ICS Magazine

Upgrading Your Customer

March 10, 2003


“A man is known by the company he organizes.”
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)

My guess is you want the very best for yourself and your family. And don’t you deserve it? After all, the vast majority of carpet cleaners are highly skilled, hard working and honest individuals. Yet very few ever acquire “the very best” in life. What about you? Will you achieve it?

The sad truth of the matter is many carpet cleaners just limp along in life, ignorant of even the most basic business management principles and devoid of customer service skills. This pitiful state of affairs is compounded by a negative self-image continually reinforced by a stream of business and/or life crises. There has to be a better way…and there is.

Upgrade. Upgrade your business by upgrading your customers. You can struggle along, flying economy class like every other carpet cleaner. Cramped seats, no legroom, no food service. Or you can upgrade to first class and all the comforts that it implies. It all comes back to the type of customer you serve and the type of company you are. I realize that when you were a new, struggling carpet cleaner you took every job that came in (and at virtually whatever price). I did too. But many carpet cleaners never come to understand that they don’t have to accept every customer.

Upgrading your customers requires three things of you. Analyze Your Preferred Customer (PC)
Think back over the last month, to the jobs you truly enjoyed. Why do they stand out? The customer’s personality? The job surroundings? The type of cleaning? The money you made? Identify what type and class of people you are most comfortable with (chances are these are also your most profitable jobs). Life is way too short not to love what you do and whom you work for.

Most cleaners eventually settle on serving the upper middle class with “prestige cleaning.” Not because these folks are better people or deserve cleaner carpets, but because wealthy individuals usually have better furnishings and more of them, along with the desire to have them properly maintained and the disposable income to make it happen. In addition, once you have won their hearts, your Preferred Customers, or PCs, will be incredibly loyal and not easily seduced away by every low ball special that comes along.

Get the Word Out
Birds of a feather and all that. Discover where your PCs flock together. Let your competition exhaust their advertising dollar fighting over the mass market. You are going to exclusively target your PC. Direct mail, neighborhood shoppers, church bulletins, targeted e-mails; all of your advertising should be extremely focused.

Bonus hint: You may not have the “fire in the belly” for this particular marketing tactic, but the ultimate (and cheapest) focused marketing technique is knocking on doors in your target market, introducing yourself and saying, “I’d like to offer you a free carpet cleaning inspection, room cleaning, etc.”

This approach may not be for you (it depends on how hungry you are), but it does work.

Develop “Unpaid Salespeople”
Wealthy individuals are highly resistant to the flood of traditional advertising and sales calls they are subjected to. But they will listen and take action on personal referrals from friends and associates. I call customers that “sell” for you “Cheerleaders.” A delighted Cheerleader will happily bring you inside his or her circle of friends. Why? Because they are so delighted with your company that they passionately want to help both you and their friends by promoting your services.

Sounds good, right? So how do you make Cheerleaders? You must dramatically exceed the customer’s expectations in three areas: quality work, quality people and quality in yourself.

Become the Best Company
If you want to serve only the best customers, you must offer the very best in service and quality. Wealthy individuals are highly discriminating. They want the best and will cheerfully pay for it. But these people have highly developed customer service antennas; they can spot poor quality, ignorance or a don’t-give-a-damn attitude a mile away.

Your trucks, your equipment, your employees and you should promote an image of competent professionalism and spotless order. This will require an investment in training and equipment many carpet cleaners just don’t want to make. This is sad for them, but good for you. If you are willing to do what the others will not, you will stand out among all your competitors as the company to call.

Hire and Develop the Best Employees
If you go the employee route, don’t just hire warm bodies. Customers become Cheerleaders based on how they feel about the person doing the work in their home. How would you feel about some of your employees working in your own home? Scary thought, right? Look for mature, quality people who won’t be intimidated working in upper class homes. Of course, you will have to pay these people more and provide a better working environment for them. But you should be doing that anyway.

Become the “Best Person”
You like and enjoy working for your preferred customers, and you want them to feel the same about you. To accomplish this, you must become more like them.

How closely do you resemble your target market? You don’t have to become a mirror image of your PC, but can you converse intelligently on subjects of interest with your typical client? Are your customers comfortable with your dress, grooming and speech? Are you actively trying to improve yourself both professionally and personally? Most of your preferred customers are.

The Courage to Say No
Part of upgrading is recognizing you do not have to take every call that comes in. Jobs that do not meet your PC profile will cost you money, waste your time, keep you from finding better clients and, even worse, drain you emotionally. Politely interview the caller to determine job location, size, budget, etc. Then politely decline if the job doesn’t meet your PC parameters.

Implement the points listed above and you will upgrade your customers and your company. But you face one more challenge. Many, if not most, carpet cleaners are doomed by a little worm of doubt buried deep within them that whispers, “You don’t deserve the best. You’re just a carpet cleaner!”

Nonsense. You deserve to make just as much money as your clients do. You are a small-business owner, just like many of your customers, and chances are you work harder than most of them. But as an industry we are cursed with the “rug-sucker” self-image. So just maybe your customer and business upgrade needs to start with an upgrade of your self-image.

You deserve the very best for yourself and your family. Start now by building the best company and continue by upgrading to the very best customers.