Cleaning & Restoration Association News

The Training Corner: Your Customer. After 9/11

March 10, 2002
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Enhanced, unreasoning fears have become the norm - along with greatly diminished trust of anybody or anything unknown, unfamiliar or new. A trend that has been growing steadily for the last 20 years has accelerated into a tidal wave.

It's called "cocooning."

The term "cocooning" was coined to describe the behavior of consumers as their fears increased and their trust faded. The definition could be loosely stated as simply a place where the consumer feels safe enough to relax in comfort. The cocoon is usually the home, but today can also be the SUV, the RV or even twice-weekly Bingo at the neighborhood church or fire hall. It can even be the local pub, "where everybody knows your name."

Since 9/11, the home furnishings industry is racing to provide special "comfort furniture" and decorations to tempt the cocoon developer. Home Depot is uniquely positioned to capitalize on this exploding trend, and their advertising is focusing on the friendly, knowledgeable staff persons who are waiting eagerly to help you remodel your cocoon.

An unusual challenge is arising for professional cleaning services. Initially, it would seem that improving all the elements that build trust and reduce fear in the consumers' mind would be the smart for making inroads into the rapidly growing cocooning attitudes among our customers and prospects. Most of these deal with technician knowledge, attitude and skill. Couple these elements with improving our professional appearance, practices and service quality and it would seem that we should be positioned for positive growth.

But, it won't be that easy! In fact it will be quite difficult unless we recognize another facet of human nature that is now strongly working against us. It's the human willingness to stick with the bad, because the unknown might be much worse!

Fear and lack of trust in the new, and unknown, service technician or company-however sharp, knowledgeable and well recommended-will cause the consumer to begrudgingly recall the mediocre cleaning service that they previously would have liked to dump. Why? Because the unknown is just not worth the risk anymore, even with a recommendation.

This does not bode well for new start-ups or young companies that are anxiously targeting a profitable growth curve, unless they pay special attention to marketing skills that specifically refocus on these unique new challenges.

It starts with refocusing our training. As a matter of fact, one facet of our industry has been dealing with this exact problem for years and fully realizes its seriousness. The group I am referencing is the Building Service Contractors who provide janitorial services along with a menu of services that are limited only by the customers needs. They quickly learned that fear of the unknown will give a mediocre or bad contractor a long tenure in many situations. The BSCA (www.bscai.org) provides substantial training guidance for its members in dealing with this syndrome.

For the rest of us who have focused on certification training with technical skills for the past 15-plus years, we must refocus our training priorities. Of the five elements of Professional Carpet Cleaning, instead of focusing on the carpet cleaning process along with some technician development, the new focus must be:

* The Customer,
* The Technician,
* The Company,
* The Carpet, and lastly,
* Carpet Cleaning.

Focusing first on the customer puts an entirely different light on the service to be delivered. For example, Restoration Customer needs and problems must be considered as greatly different from those of most other consumers. As I mentioned previously, Commercial Maintenance customers have very different needs, even when compared to Commercial customers, who purchase only restorative cleaning services. And, of course, High-end Residential Customer needs are far different than those of the bread and butter Seniors Group.

A few moments of reflection soon makes it clear that the needs, fears and expectations of the customer far surpass the technical skills needed to produce the cleaning job.

We must never forget, that "Customer Satisfaction = Your Performance divided by Customer Expectations." And, that the performance encompasses much, much more than the technician's technical skills.

Your comments and observation regarding new training challenges after the 9/11 attack are very welcome. E-mail me at cleanlee@aol.com (and please put a note in the subject line that will let me know it's not more spam mail!)

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