s at home, with your kids, maybe your mother-in-law, in a hot house because the AC’s not running, and all you get back from that service provider is ‘I can’t make it there till tomorrow.’”
What kind of reaction would you have? Knowing that your family is in need and nobody’s there to help them.
You shift their perspective.
Exactly. Our job is to take care of the clients. That’s what they engage us to do. And if that means working a little late or doing something a little different, that’s what we have to do. So that turns into a conversation about how you turn it on and turn it off in terms of your customer service.
And I just simply tell the guys, “We never turn it off. Ever. We keep that positive attitude at all times. We’re always looking for moments to leave a greater impact. If we’re able to do that, that carries us into the office and the folks in there, with our customers, with the salespeople, the vendors, all the folks we do work with.
And the most important thing is it carries us home to the people that mean the most to us.
When we can really BE this person, not just turn it off and on as needed — that’s what makes the difference.
How do you help companies differentiate themselves from every other contractor claiming they have the best customer service?
We always start with an honest conversation. I say, “Ok, you guys profess to be an outstanding service provider. What does that mean? What do you define as an ‘outstanding service environment’ for your people, customers, and community?”
Most times they can’t actually verbalize it. “Well, our guys just do the best they can.”
I believe that. But you haven’t defined for them what “outstanding service” looks like. You haven’t laid out a game plan for them to be able to follow where we know they’re going to be successful.
Customer service that stands out starts by defining what it looks like for that organization.
So we get those conversations going — other folks from the office start trickling in, and hopefully by the end, some of the owners will be there, all collaborating on this.
And from these discussions, we develop a definition and an action plan for executing it. We’ll build that path for them, so that they can carry it from customer to customer, associate to associate.
Outside of customer service, how else can contractors differentiate themselves?
The most successful contractors are the ones that are always searching for that cutting edge, what’s just around the corner.
I worked for a company in Washington, DC, and back then everybody was looking at large chillers and self-contained systems. But from the early days, the president of our service division was focusing on data centers.
Today, that area has more data centers than anywhere besides Silicon Valley. Because this guy was a pioneer ahead of his time, his company can now pick and choose just about any of those data centers they want to work with.
Technology also matters. Those contractors that are looking at what’s happening with technology two steps down the road — they’re going to lead the pack.
You can’t just look at the technology itself though. What kind of training do I have to get my team? How do I have to prepare them for a coming change? There are a lot of pieces at work when it comes to truly differentiating.
What kind of feedback do you typically receive from training groups?
I do a survey after every class and ask if I can follow up with anyone who doesn’t give a great review. I’m looking for honest feedback, so I can become a better presenter, better instructor, and a better person in general.
If you’re not getting any constructive criticism, it’s hard to continue to get better. I’m very blessed to have done pretty well there. Most of the folks that have taken my class have given me pretty high marks, and I’m invited back time and time again because of that.
What’s the #1 piece of advice you offer in your training?
I always like to leave the class with some positivity, and I focus on being there for moments.
I share a story about when my daughter graduated from high school. We’re sitting in the auditorium, and as the girls received their diplomas, they’d call out all the things that the girls had done over the years — yearbook, volleyball team, etc.
My buddy’s daughter was the first one to cross the stage. And they listed off 6 or 7 things she had done, and I hear him lean over to his wife and say, “I had no idea she had done all of that stuff.”
And I sat there kind of dumbfounded, thinking, “How many other people are out there that aren’t engaged, aren’t focused in on the people they’re supposed to love the most? Enough to be able to really be there and be part of it and guide them through life as it is?”
The interesting thing about it is we have that opportunity every day when we go to work to do that with our coworkers, vendors, the people in the office, with sales and all those folks. If you focus on those moments, really try to understand what’s driving them, and help in any way you can, you’re going to do pretty good in life.
So that’s sort of the thing I try to teach.
As an all-in-one platform for the modern commercial contractor, BuildOps is a proud supporter of Woody’s Customer Focused Solutions. Schedule a demo to find out how BuildOps is teaming up with Woody to transform contractor operations and customer service. Woody can also be reached directly for training inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.