Selling the "Sure Thing"

February 4, 2005
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A spot-and-stain-removal “warranty” can work wonders.


"Men are pigs."
- Carla Roselli, Cheers

You are a carpet cleaner and, given the demographics of our industry, very likely male. Spots, stains and "uglied out" carpets just don't bother you. After all, you're a carpet cleaner- and you're a man! We all instinctively recognize the basic truth of Carla's statement. Most men (especially carpet cleaners) just don't get all lathered up by a spotted or stained carpet. After all, it's "just a spot," and we know how to remove it!

But most of your customers in residential carpet cleaning are women. As my friend Bill Yeadon is fond of saying, "She's not buying what you are selling!" You think your housewife customer wants clean carpets. Not true. She wants freedom from fear. In other words, your customer desperately wants a "sure thing."

Think about it. Virtually any carpet cleaner can make a carpet look good right after the cleaning. But your customer is looking down the road one, two or six months. What does she see? Fear! The specter of future nasty spots, unsightly stains and ugly carpet will strike terror into the heart of even the toughest housewife. Bring peace of mind to this ugly situation and you will instantly create a Customer Cheerleader for life (not to mention that your profits on this job will skyrocket!).

It's so simple and yet, almost no carpet cleaners use this "sure thing" tactic: Include a free spot-and-stain-removal "warranty" in your offer to apply carpet protector to the customer's carpet. Let's look at how this warranty works:

Do NOT guarantee that the customer will never have a permanent stain. Yes, if you have properly applied the carpet protector and use correct spotting techniques it will be highly unusual for a spot to not remove completely. But that's not your focus. You are "guaranteeing" that, if after the customer has tried (following your over-the-phone instructions if necessary) to remove the stain and failed, you will come to their home at no charge and use all professional methods possible to restore the carpet. (Note: If you wish, as part of your warranty you can offer to refund the cost of the carpet protector application if the stain does not come out completely.)

Include the "spot warranty" with all your protector applications. Why not offer two options with a higher, premium price for the protector with a warranty? Here is my admittedly opinionated reasoning on this point:

  • Customers are "warranty shy" nowadays. After all, how many times have you bought a $75 boom box from Best Buy and then they try to "up-sell" you on a $30 service warranty? It is a much more positive Moment of Truth to include the program as a free bonus. People love this idea and your protector sales will soar.
  • The free spot-and-stain warranty shows the customer that you have confidence in the product to protect their carpets. If you believe in it, so will they.
  • Don't confuse the customer (and your technicians) with too many choices. If you make things too complicated for your employees they just won't offer the product. I wanted to keep things as simple as possible with a simple "yes" or "no." (With this concept, most customers said "yes"!)

    Include reasonable restrictions on covered spots. Since you are including this service as a free bonus in the carpet protector application, your customer will have no problem with some reasonable restrictions. These can include tracked-in soil in traffic lanes (this isn't a spot, it means they need their carpets cleaned again), pet urine and feces, petroleum products, and extensive water or sewer damage. We lowered the expectations of our clients by explaining in writing that all carpet protectors are designed to protect against common food and drink spills, and that is what we guarantee to remove. We also told them that complete carpet restoration depended on the volume of the spill. Six ounces of Coke? Very likely no problem. Two liters? Hmmmm...that may be another matter.

    Put some responsibility on the homeowner. After all, it is their home. And remember, you are including this service as a free bonus. So the customer needs to do their part:

  • The homeowner must contact you within 24 hours of the stain occurring. You don't want to deal with stains that are months (or years) old.
  • Before you make your free on-site visit, the homeowner needs to make a reasonable effort to remove the spot on her own. When they call, your first step will be to give them professional advice over the phone on how to remove the spot.
  • Use of improper chemicals will void this warranty. If the housewife has already applied her own concoction that she whipped up from the collection of chemicals under the sink, in the laundry room or out in the garage, you don't need to make this your problem. The answer? Give each customer (whether they buy protector or not) a bottle of professional spotter with free lifetime refills provided by you. Talk about a customer for life!

    The spot warranty should expire one year after application of the carpet protector. After all, how often do you want to clean your customer's carpets? At least once every year. Interestingly, we have found that customers have every intention of having their carpets cleaned yearly. However, the stress of daily life means the project often gets postponed indefinitely. But the customer's spot warranty expiring in one year reinforces the need for you to return and adds a "time-dated urgency" to your follow-up mailings.

    Now logically, you should worry about all these extra free spotting service calls if you include a spot warranty in your protector application, correct? Wrong, and here's why:

  • Only about 2 percent will ever call you. Repeated studies have found that very few of your customers will ever call you on a spot, yet all of them will view this free bonus as very valuable. This leads to...
  • You can (and should) raise your protector prices. Our "Strategies for Success" members with spot warranties have raised their protector package pricing by 20 to 40 percent, and yet report they are selling more product too. If you increase protector pricing your net profits will soar, which will more than cover your few extra free service calls over the course of a year, plus...
  • You will also sell more services while you are performing these "free" service calls. The vast majority of our warranty calls also had us do extra work "since you're here." This additional work always more than paid for the cost of the service call.

    By including a spot-and-stain guarantee every time you apply carpet protection, you will set yourself apart from all of your competitors. Even better, your happy clients will start to talk about this wonderful free service that finally gives them peace of mind. You will have created your very own "sure thing" - a delighted Customer Cheerleader.

    (Author's note: I received a lot of help on this article from suggestions gleaned from the ICS Cleaning Specialist magazine Bulletin Board for carpet cleaners. I highly recommend this resource. If you want more information (remember that opinions will vary wildly) go to http://www.i-boards.com/ics/ and use the search function by typing in the phrase "protector warranties." Good hunting!)

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