We hauled off all this junk and all we got was this dumb blog.
We’re lucky. We have a kind and generous customer base and an awesome team. Every once in while though, we get a stinker of a job.
Today, we got a stinker.
Now… I’m not writing this to blast or shame anybody. I’m also not here to make excuses for me or my team. We own our work. Good and bad. I sincerely believe you get what you put into the world at a cosmic/ karmic level.
I’m writing this as a case study. An accountability tool and a post mortem on how our junk removal operation works. And most specifically, I’m looking at our process, communication & price.
To set the scene, here are the basics of this junk removal job that went belly up.
Job Type: Junk Removal
Items to be hauled off: 20+ pallets, wood debris and cardboard.
Location: The job was within our regular service radius. The items were dispersed between the curb, side yard and backyard on the customer’s property.
This was a totally doable job. Absolutely within scope and the type of job we’re eager to complete. We’d take a job like this everyday if we could get it.
We have a tight operational process. We’re a small, experienced team. We’re comfortable with each other and our equipment. We also take advantage of tools and technology to allow for smooth scheduling, reliable billing and easy communication. Here’s how it should go.
1. Request Form- The request form gets submitted in 1 of 2 ways. (1) The customer completes the form directly on our website or (2) I complete the form based on the information provided by the customer.
2. Sales Follow Up-
a.) Text: Once the request form is complete, our system sends an automated text message. This is the only automation at play. There are no chatbots. No overseas VAs. Any replies to this initial text land in my pocket. I’m responding in real time.
b.) Phone: After the initial text goes out, I will follow up with a phone call. Usually within minutes or hours, but mostly always within 24 hrs.
c.) Email: If we do not make immediate contact by phone or text, we will also send an email. This is not an automated email. I actually send it. Its purpose is to show that we’ve received and reviewed the request and to start a scheduling conversation.
3. Quote- The goal of the request form is to gauge interest, understand the scope of the job, timeline and the customer’s budget. Most of the time, we’ll ask for pictures or a list of the items to be hauled off during the sales follow up.
Junk removal costs are based on volume and measured in truck space. So, we need to know what we’re hauling so we can start the estimation process. Often pictures will help with this. Pictures don’t tell the whole story though. Lots can be hiding at the bottom of a debris pile. And it’s hard to tell size and scale from a photo. But usually, a photo is enough to give a ballpark range. This first quote is a “ballpark estimate.” The crew will confirm the quote in person and before starting any work.
3a. Assessment- Sometimes, we don’t have enough info to provide an accurate estimate. In this case, rather than forcing a quote, we’ll do an assessment. A fancy word for “in person estimate.” We’ll set an appointment to look at the “junk” pile and then provide an in- person quote. In most cases and assuming we’re agreeable on the rate, we’ll be ready to do the work at the same time.
4. Quote Approval- Following the sales call, a formal written quote is sent by text. The quote will have line item descriptions and a breakdown of the service to be provided.
It does include the language, “junk removal costs are based on volume and measured in truck space. We’ll confirm the quote in person and before starting any work. This quote approval is not a sales commitment. It’s simply an acknowledgement to schedule the work.”
This does not mean we expect the quote to change once we arrive. We provide the ballpark estimate with the goal of being accurate. This language is there to account for any changes in the load (both plus and minus. There is a cost benefit to doing a bulk pickup if you decided to increase the load). We also want to be sure we fully understand the scope of work before entering a sales agreement.
Once the quote is digitally “approved” by the customer, we can move forward with scheduling the work. Quote approval is not a sales commitment. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement of the pricing options and an agreement to schedule the job.
5. Scheduling the Job- We schedule about 1 week in advance. That said, we build natural flexibility into our calendar so that we can meet last minute needs (read: call us when you need us. We’ll do everything we can to make the timing work for you.).
We see the calendar as perishable. Each appointment window that goes unfilled is a missed opportunity. We don’t like to miss opportunities. With 2 trucks running full time and a 3rd on standby, we aim to schedule 3 jobs per day for each truck. It’s this eagerness that allows us to meet those emergency requests.
To keep this schedule, we offer 3 daily appointment windows, 9a- 11a, 11a- 1p & 1p- 3p. These are appointment windows, meaning we’ll arrive within that 2 hour period of time. It does not mean we have a hard arrival time, though we bust our butt to get there at the front end of that timeslot.
Once the job is scheduled, a text appointment confirmation goes out.
6. Completing the Job- The crew lead will call or text when he’s on the way to the job. Upon arrival, they’ll visit with the customer, look at the items to be hauled away and confirm the quote. The driver will present the in- person quote to the customer for approval (even if it doesn’t change from the initial quote). This approval is a sales commitment. Once the customer signs off on the work order, we’ll begin our work.
7. Invoice & Payment- Once the job is complete to the satisfaction of the customer, we’ll generate the final invoice. Unless something changed along the way, it should match the in- person quote. Most of the time, the invoice is texted directly to the customer. Payment can be made in cash, check, credit card or Venmo. Digital payment can be made from the customer’s phone or device (even if they’re not present at the time of settlement).
8. What Happens After- Once payment’s made, we’ll haul off what we have and it’s gone.
Here’s our regular communication plan. This is critical. Our service promise depends on effective communication.
How we Communicate.
- Upon completion of the request form, an automatic text goes out. In this text, we thank the customer for the opportunity and ask if there are any questions while we review the request. Any replies come from me. A real person who is local and understanding of the business.
- A conversation is had. This may be via text, phone or email, but we will make actual contact to discuss the job.
- A quote is sent. Most often by text. This quote is to be approved by the customer to authorize the job. This quote will come from the Jobber Client hub which is our internal work order management tool.
- Once the quote’s approved, another automated text from the Jobber Client hub goes out with an appointment confirmation.
- An automated email confirmation is sent by 12:30p the day before the scheduled job.
- Our office manager calls the day before to confirm the appointment. She’ll answer any questions and gather any new information for the crew.
- The driver will call the morning of the job to introduce himself. This is to open a communication channel for the day’s schedule. If there are changes or delays, we should share promptly, honestly and with a plan for impact and solutions.
- An automated text reminder will be sent 1 hour before the scheduled appointment window.
- The driver will call or text when on the way to the job.
- Upon arrival, the team will introduce themselves, walk the job and get to work. They’ll communicate any changes to the quote, ask necessary questions and provide some tactical description of what they’ll be doing.
Communication is more than just sending automated reminders. It’s more than a nice conversation. Communication should set expectations on both sides. It should be actionable and it should be clear.
In our work, there should be no surprises. And if something changes or if something goes wrong, the discussion should be had immediately and honestly.
How much does junk removal cost? The answer… it depends. Junk removal prices are based on volume and measured in truck space. Because we have a few different style vehicles, we use our Ram ProMaster as a unit of measurement. Pricing is set on 1/4 truck increments.
For us, 1/4 truck is about the space of a washer and dryer. A full truck is a filled up van (think of a gray Amazon truck fully loaded floor to ceiling, front to back). Pricing is prorated for 1/4 truck increments. If it’s more than a full truck or if the haul is loose debris, we may choose to bring our XL dump trailer, enclosed trailer or utility trailer.
Check out our new load calculator. How much stuff is it?
When thinking about junk removal costs, there are a few variables to consider.
1. Space- The most obvious is physical space. We are routing jobs based on usable space. When we arrive at a job and depending on what we’re hauling, we will tightly pack and sometimes breakdown items to maximize all available space.
We do not dump or offload after every job. We try to consolidate as many dump or donation runs as we can.
2. Weight- Dump fees are based on weight. The pricing structure accounts for regular weight proportional to the truck space. Every once in a while, an extremely heavy load could become a pricing factor.
3. Time- The pricing structure also accounts for time on the job. The bigger the job, the more time it takes. It is important to remember that there are 2 sides of the job. The pickup that takes place in sight of the customer and the travel and drop off that happens once we leave the job site. In most cases, we do not charge an hourly rate for junk removal. Time is accounted for within the pricing model.
4. Items- We can take most household items. There are some items however, that carry additional costs. This is because the dump charges extra for these. Most of the time we see this with TVs and paint.
5. Donation, Resale, Etc.- Our goal is to keep items out of the landfill, put them in the hands of people who can use them and hopefully raise money for good causes. There is a cost to handling “junk” in an environmentally responsible way.
a.) We can fit less in our truck when items remain intact. This means more road time (more payroll, more fuel and less work potential).
b.) We have to move and store items. This means we need warehouse space and additional, non- revenue labor. The more we put our hands on something, the more it costs.
c.) There’s no guarantee the donation center will accept donated items. What they choose to accept has to do with condition, available floor space and labor.
For these reasons, we do not discount and give donation credits. Any items destined for resale or donation are priced like regular “junk” removal.
So What happened with this one? What went wrong?
Short answer… a little bit of process failure and a communication gap. Longer answer…
We skipped a step in our process. In this case, the customer was not home when we completed the job. This is fine. We do this all the time. But, because this was an assessment, the quote was relayed over the phone. And though the customer verbally agreed to the rate, he did not sign the approval authorizing the work. This means, we had no paper confirmation. By authorizing the work in writing there’s a sales commitment that affords us some protection.
This is probably our biggest failure on this one. Here’s where I see it.
- It was an assessment so we did not have a price conversation prior to arrival. The assessment process was made clear. But, expectations weren’t properly set. So, the perceived value of the work may have been out of line.
- I failed to include the instruction “keep off driveway” in the driver notes. This was an instruction given to me via text, but outside of the request. I missed it when I assigned the job. Upon arrival, the driver did back the trailer onto the driveway. But, he then immediately removed it once he spoke with the homeowner and before starting any work. We owned this mistake and apologized, but it was a bit of a miss on our part.
- This was a big job and a heavy load made more difficult by a longer than anticipated “push” to the truck. A snowball effect from the missing driver note about the driveway. I’m sure our crew felt this and suspect their frustration was momentarily evident in their body language. That said, their attitude remained good and no sour words were exchanged. Not ideal, but we are people and sometimes it happens. Even though the customer wasn’t there, his roommate was and he may have picked up on this emotion. This resulted in an uncomfortable situation where both sides of the transaction felt agitated. This feeling of agitation was likely communicated to the customer without the appropriate context.
What went right?
A lot actually. Maybe I’m biased, ignorant or self preserving, but here’s what I see.
Time- The appointment window was set for 9a- 11a. We communicated clearly in advance of our arrival, arrived early and ready to work.
Price- We initially quoted this job as a full truck (roughly 15 cubic yards). In actuality the load was more than an extra large dump trailer (18 cubic yards). Even still, we honored our initial quote. This meant a 25% discount to the customer based on what we actually hauled.
Quality and Completion- The job was done. Fully and completely. We removed everything we were asked to haul off without issue.
The customer was not happy. This was not a perfect job. There were certainly things we could have done better (as with every job). But the things that went sideways felt like hiccups rather than a heart attack. We ended up eating the cost of the job and agreeing that we will not be doing future business together. The team was disappointed and a bit confused. We’ll learn though.
I think there were things going on outside of us and the job we performed that led to this situation. That said, we’ve adopted the philosophy… “assume the good in people.” And that’s what we’ll do in this case too.
Aside from this blog and a bit of humble pie, we did end up getting a backhanded recommendation from this job… “Trying to keep things on a positive note but make sure you are there as I thought I could trust them to do as we agreed with me not being… Shame on me. But they rose above and accommodated my invoice accordingly.”
This is not a recommendation that’ll end up on our highlight reel. But it’s something. Someone once told me… “you’re never as good or as bad as people tell you.” I don’t know what that means with respect to this job. I am appreciative though that it allowed for some self reflection and for some learning. We’re growing and getting better everyday. This is part of that process.