Rising Above the Mediocre - Part I

What makes you stand out from the crowd?

"It is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us."
--Isaac D'Israeli

Carpet cleaning is potentially a great industry. Low entry costs, high net profits, the freedom to set your own schedule and, maybe most importantly, the potential for success on your terms. And yet, let's speak frankly here. Could anyone say that the average carpet cleaner (not a reader of this illustrious trade journal, of course!) is by any measure "successful"?

Look at most of your competitors. My guess is they are a pretty beat up bunch of people: poor self image, little technical training and even fewer business-management skills, low-quality employees, and just barely scraping by in a dog-eat-dog, price-oriented market. Competition like this might be great for you in your local area. But extrapolate your local competition to a national level and the state of our industry becomes pathetic. As Pogo used to say, "We have met the enemy...and he is us!"

We're in a new year now, and very likely your New Year's resolutions have already faded. But in the spirit of a new beginning I'd like to share what I call "The Six Secret Weapons for Success" in the carpet cleaning industry. If you arm yourself with these weapons in your fight against the all-too-common "Carpet Cleaner's Mediocrity," I guarantee you will find success.

1. Value-Added Service (Your most potent "secret weapon.") Let me share the definition of Value-Added Service that changed my life forever: "Managing the customer's experience to provide a consistently high level of perceived value and service." Think about it. What Mark Twain said about the weather also applies to the overused expression "superior customer service": "Everyone always talks about the weather and yet no one ever does anything about it."

All companies talk about great customer service, but virtually no one focuses on managing the experience of the customer as they wend their way through the buying transaction, much less making it a consistently replicable experience! How about you? So what part of the "customer experience should you focus on to get the most bang for your buck? Here is the second saying that revolutionized my carpet cleaning business: "Over 80 percent of how the homeowner decides if you did a ‘good job' or a ‘bad job' is based on their relationship with the person actually performing work."

This "80% Principle" forced me to turn away from my technician mentality of CFMs, PSI and pH, and instead zoom in on what the customer wanted and needed- a professional relationship with a worker they trust and feel good about having in their home. So honestly, how do your employees measure up to the 80% Principle?

2. Economics 101 for the Cleaning and Restoration Industry. In the big picture you buy goods or services. Look at the contrast between these two economic sectors. The buying of goods is usually an enjoyable, pleasurable, even exciting process. On the other hand, arranging and purchasing services is generally an unhappy, frustrating and at times dreaded experience. Think about it: Which makes you happier? Shopping for and purchasing a new big-screen TV, or having your car worked on? At best, we view a service transaction as a "tolerated irritation." So what does a carpet cleaner provide, goods or services? That's right; any time you provide your service, the customer is already annoyed and impatient at this interruption of their busy life (talk about starting out behind the eight ball). But it gets even more complicated when the service is provided in the customer's home...

3. The "Emotional Dynamics" of the Home Front. Most services, with all of their frustrations and minor irritations, are performed at a business. But when the service is performed in the customer's home, the "Emotional Dynamics" change dramatically for the worse. Why? A principle called "Anonymous Withdrawal." Let me illustrate:

When you are in a retail store and you get negative vibes about the service, you just leave: quickly, easily and - most importantly - anonymously! Terminating this transaction gone bad required no great outlay of emotional capital. After all, you were able to avoid a potentially explosive confrontation by just leaving.

But what if you receive the same negative vibes while a technician is providing a service in your home? You are faced with a tough choice. Either force an emotional confrontation...or endure. Most homeowners choose the second course, but they don't like it!

The lack of Anonymous Withdrawal on the home front leads to the homeowner feeling vulnerable, trapped, invaded and, of course, very, very afraid. Once you realize the primary emotion of a homeowner both before and during your service transaction is fear, you will be well on your way to understanding the Emotional Dynamics of the Home Front.

Hopefully, these first three "Secret Weapons" have given you the vital goal of managing the experience of the customer. Based on the 80% Principle, the most important area for you to focus on is the relationship between your technicians and the homeowner. After all, customers base most of their "perception of value" on emotional factors. I'm not saying this is fair. However, it is just the way things are. Live with it or ignore it, it's your choice.

Now you have a clearer picture of the challenges faced performing any service. But of course the plot thickens when you face the Emotional Dynamics of the Home Front. Since the primary emotion of the home front is fear, your service systems must be built around addressing this fear.

Speaking of fear, after looking at the challenges revealed on working on the home front, I wouldn't blame you if you were scared to death! Good! As Andrew Grove, ex-CEO of Intel, says. "Only the paranoid survive!" But fear not, next month I'll share the last three "Secret Weapons for Success" in your fight against carpet cleaning mediocrity!

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