John Pilger: Providing Premier Customer Service – The Other Half of the Job

By Jim Gillam

After Sooty Bob Daniels finished his keynote address at the 2002 Northeast Regional Chimney Sweep convention, John Pilger stood up and invited everyone to his Customer Service seminar.

John Pilger shares his proven customer service techniques at the 2002 Northeast Regional convention in Manchester, NH.

Photo by Jim Gillam, The Chimney Sweep News

“Sooty Bob teaches you what to do,” he said. “I’m going to teach you how to do it!”

Following up on Sooty Bob’s theme, John explained that excellent customer service is the way to turn “Convertible” customers into “Premium” customers.

John and his wife and business partner, Diane (Chief Chimney Services, Smithtown, NY), are able to charge significantly more than others in their area, while staying booked to capacity. They attribute much of their success to the procedures they follow during “Pilgers’ 11 Points of Contact.”

The idea, John said, is to “exceed the customers’ expectations. You are the best person who has ever come into their house, bar none!”

Initial Contact

Customer contact begins with whatever causes the potential client to call you in the first place, be it some form of advertising or a referral.

John had high praise for the Certified Chimney Sweep® referral feature of the Chimney Safety Institute of America website, “We get at least a job every week from this site. It has paid for our National Chimney Sweep Guild dues many times over!”

Their own website,, is also a good source of new clients for the Pilgers.

The Phone Call

When your potential client calls to make an appointment, “have a good phone script,” John advised. "Be upbeat!" Thank them for calling.

Most people will ask the price right away.

John likes to respond with a couple of questions. He’ll ask if the house is one or two stories. “I really don’t care [the price is the same], but what we’re trying to do is to slow the person down, to get him to listen.” Steer the conversation toward value. Get all the information you can about the situation, and also ask how they found out about you.

Once you give them a price, they may have an objection. “I can get it for $39.95 from XYZ!”

“We stay calm and point out that two Certified Chimney Sweeps® will be coming to the house,” John said. “Be nice, polite, smooth, and don’t stumble on their worries.”

If they don’t go for it now, they may call again later. “Never write anybody off,” he recommended.

Reminder Post Card

After the appointment is booked, Chief Chimney Services sends the customer a postcard to confirm the appointment. The postcard assures the customer of your commitment and reminds them to be there, too. The Pilgers use post cards available from Sand Hill Wholesale. Within the message on the back and a “15 years of service” sticker attached, Chief Chimney Service’s name is mentioned four times.

Reminder Phone Call

A day or two before the appointment, John or Diane call the customer to remind them of the appointment.

Sometimes the customer will need to reschedule or cancel the appointment. Don’t act disappointed. "Sound upbeat!"John emphasizes. “Sometimes, after a full day of work, one less job is a blessing.”

Exceeding Expectations at the Appointment

On the day of the appointment, the Pilgers call ahead to tell the customer whether they are going to be on time, early or late.

When they get there, they get out of their vehicle within ten seconds.

John visualizes the arrival. “You’re going to knock on the door. Then, and you’ve heard Bob Daniels talk about this, you take a giant step back.

“When the customer opens the door, greet your customer with a big smile. I say, ‘Good morning, I’m John with Chief Chimney Services. Nice to meet ya.’

“After you shake their hand, give them a business card.”

The Pilgers use laminated business cards. “When we hand it to customers they take a look at it and then sometimes try to hand it back to us. We say, “This is for you.” They say, “Oh, really! I won’t lose this one!’

“It’s absolutely the cheapest thing you can do to get your customers to remember you.”

John also stressed the importance of being presentable and staying clean.

When entering the house, he suggested putting down a mat with your company’s name on it to wipe your feet, then using rug runners from the doorway to the hearth. If there is any chance of tracking in moisture or mud, John recommended using plastic booties available from medical supply distributors.

He also advised putting on plastic or white gloves before moving furniture. “Take the time to take care of their house,” he emphasized.

“Extra touches” that the Pilgers add to the job include:

  • Cleaning and painting the grate and ash dump door;
  • Cleaning glass doors and offer fireplace glass cleaner for sale;
  • Deodorizing the firebox and tell the customer about it;
  • Placing Duraflame log, fire starter or fatwood bundle with a bow (!) on the newly painted fireplace grate;
  • Using a dustbuster to clean up any little grits left behind;
  • Leaving a plastic chimney sweep with a thank you card and a business card on the mantle.

Furnace Stickers, Fireplace Tiles

“I do a lot of oil-fired appliances,” John said. “Every one of them gets a sticker on it.”

They provide the customer with a constant reminder of who to call. It also is likely to stay with the house if the ownership changes, letting the next resident know whom to call.

For fireplaces or wood stoves, engraved tiles can be used. John recalled that he used to stick some cement on the back of them and affix them to the back of the fireplace. “But a couple people got pissed off, so I wouldn’t do that!” If you get something that looks nice enough, John suggested, your customer would want to put it on their mantle or next to the hearth.

Forward Schedule Postcard

Let them fill out a postcard with their name and address, and forward schedule them right there,” John advised. When forward scheduling, “Don’t ask,” for the appointment, John advised. “TELL them you will back next year!”

By providing your customer with a guaranteed appointment a year in advance, you are making a commitment to your customer that is far beyond anything they have seen from any other service company. Ensure your future by forward scheduling.

Forward Schedule Magnet

“This is a great tool!” John exclaimed. “Put it at eye level. The customer sees it every time they open the refrigerator.” If you clean dryer exhaust ducts, leave one on the dryer. Customers may also use their magnets on microwaves, filing cabinets, etc. Chief Chimney Services uses forward scheduling magnets and appointment books available from Copperfield.

Feedback Postcard

At the end of the job, John gives the customer a “how did we do?” postcard. “This is a good way to get feedback,” he said. “Some people just don’t want to tell you to your face.”

Chief Chimney Services supplies the postage.

“If there is a problem,” John emphasized, “call them and check on it!”

Thank You Postcard

“When we’re on the way to the next job,” John said, “Diane writes out the postcard, ‘Thank you, Mrs. Smith.’ She puts a stamp on it right in the truck. When we get home it goes right in the mailbox. Within a day or two the customer has a thank you card from us.”

Not only does the card express their thanks; it puts the “Chief Chimney Services” name before their client five more times!

Christmas Postcard

The last of the Pilgers’ Eleven Points of Contact is their Christmas card. Diane writes out their Christmas card while recording the customer’s transaction into their spreadsheet and database, and puts it into a file.

“You start this in January, and in December you don’t have to spend any time writing out Christmas cards,” John advised. “Everybody who used your service that year gets a Christmas card.”

The recognition you will receive from your customers by employing techniques such as the Pilgers’ 11 Points of Contact is priceless. “You just can’t buy that kind of publicity,” John asserted.

“You can make them yours,” he concluded. “You can make them premium customers, if you present your service the right way.”

John Pilger has been in the sweeping industry since 1983. He and his wife, Diane, have owned and operated Chief Chimney Services since 1986. He currently serves on the board of directors of the New York State Chimney Sweep Guild, National Chimney Sweep Guild and Chimney Safety Institute of America. He is the NFPA-31 committee representative for the NCSG.

John is a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep®, CSIA Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician, HEARTH Certified Vent Design Specialist and holds an Applied Science Degree in Fire Protection Technology. He was formerly a Fire Marshal and Fire Chief.

Diane Pilger is President of the NY State Chimney Sweep Guild, program chair for the Northeast Regional Convention Committee and serves on the NCSG membership committee. She is also a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep®.


This article originally appeared in the July 2002 issue of SNEWS - The Chimney Sweep News.

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