February 9, 2018
Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator
Have you ever seen those lists of things like, "Top 10 Dermatologists in the Tri-County Area"? Every time I see those, I have to wonder about how they were chosen; did a bunch of people break down years' worth of data about how successful those doctors were at treating their patients acne? Of course not. Those lists are based on what patients think of their doctors, and what they think is formed mostly because of the way the doctor treats them and how they make them feel. Ultimately, those things are lists based on customer service, and customer service may be one of the most important things you do as a business owner.
Most take customer service for granted. But it's not enough to just show up and perform a job. You have to perform it with quality, convey a positive attitude, and be prepared to serve the customer even after the job is over. Small business expert Ruby Newell-Legner makes very clear why it's so important. Her research says that it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience. Turn that around and you'll see that it just makes sense to provide excellent customer service from the get go.
A surprising number of field service companies ignore the importance of customer service. They are happy to just get the job done and move on, but customer service is almost by definition, all the things that happen in your interactions with customers that are not specific just to the work you do. Rather, it’s the details and the work you are doing before, during and after you get paid.
According to American Express, 7 in 10 Americans said they were willing to spend more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service - that's really all you need to know. But you also need to be smart about how you make it part of your overall business strategy.
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Being recognized for great customer services is about more than just being a nice guy or gal. It also doesn't mean that you let people walk all over you while you do anything to make them happy. Rather, it's that happy medium where you do things that make you stand out in the mind of your customers. Yes, it starts with the Golden Rule (treat others as you'd like to be treated), but it requires you to be creative in how you imprint your brand on your customers. The best customer service is notable in the same way a great friend is: it's not about how much they spend on you, or even the amount of time they're with you. It's about knowing they have your back, they'll be there when you need them, and you thoroughly enjoy your experiences with them.
Let's break that down a little further into the different expectations customers have when they think about the service they receive:
OK, this one is kind of basic, but it's easy to neglect. Show up when you say you're going to show up, be fair and straightforward about price, deliver good work in everything you do, and communicate. Being consistent sets expectations, and when those expectations are met repeatedly, it instills faith and trust in your customers.
Trust is based on honesty and it's the basis for any good relationship. Now, you may need to deliver difficult news to a customer, or maybe the project costs have to change due to unforeseen issues. None of those things is ideal, but if you are up front with the customers, you make them feel like they can trust you. And if you don't pull punches with them, they won't pull punches with you. That forms a relationship that can last a long time.
People hate surprises unless it's about saving them a bundle of money. The more you communicate, the more the customer can set expectations about the progress of a job, any cost changes, or anything that might be disruptive to their normal schedule.
Speed is one of the things customers really value. As much as they may like you, they much prefer to have their problem fixed so they can get back to normal. You never want to look like you're rushing around while in the midst of a job - that could make it appear that you're not paying enough attention. But if you can combine a friendly attitude with fast delivery, then it shows to the customer that you're respectful of their time.
You should get paid for your work, there's no question about that. And when you run into unusual situations that are out of your control (you find dry rot, the wiring is not to code, etc), the customer has to take on those expenses. That said, no one likes to add cost onto a project and even if it's not fair to you, the person delivering the news sometimes can look like the bad guy in these kinds of situations. One way to smooth this over is to meet the customer halfway. Maybe the cost of goods is going to run really high, so you agree to cut labor costs by a certain percentage. Or perhaps you can do a little something extra, something unexpected for the customer that will be a pleasant surprise; maybe something along the lines of, "Since I had to go under the house to do that extra wiring anyway, I picked up all this debris."
We all like when people go above and beyond for us, and in terms of customer satisfaction, this is a huge differentiator. A customer who gets his oil changed at your business won't remember dropping off or picking up the car, but they'll remember that as part of the service, you vacuumed the interior of their vehicle. Or maybe you put in some extra hours on the weekend so the flooring work can get done in time for the big graduation party they're hosting next week. You know how you like to be treated; do the same for your customers and you will forever stick out in their minds.
You need to know that being great at customer service takes time and may cost a bit of money initially, but this is an investment in building customer relationships that will save you a ton of time and will create sustainable, long-term sources of income through customer loyalty. But again, there is a bit of work and creativity you need to put into it in order to reap the rewards. Consider these as the building blocks of your strategy:
Relationships only work if the different parties are communicating, so you need to ensure you're keeping customers informed of everything that will make their life easier. This includes reminders of service appointments, clear descriptions of your services in invoices, information on dates when you will be closed for business. With the use of field service apps, you can automate much of this communication so you don't have to sit in front of a computer all day sending out emails (yet, you will get the credit for keeping customers informed).
Keep in mind that customers think in terms of milestones for many projects, so let them know what the status of things are. If you've spent time with them picking out windows to be installed, a friendly text or email to let them know the windows arrived gets them excited and feeling positive about the project. Maybe follow that up with personal information like, "Jeff will be out to install on Thursday at 10am, as we discussed. Jeff has been installing for 18 years and he's one of the best in the business!"Communication can keep a customer glad they chose you.
Most of your competitors will think in terms of just showing up; all they're going to get is a single interaction when they operate like that. But when you demonstrate appreciation for the business your customer gives you, it makes them feel valued and establishes the sense that you want to maintain a relationship with them. Leaving a nice, inexpensive gift like a plant or a magnet is a kind gesture, but it's also a way to keep your brand front and center in their minds.
Whether it's with an email, a text, or if you take the time to compose a quick handwritten note, a sincere note of thanks from you will also help you stand out from other vendors who appear to take customers for granted. A seasonal card is a great way to remind them about you and it is a welcome kindness (TIP: Everyone sends cards at Christmas, so to truly stand out, consider a different holiday or celebration - a "Happy St. Patrick's Day" or a "Super Bowl Give-Away" will be unexpected and therefore get the attention of customers.
Customers have a lot of anxiety that goes with many field service projects. Customers may be spending a lot of money, and they usually are doing this for the first time and don't know what to expect. You're the expert, but rather than big-time them, act like a patient coach who is helping them understand what's going to happen, walk them through it while it's happening, and then complete the project with a helpful summary of everything they need to know once you are done.
This has to do with every part of a job. Payments can be stressful, and while you don't want to get stiffed, it's a sign of great customer service if you work with the customer on a payment plan that they feel good about. Maybe they have health concerns or are worried that the noise from the project will irk their neighbors. Going that extra step to ensure a safe, clean, respectful working environment makes them have confidence in you.
Great customer service never stops, and it's not unique to just some customers. In order for you to reap the benefits that come from being known as a great business to work with, you have to always have a customer-first mindset. From your marketing material, to the way you answer the phone (and the quickness with which you answer it!), to every single interaction during the project and even afterwards, you can stand far apart from your competitors. It takes some creativity but it will drive referrals to you, maintain long standing relationships with your customers, and will ultimately be the most cost-effective way to increase revenue and establish an excellent customer brand.
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