When Technology Isn't Enough: Tuning Up Your Customer Service Skills
January 4, 2008
In the early days of the restoration industry, a little technology and some basic knowledge of the restoration process was enough to remain competitive. There were so few companies to choose from that customers simply wanted someone who could do the job.
In recent years the restoration industry has experienced unprecedented growth. There are three reasons for this growth:
- Technology is becoming more affordable.
- Licensing is not mandatory for many of the services restoration companies provide.
- Consumers are spending more money than ever before on restoration services, making it a very profitable business to be in.
As a result, the marketplace is saturated with restoration companies. Most local telephone books have at least two pages dedicated to cleaning and restoration companies. Visit the site of any major disaster, and you will literally spend all day running into restoration companies you’ve never seen before (and aren’t likely to see again).
Such rapid growth has created two serious consequences. First, due to the actions of a few, the reputation of the industry as a whole has suffered. Overcoming this negative perception and gaining customers’ trust is a constant battle. Second, in an industry full of “low-price leaders” it’s hard to cut through the noise and reach quality customers. Even companies with dedicated marketing representatives struggle to differentiate themselves from their competition.
So what’s the answer? What must your company do to survive? How can you combat both a damaged reputation and a noisy marketplace?
The answer sounds simple enough: You must offer your customers something the competition cannot. You must provide something so special that customers will continue to choose you for as long as you will continue providing it. You must earn and keep their trust.
“Leading-edge” technology is no longer enough; your customers demand stellar customer service. The company who provides (or, at the very least, promises) the best customer service wins.
Quick, Accurate Response to Customer Needs
You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Slow and steady wins the race.” In his book The Age of Speed: Learning to Thrive in a More-Faster-Now World, Vince Poscente responds to this approach by saying, “In the story of the tortoise and the hare, the hare doesn’t lose because he’s fast – speed does not work against him in any way. And the tortoise doesn’t win because he is slow. The hare loses because he makes a ridiculous choice about how to spend his time.”
Learn to spend your time wisely. Develop a reliable, repeatable system for responding to customer needs faster than your competition. And do the job right the first time.
In addition, create an easy way for customers to contact you with issues or concerns. This helps to establish trust and encourage valuable feedback you can use to improve your business and train your employees.
Diversification of Services
The wider the range of services you can offer a single customer, the greater the likelihood they will call you every time. Always be looking for ways to more comprehensively meet the needs of your customer. It’s more lucrative for you and sets your customer’s mind at ease when they only have to call one person to meet all their needs. If unable to meet a customer’s particular need, have a list of trusted referrals on hand who can.
Recruitment and Retention Plan
Your employees, whether they are service professionals or office personnel, are your conduits for delivering this stellar customer service to your customers. In addition, they are all part of your sales and marketing department. Their interactions with your customers, or prospective customers, speak louder than any Yellow Page ad or billboard can. For these two reasons, your method for recruiting and retaining employees must reflect this reality.
Recruiting is loosely defined as ‘selling’ someone on joining your organization or business. It’s creating an experience for people from the moment you first meet them that makes them want to join your team. Retention is how you keep them around.
Seven Keys to Recruiting
Don’t pre-judge. You must teach yourself to see people as they can be, not as they are. Recruiting is an active, not passive, endeavor. Don’t wait for people to come to you. Search them out. Know who you’re looking for before you need them. Don’t give up on a prospect. If they don’t show up for an interview, take the initiative and call them to re-schedule. Though counterintuitive, most no-shows are due to fear on the part of the prospective employee, which can be overcome if they see you are confident in their ability to do the job.
Recruiting is an every day activity. Just as in marketing to customers, you must always be marketing your business to potential employees. You will always need quality people on your team.
Be the kind of person you would work for. It’s not about being soft. Prospective employees need to know that you respect, honor, and care about them as people. Are you a people builder or a people user? Are your employees a means to an end or are you actively helping them pursue their goals?
Build a company you would work for. Is your business the “company of choice” in your industry and in your community? Is your place of business neat, clean and organized? Would your employees say your company is a great place to work?
You can recruit anyone you want if you can show them they can accomplish their personal and financial goals by being on your team. Again, the focus is on their goals.
You must offer two kinds of income: financial and psychological. Most people will perform at a higher level and even sacrifice financial income if you meet their need for psychological income. Financial needs are all about the numbers; psychological needs include how people feel about where they work, what they do at work, who they work for, and how much they are valued at work.
Tell the whole story. Share the history of your business so they will have a better idea of the company they work for and the important part they play in it.
While these seven points are excellent to remember when recruiting, keeping them in mind after you’ve built your team makes retention a breeze. Not only will they take pride in the high-quality customer service they provide, they will be proud to tell others about it.
Remember, employees are loyal to people, not to companies. By establishing and maintaining this loyalty, you build a company full of cheerleaders who will market you and your services to everyone they come into contact with.
A Final Word
Don’t be overwhelmed if you’ve read this far and recognize more than a few areas that need immediate attention. Every company has room for improvement, but don’t make the mistake of trying to fix everything at once. If you do, you’ll burn yourself out before you have a chance to see the fruits of your labor.
The key is focus. Pick two or three areas to work on first, based on affordability and impact on your bottom line. Ask someone you trust who is not as deeply involved as you are to provide honest feedback. You’ll be surprised at how much positive growth can come by tweaking even the smallest details of your customer service process.
And remember, whatever you do, do something. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.”