Eight ways to put the customer first
By Tom Grandy
For the past 29-plus years of working within the trades, I have noticed some pretty profound changes within companies in an effort to become more customer friendly.
You will notice one item that is glaringly absent from the list. I have not listed the need, or desire, for top-quality work. The reason is simple: Today’s customer expects top-quality work all the time. That no longer impresses the customer. From the customer’s perspective, quality work is a given.
Let’s look at a few things customers like about companies they work with:
Relationship with the person who answers the phone
First impressions are lasting impressions. When it comes to five-star hotels, the position at the registration desk is NOT an entry-level job. In some cases, the position must be earned over a period of years. That’s the importance of a first impression. Customers within the trades industry desire a long-term relationship with the person who answers the phone. That means placing individuals in that position who are friendly, knowledgeable and truly care about the customers they serve. Smaller companies often have a member of the owner’s family in that position. They know there will be little turnover, allowing relationships to be built. Having software that calls up the complete customer history, including notes about the last call, can be invaluable. How would you feel if you called your local trades company, and the first words out of the customer service rep’s mouth were, “Hello, Mrs. Smith, how is Johnny doing in his first year of college?” After a brief but friendly conversation, the CSR then says, “I noticed Bill was at your home a couple months ago when he worked on your pool. Is that still working OK, and if so, how can I help you today?” That is being customer friendly.
Being contacted when the tech is on the way
It’s a busy world out there, and plans change. Sometimes the customer was supposed to be home, but an emergency occurred that forced them to leave the house. The technician’s day changes as well. The service call was scheduled between 10 and 11 a.m., but earlier calls took longer than expected. Hey, in both cases, that’s life! Customer-friendly companies tell the customer they will be called (or texted, or emailed — customer’s preference) when the tech is on the way. That call allows schedules to change if something comes up and also allows Mr. or Mrs. Jones time to drive home if they are out doing an errand. Customers really like that kind of communication.
Security is a huge issue in today’s world. Customer-friendly companies have techs arrive at the home with pictured name tags, easily seen, and calling card in hand. Many companies also text or email the name of the tech, and a photo as well, before the tech arrives so the customer knows who will be coming. All this makes the customer feel more secure.
Respect the customer’s property
Respecting a customer’s property should be a given, but in today’s world it’s not. The truck should be parked on the street so the homeowner can get out of the driveway. If you need to park in the driveway, confirm it’s OK with the customer. Don’t walk on the grass, and always put on booties before entering the customer’s home. If the customer says you don’t need to do that, it instantly becomes a moment to create a customer cheerleader. Tell the customer it’s company policy: “We don’t want to risk bringing dirt into your home.” Also, don’t smoke. If you do, the odor follows the tech right on into the home.
Today, most husbands and wives work outside the home. However, that doesn’t mean the customer doesn’t want to be there when the work is done. That calls for change on the company’s part. Many companies now have staggered hours, allowing calls to be made into the evening without paying overtime. Many companies also work on Saturday and/or Sunday. This is a teaching moment! It’s about what the customer wants, not what’s convenient for you.
Ability to schedule a service call online
What do generation X, Y and millennials all have in common? Nearly all their communication takes place on an electronic device. Progressive, customer-friendly organizations are now providing the customer the option of scheduling their own service calls right online. Few baby boomers will do that, but the younger the customer the more likely it is to happen. One principle of life doesn’t change. Older people will get older, and there will be a mass of young people right behind them. Again, it’s not about keeping it convenient for you; it’s about meeting current and future customer needs.
Easily understood billing
I can’t tell you how many service companies I have talked to who were still on time and material. As we discussed billing, it wasn’t unusual for a servicer to tell me how much they charged per hour. In addition to their hourly rate, they charged a show-up fee, disposal fee, gas surcharge and more. That is like handing the customer a gun with six bullets and asking them which one they want to shoot me with! That is too much information, and it’s confusing to the customer. Sure, all those costs are real — but roll all the costs into one simple hourly rate that covers it all. Too much information invites unwanted questions. Go to flat-rate pricing so the customer knows the cost upfront, and explain that payment for service is required before a servicer leaves the home.
Clean up the area when work is complete
I saved this one for last for a reason. Most customers see a direct correlation between how well the technician cleaned up and the quality of work performed. Is that right or fair? No, but it really doesn’t matter — from the customer’s perspective, it’s true. Customer-oriented companies require all service techs to take a small vacuum or blower into the home/backyard to clean up the work area before they leave. Yes, it will take an extra 5 to 10 minutes per call. Simply add the time, and therefore the dollars, to your flat-rate pricing guide, and the cost is not only covered but you will also have a happy customer who is likely to mention this to friends and neighbors.
Repeat customers who recommend your company to others are the foundation of profitable growth. Creating programs that are centered on the customer’s wants, and needs, will become more and more important as time goes on.
Think about creating a customer board of directors. Meet quarterly and ask for suggestions on how your company can become more customer oriented. It might change the way you do business, and for sure it will increase your bottom-line profitability.