Al’s Column: Three-minute diagnostics

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October 26/November 2; Volume 30/Number 10

By Jacqueline Tabbah

A customer once called our stone restoration company, International Stoneworks, complaining about a dark stain on her white marble floor. When a customer complains about dark stains I usually assume it is due to oil or grease but this time, instead of jumping in, I asked her to elaborate. She said the dark stain was right next to her bedroom door but it was not always visible. She could only see the stain during certain times of the day. I then asked her to describe the shape of the stain. After walking over to her bedroom, she replied the stain was round.

I thought about it for a moment and asked her to move her bedroom door and let me know if the stain disappeared. Sure enough, it did. The “dark stain” she was having trouble with turned out to be the shadow from her bedroom doorknob.

Had I not taken the time to listen to the customer’s description of the problem, I would have assumed it was a grease stain. I would have made an appointment to go see her marble floor but, as it turns out, she didn’t need our services at all. The couple of minutes I spent with her on the phone ended up saving me a trip.

Our interaction with a potential customer usually begins with a phone call. This initial conversation is your chance to gather key information from the customer that will start your relationship off on the right foot.

First, find out what the customer needs. It sounds pretty basic but it is very important. It has always served me better when I allow potential customers to explain in their own words what they are looking for and what problems they would like to fix.

I ask questions that help me figure out how big the project is, where the customer is located and, if necessary, I ask more questions about the issue the customer initially called about. Doing so allows me to first decide if our company can even resolve this particular issue. If the project sounds like something we can take care of, I try to gauge the cost of the job before I even set eyes on the stone surface.

Having this short, preliminary conversation saves time for both myself and the customer. It also gives me insight into the customer’s personality. For example, does she get straight to the point or is she more talkative?

Also, let’s not forget that at the end of the day, we are all in sales in one way or another. I always try to be honest and knowledgeable about our services and products. I certainly do not want to inflate or over promise what we can do. I also like to give potential customers a little background information about our stone restoration processes without getting too technical. I try to use terms that are easy to understand. For example, instead of “compound polishing” I would say “powder polishing” or “wet sanding.” That way I can make sure we are all on the same page.

Regardless of which industry you are in, I think we can all agree that we would like to accomplish two main things: saving time and improving customer service. With a three-minute preliminary conversation you can achieve both goals.

To learn more, I will be presenting at The International Surface Event (TISE) in Las Vegas. The session, “The 3 Minute Diagnosis: Quickly Assess that Stone Restoration Problem!” will be held on Jan. 19 at 10:20 a.m. Visit to register.

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