ICS Magazine

Exceeding Customer Expectations

July 12, 2004


The phrase "customer service" gets tossed around in our industry on a regular basis. Unfortunately, in our modern culture I believe the true meaning of customer service is rapidly disappearing.

It has been my experience that most customers buy household services based on either personal experience or a referral from someone they know. Yes, they may use the phone book to look up the number, but what caused them to select a specific company can usually be traced back to some type of referral. In fact, when I ask established service companies about where their business comes from, those with more than five years of business experience in an area say that more than 75 percent of their business is from repeat or referral clients. When a company has more than 10 years in business, the percentage accredited to repeats and referrals climbs to closer to 90 percent. These numbers emphasize the importance of focusing your company efforts on exceeding the expectations of every customer and immediately addressing any negative concerns that might surface.

I read somewhere that a satisfied customer will tell an average of four other people about their good experience with a company. On the other side of this issue, an unhappy customer will tell 14 other people about a negative experience. These facts speak to the need for every business to have a well-thought-out procedure in place for dealing with any complaints or negative issues that might arise. The price of leaving someone out there with a bad taste in their mouth about your company is too high.

You've heard it said that, "the customer is always right." Well, I can verify that the customer is not always right, but they are still always the customer. It's not about being right or wrong: this is business, and the two primary goals of business are:
1. Make a profit.
2. Stay in business.

In the service industry, the only way one can accomplish these goals is to meet or exceed all of their customer's expectations. Every one of them.

Exceeding the customer's expectations involves first understanding what those expectations are. The time spent qualifying every job before beginning service can pay big dividends in the overall effort to satisfy the customer. Using the pre-cleaning inspection to adjust the customer's expectations about cleaning results can help avoid misunderstandings later on.

However, customer service extends well beyond just providing good cleaning or restoration results. Customer service involves the entire service experience and includes appearance, technician manners, punctuality, courtesy, flexibility, and those little unexpected extras that create the "wow" factor. Even with excellent results, if the overall experience is ruined by something like a bad attitude, foul language or a late arrival, the customer is much less likely to refer or recommend your company to others. Remember, this should be your primary source of business.

Occasionally, things just don't go as well as expected. When this happens, a customer may have a negative experience and it could even result in a complaint. This is when your customer service has to be at its highest level. There are several steps to properly handling a customer complaint and hopefully turn it into a positive experience.

The first step is to acknowledge that there is an issue to be addressed. Remember, it's not about being right or wrong. I'm not saying admit that you are wrong when you are not; just acknowledge the customer's concern.

Second, ask them to describe what they believe to be the problem in as much detail as possible. This is to be sure that you really understand what it is they are upset about and give you a clear idea of what you need to address.

Third, discuss with the customer what steps should be taken to remedy the issue. You might be surprised that often all they really need is to know you are hearing their concern.

Finally, take steps to correct the situation. Don't forget to verify that the steps taken have corrected any problem and that the client is now pleased. By properly addressing a complaint and correcting any issues, you will generally exceed your customer's expectations and are actually more likely to get those valuable referrals than if nothing had gone wrong in the first place. So rather than looking at dealing with complaints as a negative, think of it as an opportunity to exceed you customer's expectations.

I believe a good friend of mine got it right when he named his corporation ‘It's all about Service.'