by Tom Grandy
Over the past 29+ years of working within the trades industry I have noticed some profound changes within individual companies in an effort to become more “customer friendly”. As the new year moves forward I would like to highlight a few things that different companies are doing in order 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 customers perspective – quality work is a given.
So let’s look at a few things customers really like about the companies they work with:
• Relationship with the Person that 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 is how important the first impression is. Customers within the trades industry desire a long term relationship with the person that answers the phone. That means placing individuals in that position that are friendly, knowledgeable, and truly care about the customers they serve. This is why smaller companies often have a member of the owner’s family in that position. They know there will be very little turnover therefore 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 Reps 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 XYZ. Is that still working ok, and if so, how can I help you today.” That is being customer friendly.
• Being Contacted When the Technician 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, unexpectedly. The technicians day changes as well. The service call was scheduled between 10:00 and 11:00 AM but the calls earlier in the day took longer than expected. Customer friendly companies tell the customer they will be called (or texted, or emailed – customers preference) when the technician 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 seem to really like that kind of communication.
Security is a huge issue in today’s world. Customer-friendly companies have technicians arrive at the home with pictured name tags, easily seem, and with a calling card in hand. Many companies also text or email the name of the technician, and a photo as well, before the technician arrives so the customer knows who will be coming. All this makes the customer feel more secure.
• Respect the Customers 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 needed. If you need to park in the driveway confirm that it’s ok with the customer, don’t assume. 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 “Mrs. Jones, 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 technician right on into the home. Use clean, yes clean, drop cloths as well. Again, it’s all about respecting the customer’s property.
• Customer Friendly Hours
Today, most husbands and wives work outside of 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 work on Saturday, and some even on Sunday as well. 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 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 your convenience, it’s about meeting current and future customer needs.
• Easily Understood Billing
I can’t tell you how many contractors I have talked to in the past that were still on time and material. As we discussed billing, it wasn’t unusual for a contractor to tell me how much they charge per hour. In addition to their hourly rate they charged a show up fee, disposal fee, gas surcharge, etc. My reply is always the same. 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 is confusing to the customer. Sure, all those costs are real but roll all the costs into one simple hourly rate that covers it. Too much information invites unwanted questions. Go to flat rate pricing so the customer knows the cost up front and explain that payment for service is required before they leave the home. Make it simple and easy to understand.
• Clean Up the Area When Work is Completed
I saved this one for last for a reason. This is one thing, from the customer’s perspective, has NOT changed over the years. Most customers, especially women, see a direct correlation between how well the technician cleaned up and the quality of the work that was performed. Is that right or fair? No, but it really doesn’t matter because from the customers’ perspective it’s true. Customer oriented companies recognize that fact and require all service technicians to take a small vacuum into the home to clean up the work area before they leave. Yes, it will take an extra 5-10 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 then have a happy customer that is likely to mention how well the technician cleaned up to her friends and neighbors.
Repeat customers that recommend your company to others are the foundation stone for profitable growth. Creating programs that are centered on the customer’s wants and needs will become more and more important as time goes on.
Here’s a parting thought. 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 will increase your bottom line profitability!