In the 1990’s, my firm was among several dealers asked to monitor all installation related interactions that our firms had with customers. We not only tracked installations, but all correspondence that we had with our customers which may have lead to them being disappointed with the service experience that they received. There were both single and multiple store operations included. This group represented dealers with employee and contract installers. These surveys were gathered over a period of six months. I don’t care how efficient an operation you may run, catalogue every customer concern for six months and you’ll find yourself looking for a window ledge! There was no doubt that installation related concerns were driving us all to distraction. What we collectively found surprising was why.
To a company we all felt that the primary cause of complaint was typically an installation team lacking the proper skills or using incorrect methods. We found this perception to be true – less than 20% of the time! Nearly five of six customer calls were triggered by some form of poor communication, unrealistic expectations, etc. You know… the conversations that seem to always begin with the phrase “no one told me” or “if I’d only known”. While surprised, candidly we were pleased as we thought that this would be an easier “fix” than the physical installation process. Wrong again!
Fast forward to today. It’s debatable that much positive has occurred to improve the actual installation skills that we can expect to find among the installation trade as a whole. While some stores have taken strides to improve their staffs at a local level, the industry’s skilled craftsmen have inevitably gotten older as their replacements continue to not be fully trained. At times it seems as if an entire generation of potential installers has been lost. While lack of properly trained installers with great hand skills is still a problem today, my observation is that it’s still not THE problem!
Without question, our abilities to communicate with the customer have improved in ways no one imagined a generation ago. Virtually all of our customers and installers have a phone, with a built-in camera in their pockets. Most have access to e-mail. Virtually everyone sends and receives text messages. Many have navigation systems in their trucks to more easily find the customer’s jobsite. In light of these advancements, many of our problems have been solved in the last 15-20 years – right? Not that I can see! By contrast, the customer has learned to utilize her mobile device to great effect – too often alerting everyone on her contact list of the disappointment that she feels when a vendor lets her down.
Study after study in both the flooring, and related fields, seem to indicate that the customer is still putting up with the same incompetence and indifference that she has in the past. The sad reality is that she’s grown more used to this type of treatment. She hasn’t learned to like it, rather she’s just resigned to live with it.
Ask yourself; is your cable company significantly easier to deal with when scheduling an in- home appointment? Are the utility companies largely treating us the same? If anything, I think that what we have grown to accept as service has deteriorated further. Now instead of conversing with an indifferent receptionist, we just take orders from an answering machine. Added to this, there is now an entirely new generation in the marketplace that has yet to experience loving care from a concerned retailer, as virtually all of their shopping experiences have either been online or with mass merchants.
While both the problems and solutions are frustratingly similar to the 1990’s, one thing has clearly changed. That is our ability to truly shine when we satisfy our customer’s wishes! When we satisfy a customer’s expectations today, she’ll be so delighted that she likely will alert everyone that she knows via social media in a hurry. When you make the effort to widen the gap between businesses who proclaim to give outstanding service, and those who actually do, you will stand tall in your customer’s eyes.
Estimators, create accurate work orders for your staff. Use pre-installation checklist forms religiously. Seam diagrams aren’t an option! Installers are not mind readers, yet far too often we presume that they will intuitively know what it is that the customer wants. (And of course they will automatically have the correct materials on their truck!) Let there be no doubt what the customer should expect when she places her trust in your firm.
Installers, arrive at the jobsite with a presence that indicates that you take pride in your work. Remember that all a customer knows is what she sees when she opens her door to you. You may be the best craftsman in town, but if all the customer has to form a first impression upon is an unshaved face or a beat up van, you’ll be doing both yourself and the store that you represent a disservice. Leave a tidy workplace at the end of the day. Most importantly, if there is any doubt in your mind how a situation should be handled, always ask for clarification and confirmation. Apologies are a lot more embarrassing than questions.
Good communication and proper customer expectations were the overwhelming key to creating satisfied customers a generation ago. The same is true today. The goal hasn’t changed. The stakes have. With the proliferation of both big box and internet sources in today’s market, and the often impersonal customer experiences that they usually create, great customer service will stand out now more than ever before. Given that the products offered at most stores today all have a sameness to them, your service department is the only truly unique thing that your store has to sell. Conduct training sessions with all staff members focused on the proper ways to communicate with not only the customer, but with fellow team members as well. Perform as if your business’ very existence is at stake. Now, more than ever, it may well be!