By Adams Hudson
My sister is coming to visit in a couple of weeks. Oh, and my other sister is too … plus at least one of their children each, with a new spouse, an infant, and my niece is bringing her boyfriend, whom I'm sure I'll hate (on principle alone, since I have a "pre-dating" daughter).
Merely getting everyone together, spread over four states, has been a monumental undertaking. they're not even here yet and i'm ready for them to leave.
During the process, one sister mentioned the oft-repeated comment on modern life, "How'd we ever do this before e-mail?" i rejoined, "Or cell phones?" since we were both speaking on one.
We then mentioned that in the "old days" (anything between three years ago and the Paleolithic era) the world was tethered to any conversation by a cord. if you couldn't talk and do something productive within a 4-ft. radius, well, you just weren't very productive. it was an incredible advancement just to have a longer cord.
"Lookee! I can go 10 ft. now!"
With the longer cord came knots so devious that all the Boy scouts in America could not untangle them. you'd just throw the wadded mess away, and then spring for the 20-footer next time. Oh, the freedom.
At this moment, you probably couldn't "go back" to pre-e-mail, nor cell phone, nor a zillion advancements that — in reality — we were all just fine without previously. yet the new standard was set, expectations raised, old standards kicked to the curb. in no way is the old good enough; it is unacceptable. Oh, the bondage.
Somewhere in our mass frenzy to get as much accomplished in as little time as possible, something's gotta give. R. Buckminster Fuller would be nodding his well-studied head at this, and likely surmise that what is "lost" is the personal touch. I agree.
Don't worry; this will not be another preachy column about how you need to hold hands with your customers and sway in harmony with the universe. But i am going to let you in on this …
What was "good enough" 10 years ago in technology is not good enough now. What was "good enough" 10 years ago in personal relationships with customers was probably better than it is now.
And in my little world of marketing, the trick is to combine the two, so you get more leads, better retention and more referrals from prospects who "feel" your personal touch in marketing, but by using the efficient zing of technology.
The following lesson can apply to all plumbers, regardless of your situation. As a plumber, you're a problem-solver, an improvement seeker. you'll soon see how this lesson fits you.
Case study: a costly assumption about 3,940 people.
A Midwest plumber purchased another company in town that was of little value beyond its devoted customer list. the "old" phone number now rolled to him, invoices were "his," no other notice of the change ever went to the "purchased" customers. After a year, fewer than half of the 3,940 were deemed "active" and he blamed the former owner for a dead list. A threat of breach and lawsuit followed. An arbiter was called in to settle.
In a random sampling of 100 "lost" customers, a full 74 left for a reason categorized as "no connection." One comment: "I used [former company] because they knew me; these people didn't have a clue."
Oops. Problem was, the new company did have a clue. its systems, tools and training were far superior to the previous company; it just never bothered to tell the customers how they benefited by the news. Here's the bottom line.
The company spent nothing and assumed everything, including that it had some relationship with the customers. the "cost" of loss far exceeded anything it think it saved.
The solution, phase I: Although it was a bit late in the game, we sent all the remaining customers a "glad to be with you (and we hope it's mutual!)" letter that warmly welcomed "old" customers. We assured them that the previous owner's biggest concern was customer satisfaction and loyalty (thus inserting a guilt barb for leaving, and a "connection" between old and new owners' agreement. Although this was a "handshake" type letter, there was a cost involved ($2,740), so we included a $20 "re-welcome gift coupon" (termed that way instead of a "discount").
This resulted in 61 calls and an average ticket price of $220 for $13,420 in sales. Clearly, an untapped need existed.
Think that through: assuming that the company had a relationship with the customers nearly ruined 20 years of accumulation. the "proactive support" of that relationship not only cemented it, but won some sales in the process. the solution, phase II: two weeks later, a half-humorous voice broadcast was sent to half the list, thanking them for their business, reminding them of the $20 gift and inviting "... you and your neighbors to call us for any plumbing problems … or even to share a plumbing joke!"
Once again, a personal, self-effacing touch, very "relationship" oriented. since Patty (the receptionist, who everyone loved) didn't exactly have time to call nearly 2,000 customers, this was done electronically with one recording of her voice to all of them in 25 seconds. Another couple dozen appointments (the company didn't track these numbers) and two old but solid plumber jokes resulted.
Phase III: the newsletters went out to all customers, explaining the "great and exciting transition" with a photo of the old and new owners together. the jokes were in there, plus the usual personal/professional articles.
The entire campaign didn't cost — it paid. too bad it took an emergency, but this company was lucky; they were alerted to the loss. yes, lucky.
I assured you earlier that this lesson fits all. you get and lose customers every day. you only know about the ones you got. this simple campaign, easy for anyone reading this to copy, is now part of the company's marketing "system." it's focused on using a similar model to use in generating new customers, referrals and keeping all the customers it gets. it's on the right track. it gave the relationship some meaning, but used technology to deliver it. in the process, it not only solidified its position to customers as "their plumber," but the company became a standout among other plumbing companies.
This makes it very hard to "go back" to how it used to be, for the company and its customers.
Free things for CONTRACTOR readers this month: if you want to know the "Costliest Mistake in Contracting" and how much you could be losing, fax your letterhead with a request to 334/262-1115 or an e-mail to freestuff@ hudsonink.com. you'll learn how to keep thousands of dollars in your pocket while your business grows.
Adams Hudson is president of Hudson Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Contact Hudson Ink at 800/4899099 or at www.hudsonink.com.