To Your Success: Getting Emotional on the Home Front
February 1, 2007
Nothing carries more emotional baggage than the concept of “home.” Warmth, peace, family, security, love…they are all wrapped up in an individual’s home. So to be successful working in the residential environment you must build your business around the “Emotional Dynamics of the Home Front.”
Is residential carpet cleaning all that different from any other buying transaction? You decide. Let’s look at the five most common emotions of a homeowner as she waits for an unknown carpet cleaner to arrive at her home.
Suspicion. Frankly speaking, the overall reputation of the carpet cleaning industry is pitiful (this obviously does not apply to the readers of ICS magazine!). Far too many fly-by-night carpet cleaners and constant bait-and-switch advertising have left a nasty taste in the mouth of many homeowners. Even if your waiting customer has not endured a bad experience, without a doubt she has friends who have experienced a carpet-cleaning nightmare. So your customer, at least in the beginning, will be looking at you and your employees with a jaundiced eye, alert for any sign of incompetence or carelessness.
Resignation. Many years ago one of my customers gave me a wonderful vision of how the average homeowner views their carpet-cleaning event. I was happily scrub-wanding away in her home, prattling on and on about how much I loved this business and casually mentioned, “Isn’t carpet cleaning fun, Mrs. Jones?” I’ll never forget her reply. As she looked over her home that was in complete disarray she sighed deeply and said, “Steve, I would rather go to the dentist than get my carpets cleaned!”
This resigned statement showed me that homeowners, at the very best, view having their carpets cleaned as a tolerated irritation. Having work done in the home means an already stressful schedule has to be interrupted, possessions need to be moved and the home even needs to be “cleaned up for the carpet cleaner.”
Vulnerability. If it is true that “a man’s home is his castle,” then when strangers are working inside the home it means that emotionally the walls have been breached and the enemy is inside the castle keep!
Once again, remember that the carpet-cleaning experience is totally different from a retail buying transaction. For example, if you get “bad vibes” when you enter a retail store you can easily and without confrontation make an “Anonymous Withdrawal.” But how does the homeowner feel when she is “trapped” in her house with a non-communicative and apparently non-caring carpet-cleaning technician? Worried, uneasy and very, very vulnerable.
Don’t forget that the customer was already apprehensive even before this marginal worker showed up, and so now feels trapped, invaded and out of control in her own home. Not only can the homeowner not easily terminate the transaction, now this “carpet cleaning clown” knows where she lives, and he has been exposed to the most intimate details of the customer’s life – her furnishings, her valuables, children and, yes, even the home’s security systems! All three of these Emotional Dynamics – suspicion, resignation and vulnerability lead to the overriding emotion out there on the Home Front…
Fear. That’s right. Your first-time customer waiting for you or your employees to knock on her front door is scared to death. She has heard the horror stories, she has “no place to hide” inside her own home and is resigned to at best enduring a teeth-gritting experience. So the apprehension and anxiety factor are already high.
Now we need to throw into this turbulent stew of emotions one more very real fear. This is the genuine but usually sub-conscious customer fear of physical intimidation or even assault. It would be naïve to ignore the Emotional Dynamic of one technician (almost always male) and the customer (almost always female and physically smaller than the tech) spending hours alone together in the home. All of which leads to our last and possibly most destructive Emotional Dynamic …
Hostility. It is an age-old phenomenon. Psychologists call it the “Fight or Flight Syndrome.” Think about it. When you are in a threatening situation and can’t get away from it, your entire body changes. Adrenalin levels rise, your muscles stiffen, your responses speed up and your hostility level rises. So what can be more threatening than an unknown person coming into your inner sanctum – your home – to perform a process you don’t understand on possessions that you value? And then when the technician’s appearance, attitudes and/or actions justify your worst fears, you subconsciously realize, since you can’t run away, it is time to fight!
Obviously, none of these negative emotions are conducive to a pleasant buying relationship. So it is no surprise that most homeowners view carpet cleaning as something to be endured instead of looked forward to. In fact, most of your customers will tell you (and truly believe) that they have their carpets cleaned every year. But I challenge you to look back over the last five years and calculate the average time between all of your customers’ cleanings. My guess is your average cleaning frequency will run somewhere between 18 months and two years. Why the discrepancy? Because all of us tend to procrastinate on doing what we dread (this is why the dentist insists on a commitment for the next visit before the patient leaves their office!). And make no mistake about it: customers dread having their carpets cleaned.
Given this emotional view of the carpet-cleaning transaction, is it any wonder our industry ranks abysmally low on all customer satisfaction surveys? You can’t change the carpet-cleaning world. Instead, the question is, “What are you going to do about it?” And even more importantly, “What are you going to do about your employees?”
Very likely you have good employees, quality people who just want to make a living for their family and hopefully enjoy life along the way. Yet the average technician in this business struggles with the exact same overriding emotions that your customers endure: fear. That’s right; most carpet-cleaning technicians are scared to death of the homeowner while at the same time the customer is frightened of the technician!
The last time two countries co-existed based on mutual fear we called it the Cold War. And that is what we face on the Home Front today- a “Cold War” between front-line technicians and their customers. Next month we’ll look at how to bring peace to these two warring factions, while at the same time dramatically increasing your company’s profits. If you liked this article, circle 138 on the Reader Inquiry Card.