September 17/24, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 7
By Tom Jennings
In the early 1990s, my firm was among several dealers asked to monitor all installation-related interactions with customers. We not only tracked installations, but all correspondence that we had with customers, which may have led to disappointment with the service experience they received. There were single and multiple store operations included. This group represented dealers with both employee and contract installers. These surveys were gathered over a period of several months. There was no doubt that installation-related concerns were driving us all to distraction. What we found surprising was why.
As a company, we all felt 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. While surprised, we were also pleased. We thought this would be an easier “fix” than the physical installation process. Wrong again.
Fast forward 25 years to today. It’s debatable that much has occurred to improve the actual installation skills we can expect to find among installation as a whole. While some stores have taken strides to improve their staffs at a local level, the skilled craftsmen have inevitably gotten older as their replacements continue to not be fully trained. In our customer’s eyes, it’s 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 in their pockets. Most have navigation systems to easily find the customer’s jobsite. In light of these advancements, few of our problems have been solved in the last 25 years.
Studies in both flooring and related fields seem to indicate the customer is still putting up with the same incompetence she has in the past. Ask yourself: Is your wireless company significantly easier to deal with? Are the utility companies treating us the same? If anything, what we have grown to accept as service has further deteriorated. Instead of conversing with an indifferent receptionist, we take orders from a synthesized digital voice. What’s more, there is now a new generation in the marketplace that has yet to experience care from a concerned retailer, as most of their shopping experiences have been with mass merchants or online.
While both the problems and solutions are frustratingly similar to the 1990s, one thing has clearly changed: our ability to shine when we satisfy our customer. Make the effort to widen the gap between businesses that proclaim to give outstanding service and those that actually do. Create accurate work orders for your staff. Use pre-installation checklist forms religiously. Seam and layout diagrams aren’t an option. Installers are not mind readers, yet far too often we presume they will intuitively know what the customer wants. Let there be no doubt what the customer should expect when she places her trust in your firm.
It was considered easier and faster to improve communications and attitudes 25 years ago. The same is true today. The goal hasn’t changed; the stakes have. With the proliferation of both big-box and internet sources now available, great customer service will stand out more.
Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a retail sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.