What customers want

Seeing things your customer’s way is one of the keys to succeed in business. The following article suggests 6 key ways that can help you set yourself apart by understanding your customers better.

Happy customers are a pleasure to deal with. Happy customers will recommend you to their friends and family. Happy customers will quickly accept your quotes and will pay on time. What’s not to like?

Of course, this perfect world may only exist in my imagination, but how can we get as close to it as possible? This article suggests some ways to think about how to make your customers happy, outside of the obvious points of doing a great job and charging a fair price.

Set customer expectations correctly

A few years ago the expression “sticker shock” came into use in America. It came from car sales where there had been a big and unexpected rise in prices. The point is this. Whenever we start thinking about buying something, we have a rough price in mind. We experience a shock if the price quoted doesn’t match up to what we had in our heads.

Many residential customers will have a wrong expectation of what a new heating system or rewiring project may cost. It’s our job to guide them into the right ball park before we send the quote to them, so they won’t experience “sticker shock”. It also means that if they aren’t prepared to pay the price needed for a quality job, we can both save each other’s time before anyone invests more time.

Matthew Stevenson of The Landscape Company puts it this way: “I always tell customers that we won’t be the cheapest, but we will be the best value.”

No one likes a surprise and if they get one, they tend to react badly. Trying to set expectations correctly can avoid this pitfall.

Get your quotes out quickly

A while ago my company, Powered Now, conducted a survey of over 1,000 home owners. One of the questions was about getting quotes from trades companies. This turned out to be a major frustration for the typical homeowner. Ideally, they would like several quotes to compare. In practise, they often found it hard to get one.

That’s why there is such a benefit in turning quotes around quickly. Doing so demonstrates your efficiency and putting a time limit on acceptance helps you to beat the guys that are still looking up the parts.

If you are busy, you can always negotiate on the start date. Being straight with the customer helps to build trust. Being busy suggests that you are good because you are in hot demand. It all helps the relationship with the customer and makes them more reasonable when you start doing the job.

Be professional in the little things

We recently employed some decorators. They were good. They came when they said they would. They did a professional job. They charged a reasonable price. But we will never use them again. Why not? They were a bit too fresh with my wife and she felt uncomfortable.

When you do a residential job, you are invading your customers most personal territory. That’s why making sure you leave the toilet clean, take off dirty shoes, clean up and treat customers and their families with total respect is so important. Failing to do this can often explain the apparently inexplicable behaviour of customers. That’s what happened in our case as we have ignored every contact we have received from those decorators.

Do what you say

You said that you would start on Tuesday. You didn’t turn up and the next time you contacted the customer they were fine about it. So that’s OK? I’m afraid not. Lots of people dislike confrontation but every time you say one thing and do another you undermine that most precious commodity – trust. Undermine this enough and they won’t trust you at all. You will then wonder why they seem uncooperative and don’t believe anything you say.

My sister recently had a new boiler fitted. She had asked for a particular model and the installer said they didn’t normally supply that one. Under pressure they said they could. When the job was completed she noticed that the wrong model was installed. Emails pointing this out went unanswered. That was until she said she was getting someone else to rip out his boiler and replace it with the right one. Was this all deliberate? It’s hard to think that it was a mistake. The installer in question is going to end up with a second hand boiler and will have done two installs and one uninstall to be paid once. He would have been better off saying he didn’t want the job in the first place.

A while ago I had a big job done on my drive and parking area along with some walling. The job kept expanding and I accepted nearly all of the quotes for additional work. They told me that the job was the biggest the company had ever done for a residential client. I paid fully and on time.

When they finished I asked if they could give me a quick hand-drawn diagram of where the utilities ran under the drive and they agreed. It’s never been supplied. Two years later there was a bit of a problem with a small part of the job. They denied they had done the work involved.

I now hate this company and take every opportunity I can to bad mouth them. Living in a smallish town that matters. If it was more significant I would have sued them. Why? They didn’t keep their word to me and then treated me as a mug.

Avoid the unreasonable

Every so often you will come across customers who are truly unreasonable. Fortunately it’s not too common but it does happen from time to time. Incidentally, if you seem to come across customers like this frequently, you need to take a long hard look at yourself. Then consider the points in this article carefully because your experiences may suggest that some changes are needed. Virtually every customer will become unreasonable if they feel they are not being treated right.

What to do with the unreasonable customer? The answer is to run a mile. If you haven’t yet started the job, make your excuses and drop out. If you have, try to resolve whatever dispute has arisen and get away as fast as possible. The time and emotional energy consumed by standing up for your rights, unless it threatens your business, is not worth it. The truly unreasonable customer will not only refuse to pay, they will also complain to trading standards. In the worst case they will sue you. It can be a world of pain.

If you work with too many unreasonable customers this can cause endless problems. It’s all too easy to start feeling that everyone is against you. The danger then is that you can dismiss valid complaints. It’s a dangerous path.

Respond professionally to complaints

We all make mistakes and sometimes that’s likely to happen in your business. I always accept that people make mistakes and it doesn’t upset me when it happens. What does upset me is if the person responsible doesn’t pull out all the stops to fix the problem. I think that’s how most customers feel.

This means that when remedial work is required, it shouldn’t be fitted in when there is a lull in workload. Rather it should be a priority. There is actually a big benefit to this. Research has shown that when customers who experience problems and have them fixed to their satisfaction, they become more loyal than customers whose job went smoothly. That’s because they know from experience that you will stand behind your work. It engenders more trust than mere talk can ever produce.

An easy life

I’ve said some hard things in this article but my intention wasn’t to offend. Some of us are naturally empathetic and will adopt many of the approaches suggested here instinctively. This article will mostly be for those that don’t have this advantage.

A lack of empathy with customers can explain lots of difficulties in business life. My intention is that there might be some useful thoughts here to help smooth the path.

Emma Dyer