Al’s Column: Twentieth verse, same as the first

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March 2/9, 2015; Volume 28/Number 18

By Tom Jennings

In the mid 1990s my firm was among several dealers asked to monitor all installation-related interactions with customers. We not only tracked installations, but all correspondence we had with our customers that may have led to them being disappointed with the service they received. This group represented dealers with employee and contract installers, and the surveys were gathered over a period of several months. There was no doubt that installation-related concerns were driving us all to distraction, but the reason for that was surprising.

We felt the primary cause of complaint was the installation team lacking the proper hand skills or using incorrect methods. We found this perception to be true, but less than 20% of the time. Nearly five out of six customer calls were triggered by some form of poor communication or unrealistic expectations. While surprised, we were pleased this would be an easier “fix” than the physical installation process.

Wrong again.

Fast-forward 20 years to today. Without a doubt our abilities to communicate with the customer have improved in ways no one could have imagined a generation ago. Virtually all of our customers and installers have phones in their pockets. Most have access to email. Many have navigation systems to easily find the customer’s jobsite. In light of these advancements, many of our problems have been solved in the last 20 years, right?

Not that I can see.

Study after study in the flooring industry and related fields seem to indicate the customer is still putting up with the same incompetence and indifference she has in the past. 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? Don’t even get me started on airlines. If anything, I think we have grown to accept service has deteriorated further. Now instead of conversing with an indifferent receptionist, we just take orders from an electronic machine.

While both the problems and solutions are frustratingly similar to 1995, one opportunity has clearly changed: our ability to truly shine when we satisfy our customer’s wishes. Make the effort to widen the gap between businesses that claim to give outstanding service and those that actually do. Create accurate work orders for your staff. Use pre-installation checklist forms religiously.

Seam diagrams are not an option. Installers are not mind readers, yet far too often we presume they will intuitively know what the customer wants (and they will automatically have the correct materials on their trucks). Let there be no doubt what the customer should expect when she places her trust in your firm.

It was considered fast and easy to improve communication and attitudes 20 years ago, and the same is true today. The goal hasn’t changed, but the stakes have. With the proliferation of big box and Internet sources, providing great customer service will stand out now more than ever. Social media and online reviews alone have dramatically affected the importance of positive customer reviews. Fair or not, customers today seem more anxious than ever to have their voices heard. Your service department is the only truly unique thing your store has to sell. Perform as if your very existence is at stake. Now, more than ever, it very well may be.

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