My Article Published by the RI Small Business Journal – Contractors’ Key to Customer Satisfaction

Satisfaction With Contractors

An article I wrote was just published in the September edition of the Rhode Island Small Business Journal print and online versions (www.RISBJ.com). In it, I describe the most important action that contractors can take to have satisfied customers.

I have found with the research I have done as a small business consultant that having a contractor do the work when he said is what customers most want.  Customers don’t want their lives disrupted any more than necessary for a renovation and delays kill customer satisfaction.  So what is it that allows contractors to complete projects on time?  It really comes down to estimating and scheduling.

Estimating

I am sure that all contractors try to break down the required tasks and then estimate them accordingly.  Where many contractors fall short is in gathering information during a job and then putting it together at the end.  The most important thing to do is effectively use this information in perfecting their estimating process.

Scheduling

This is the point where most small contractors really drop the ball. They just have lots of challenges in sequencing, resourcing, and identifying dependencies, if they do it at all.  The hardest thing of all is to build in just the right amount of flexibility for potential delays caused by other trades working on the same job.  Without a good schedule that contains all of your existing committed jobs, how can you tell the next prospective customer when you can deliver?  You can’t.  If you do, you are setting yourself up to give your customer a bad customer experience.

As a small business consultant, I can tell you that estimating and scheduling along with solid project management, optimizing workflows and providing a great customer experience are critically important.

So for those contractors that are able to deliver their services when they said they would, they will have given themselves the best chance to satisfy their customers.  Happy customers mean free word of mouth advertising.  This reduces the money you will have to spend on marketing in general and the execution of your marketing plan in particular.

See the full article on page 13 of the September issue at:

https://issuu.com/gillantini/docs/risbj_v6_no8_issue_proof

Best Buy’s Secrets for Thriving in the Amazon Age

Improving the Customer Experience

A great article about Best Buy and how it has adapted to the competition by creating a great customer experience.  I have over 20 posts on improving the customer experience just this year.  It is really important for all companies but a matter of life and death for small companies.

Read the full article at:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/18/business/best-buy-amazon.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fbusiness&action=click&contentCollection=business&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront

If America’s Economy Is Winner-Take-All, Why Are Some Smaller Businesses Thriving?

Niche Marketing

This article discusses how the retail landscape has changed over the last 30 years.  However, it points out that margins have increased and that many small businesses are thriving by providing a better customer experience, a niche product or serving a hard to serve market, points that I make every day to my clients.

See the complete article at https://hbr.org/2017/09/if-americas-economy-is-winner-take-all-why-are-some-smaller-businesses-thriving?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+harvardbusiness+%28HBR.org%29

Customer Care: 7 Ways to Provide Stellar Customer Service on Social Media

This article suggests some good practices when interacting with customers on social media.  This is an important topic that I have posted on several times.  I especially want to emphasize that you need to keep your cool.

The full article can be found at http://www.business2community.com/social-media/customer-care-7-ways-provide-stellar-customer-service-social-media-01880821#x6laoMkSFku6lh5U.99

Here’s How Small Businesses Beat the E-commerce Big Guys

Here is a useful article describing how to offer e-commerce capability and fulfillment with service that matches or exceeds the big boys while maintaining your company’s uniqueness.

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/295945

 

Offer flawless service, and your customers will keep coming back.

Lately, e-commerce order and fulfillment seems dominated by Goliaths. In 2016, e-commerce giant Amazon set a new precedent — delivering more than two billion items for other merchants, double the number from just one year before. It may seem like Amazon is going to gobble up all of e-commerce any day now, but as more vendors default to FBA, Fulfillment by Amazon, I see a golden opportunity to embrace smallness…

A Small Business Guide to Protecting Customer Data and Information

Following up on a post from last week on ways to control the use of employees’ own devices when used for work, here is a useful article on protecting customer data.  This is very important topic and most small businesses don’t know what to do, or even how to approach the problem. This is a good introduction.

https://smallbiztrends.com/2017/06/ways-to-protect-customer-information-small-business.html

Customer Service Needs to be Different for Different Types of Customers – Part 2 – Improving The Customer Experience

In last week’s post, I talked about needing to provide a different experience for different types of customers.  Then I provided the first of five approaches to getting the right kind of customer facing staff to be able to do it.  I now continue with the remaining four approaches.

2. Instill a culture that values diversity. Every business has a culture and hopefully, yours values and respects diversity. This goes beyond the usual race, religion, etc.  It needs to include a diversity of thought.  This may mean that there are multiple ways to do something, not just one.  They need to be able to approach different customers in different ways.  (There goes your intro script!)  Your employees need to focus on meeting customers’ needs and desires but in different ways.  Your staff needs to understand that this is the right thing to do and that it is in everyone’s interest to serve a broad and diverse group of customers.

3. Training. One way to get the right values and approaches in your staff is to describe hypothetical situations and work through the right approaches to fit the situation. While this is hard and needs to be ongoing, consider the alternative-having staff that cannot meet the needs of a diverse customer set.

4. Be tuned in to the details. Get your staff to watch the faces and mannerisms of your customers and react appropriately. Get them to anticipate the needs of your customers and offer help when they look puzzled. Don’t always wait for a customer to approach.  By teaching your staff to pay attention to body language and expressions – comfortable or not, stressed confused, overwhelmed, etc. you teach your employees to focus on the whole customer.  This will allow them to be much more effective at meeting your customers’ needs and in providing a good customer experience.

5. Be gracious. When an employee is helping a customer, they need to find the right product to meet their needs and they need to do it in a way that does not make the customer feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. By choosing words that shift the conversation to the benefit for the customer from the emotional state or uncomfortable situation the customer finds himself in, sales effectiveness with be greatly improved.

Customer Service Needs to be Different for Different Types of Customers – Part 1 – Improving The Customer Experience

As we have discussed before, different types of customers want a different experience.  Younger customers may prefer speed and efficiency and to be able to do everything at the touch of a button.  Older customers often want a more personal interaction.  Customers from different cultures have different customs and a different approach to making purchases.  For example, Hispanics often want a more social and personal approach to the buying process.  They may even want to have a discussion unrelated to the product or service under consideration.  Many recent immigrant groups may have a lot more questions about a product. (They might be like me, give me the facts, just the facts.)

All of this puts a lot of pressure on your employees.  Besides all the usual characteristics you want from your employees, polite, helpful, etc. you need them to be flexible, adaptable and very aware of cultural, age and other differences.

So, how do you get people like this?  You might find this impossible.  Here is a list of five approaches to get it right:

  1. Hire the right person. To some extent, through out what you thought you wanted in terms of skills and experience and look for someone that is the right kind of person for the job, and might only be missing teachable job skills (that unfortunately may mean that you will need someone to teach them). Look for someone with key characteristics (per Bill Thompson): genuine warmth, empathetic, a good listener, conscientious, anticipatory and optimistic.  Now you have a start.

As this is getting long, I will describe the additional four approaches in next week’s posting.

Creating Good Customer Experiences that may not Always Directly Involve Your Company – Improving the Customer Experience

We have been talking a lot about using social media to engage customers and prospective customers.  We have also talked about how social media is best for building relationships over direct selling.  In this vein, using social media requires you to be part of a community and to help your customers connect with others.  One of the primary benefits of using social media for your company is to listen to what your customers are saying so that you can understand their needs and how those needs may be evolving.  What happens if you hear about something your customers want but you don’t supply it?  You might want to direct that customer to a place where they can get what they want.  By doing this, you send a message that you value that customer as a person, even if it does not benefit you in a direct way.  It puts the customer relationship first and the sale second.

Of course, you want to have a process where customer needs that are identified through social media have a way of getting to the folks that do product and service planning so your company can consider a new offering.  In this way, it will make your company stronger over the long run.

Using Social Media as a Channel to Provide Customer Service – Improving the Customer Experience

Before social media, a disgruntled customer might tell a few people about their bad experience.  Now, they can tell millions.  So it is important to respond immediately and appropriately. We have been talking a lot about improving the customer experience and how different customers want to do business with us in different ways.  This means that we have to have as many ways to handle customer issues as our customers want.

As lots of customers use social for many purposes, many of those customers would be happy to use social media channels to resolve issues.  That is why companies are beginning to set up specific channels using Facebook and Twitter, among others.  It is critical that if you decide that this is something that makes sense for your company that the service people or the “Community Manager” that are responding to customer issues can resolve issues quickly, fairly and without the use of additional channels such as calling a customer service number or email. Nothing would be more frustrating than teasing customers with a way to resolve issues using the new channels of social media but not being able to really solve their issue through that channel.

Keep in mind that your communication with customers over these channels will for the most part be public so it requires a whole new level of tact and awareness.  In some cases, you can have the community manager take the conversation offline for resolutions but this has drawbacks too. So recognize that by using social media to resolve customer complaints is going to push you to have a better outcome with customers.  This may require a reevaluation of your policies (such as your return policy) and the limits of what you are willing to do for a customer in order to produce the desired outcome for your customers.