In days past, unhappy customers would complain to their friends and neighbors. Today, they share their experience with the world through social media and review sites, making your company’s every action transparent to the world for good and bad. We live in an age of transparency. Here’s how to survive in it.
Cameras are Everywhere
Don’t look now, but the chance is good you are being recorded. Cameras are mounted next to traffic lights, in ATMs, on buildings, everywhere. Even when cameras are not focused on you, they can be in a second. Remember the man dragged from the United Airlines plane? You know about it because several passengers pulled out their phones and recorded the incident and it went viral. A decade earlier, we might have read a verbal description of the incident, but there would have been no video. Nearly every phone doubles as a video camera.
The ubiquity of cameras means you and your team should be conscious that any action could be recorded. Therefore, you should always act as though you are on camera.
Social Media Makes Us Cynical
The spread of social media has raised consumer cynicism. Service failures are broadcast by unhappy customers with friends piling on in the comments. Chances are good that in any given week everyone has someone in their social media network who is having a bad experience with a service provider of one sort or the other and sharing it online. This makes bad service and unethical behavior seem like the norm, even when it’s not. As a plumbing contractor, you start in a deep trust hole, not because of your actions but because of the actions of other service providers.
The first step to gaining consumer trust is to earn it. Do the right thing. Incent plumbers to present options and add-ons, not pressure the consumer. When something doesn’t need to be replaced, say so, but also give a replacement option anyway. Always give people options and let the customer decide. The situation is pressure enough. Train your plumbers to treat every service call as though they are on camera because they just might be.
Focus on the Big Picture
Sometimes the customer is wrong. Nevertheless, he is still the customer. Build a 1% or 2% reserve account into your pricing so that the money is set aside to address unhappy customer issues. Draw upon it to fix a problem that may not be your fault, to refund money, and so on.
Don’t worry about the one customer who might take advantage of you. Think about all of the prospects who might be influenced away from you by the customer. If you are doing work for a local newscaster and he was unhappy, you would bend over backwards to make him neutral, if not happy. Treat everyone this way.
When there is a problem, admit it. If you discover it before the customer, be proactive about it. Think about when your suppliers have a problem. Do you want them to call you and lay it out or discover it on your own? Your customers are no different.
Let customers in on your processes. Be revealing. Tell them what to expect, the steps you follow in your processes, and how you measure your performance. This can be done with literature and/or conversations in the field. It can also be part of your website.
For example, you might add a webpage under the heading, “Here’s What to Expect When You Call Us For Service.” Note that you prioritize emergencies like leaks first, that you match the problem with the next available plumber suited to the nature of the likely repair, that you seek to respond the same day for 95% of calls or more, that you expect to meet or beat standard, national average times for all repairs (i.e., your flat rate book times), and so on.
Don’t Worry About Competitors
Some contractors worry that transparency gives competitors an edge. Don’t. There are no secrets in plumbing. If your marketing stays a secret, it is not very good. Your operational advantages cease to be a secret when the next employee leaves to work for someone else. When the competition focuses on you and copies you, they are always a step behind.
Focus on the Relationship
Business is built on relationships. Find ways to strengthen your relationships with your customers. Develop and offer a service agreement. Mail your customers a quarterly consumer newsletter. Interact with your customers online. Make them feel connected to you.
Build Your Personal Network
Plumbers overlook the power of their personal network and the trust it can generate. As a company owner, you should be the chief promoter. Attend chamber of commerce meetings. Join a service club, such as Rotary, Lion’s, Optimists, Kiwanis, or Civitan. Join a leads group. The time spent in these meetings with community centers of influence is far more valuable than time turning a wrench.
A single individual can build a substantial personal network in a community with only a little effort. The New York Times reported that Columbia University researchers found the average person knows 600 people. Join a service club and get to know its 65 members and you are connected second hand with 35,000 people. Add the chamber, a leads group, and other networking. It makes a difference. When people know you or know of you, you have a form of personal transparency more powerful than social media.
For help building relationships with your customers, including service agreements, consumer newsletters, and affinity marketing, join the Service Roundtable. It’s only $50 a month. Connect at ServiceRoundtable.com or call 877/262-3341 and talk with the Success Team.