ICS Magazine

Customer Service - Not an Option

March 11, 2004

There's an old cowboy saying that goes, "Never forget the horse you rode into town on." This came to mind recently as I was preparing for the new year by setting up my budget, making projections, and deciding where to place my limited promotional money so that it might do the most good. While it is always nice to think about diversification and expanding into new areas of business, it is equally important to recognize your loyal clients and define your core business.

Don't fall into the trap of taking those existing clients for granted. Build into your marketing plan some ways of maintaining contact and even expanding that solid foundation of loyal, satisfied clients. If you ask any veteran of the cleaning industry to tell you where the majority of his or her business comes from, the answer will almost certainly be from referral and repeat business. If the company is 5 to 10 years old, probably about 60 percent to 75 percent of its gross comes from repeat and referral business from satisfied customers. If the company is more than 10 years old, the number jumps to 85 percent to 95 percent. Advertising the "mature" cleaning company is really all about keeping your name where it will be found when the referred client tries to locate you.

Little things such as six-month reminder notices, follow-up phone calls, and holiday greetings keep your name in front of those valued clients. I once read a marketing survey that said the average satisfied customer will tell four other people about their good experience, while the typical unsatisfied customer will tell an average of 14 people about their bad experience. That is how a service business can thrive or fail! Your No. 1 priority should be to make sure that every customer is pleased beyond his or her expectations.

Exceeding customer expectations starts with the initial contact. This is usually by telephone, so be sure you have your calls being answered by a person with a customer service attitude. Always fulfill every promise you make, from being on time for any appointments to presenting an invoice that matches the quote given. Consistency, reliability and integrity will go far in building the client loyalty necessary in the cleaning service business.

Customer service in this business is not an option, it is a necessity. Have a set customer follow-up plan in place. Implement a thorough complaint-handling system that will never leave a client unsatisfied. Sometimes it means we have to swallow hard and agree to things that we think are unfair. It is not true that "the customer is always right." We all know that sometimes they are not even honest. However, right or wrong, it is true that the customer is always the customer, and our business depends on their satisfaction.

Many times, the most important words in our vocabulary are "Thank" and "You." Make sure your clients know how much you appreciate their business. If you don't, someone else will. Yes, we are in the cleaning business. But we are also in the customer-service business and, in my 35-plus years in this industry, I have not yet met anyone that went out of business because they couldn't get the job clean. But I know of quite a few that are no longer around because they didn't provide top-quality customer service.

Never forget the horse you rode into town on: words of wisdom for the cleaning service industry.