As I anticipated and predicted months ago, stone fabricators are busy. High customer demand without sound processes will almost certainly lead to chaos and aggravate the entire team. Taking ownership implementing the right systems and educating your customers on the frontend would be wise and well worth the investment. We all know how much it hurts when a customer’s expectations are different from reality. The benefits of a “trained” customer are numerous. The biggest advantage is a job that is completed efficiently without delays. The entire team will be appreciative they can perform their jobs without any friction points or questions. However, the long-term gains from a “happy customer” experience will provide long-term value and returns.
I was always very proud of the business model my team and I built over the years. One of the unique characteristics of our company was a $10 million direct consumer channel of annual business that required almost $0 marketing dollars. This highly desirable channel of business was extremely profitable and cost almost nothing to acquire, other than a massive stable of “happy customers” who loved to boast about their experience working with our company.
A satisfied customer who had a great experience can be the holy grail for a business. These disciples will seek opportunities to tell their friends, family and associates about the pleasurable experience with a particular company. Due to their audience, these raving fans bring a level of conviction and credibility any salesperson would envy. A satisfied ecstatic customer is a gift that continues to give in the form of ongoing customer referrals from their testimonies. These raving promoters become a company’s most credible and productive sales resource, and it cost the company $0. No base pay, no commissions and no benefit package required! They just produce without being asked. Build an army of happy satisfied customers and you will have a highly profitable channel of residual business that continues to grow like the principles of compound interest.
I recommend getting intentional about delivering customers’ experiences they will brag about. It will unlikely happen by chance. Putting the right systems in place will go a long way towards success. One of the key ingredients to making a happy customer is EDUCATION.
Customers need to be educated. In our digital world of information overload, every customer wants to be the expert. How frequently are your teams being directed by the customer to what they want and how they are going to do it? Only to find out the customer desires are in direct conflict of what right should look like to your systems and processes? The proverbial tail is wagging the dog. Bringing a customer from their preconceived HGTV expectations into the reality of what it takes to produce a successful home improvement project is a delicate dance.
How do you deliver the news and information to a customer that their expectations are either not aligned or wrong without shattering ego, pride and enthusiasm? Start with the “WHY.” Unaligned customers left to their own accord and expectations are likely to become frustrated and disappointed as their project is progressing from the initial sale to installation.
I always stressed the need for our team to take ownership of educating our customers on the process and the why behind them. An educated customer becomes one of an operations team’s biggest assets. The educated customer gets in their lane and helps ensure the project is setup for success throughout the entire process.
Of course, it is not always convenient for a customer to physically be present at the jobsite during the template or measure appointment to determine final dimensions. How many remakes have you experienced because the customer and your team were not aligned? My company’s processes required the customer onsite during the critical template measuring step. The sales team was trained to communicate the “WHY” it was critical the customer be present for the measure. What are your company’s non-negotiable’s? Do you have any?
Here are a few areas we determined our systems and process needed to emphasize and hold the line with the intent of protecting all parties, as well as ensuring an efficiently run project and ultimately creating a raving fan of a customer in the end.
“Hold the Line” examples:
- Customer present at the measure
- Adult onsite/present at install
- All cabinets completely installed and secured in final resting position before measure appointment
- All sinks and appliances onsite (or at least selected) at measure
- Material sign-offs for specific selections explaining attributes and characteristics of product selected (ie. marble sign off)
- What to expect at each step of process (post sale, PM, measure, install)
- Signed final quote (ensure alignment of final scope and selections)
- Layout approvals before fabrication begins (selected materials)
- Payment terms and timelines (We never had an AR issue b/c expectations we created on the frontend.)
Although not always convenient, our customers understood and often appreciated the systems we required to make their project a success after they understood the “why” behind our systems.
It is easy for a customer to perceive the adherence to strict operational requirements as a company being difficult. However, I certainly understand the challenge of reeling in a rouge customer whose expectations are 180 degrees away from the desired process, especially for an inexperienced salesperson. A salesperson and PM are operating under the assumption they need to please their customers. The irony of the situation is that great salespeople and project managers need to protect their customers from their unrealistic expectations and assumptions. It is their primary job to create raving fans. Great salespeople who spend the time and become proficient communicators explaining the “why” customers need to follow the process will win in a big way. Ultimately, a happy customer generates a network of referrals that just keep coming.
Training your teams to train your customers pays big dividends.