The housing market is very tight at present, activity is low (but improving), competition for work is high, margins are squeezed and customers are shopping around. So what is it that can give you that competitive advantage?
This is an interesting one because many of the areas in which builders compete can be easily replicated. You all buy timber and products from similar merchants, floor plans can be copied (subject to copyright etc) and you can all advertise your offerings through any number of channels.
If you look at all the text books, MBA studies, dissertations and the like, real and sustainable competitive advantage is something your competitors find almost impossible to copy.
So what is one of those things that you have as an individual company that is unique to you and that you have complete control over?
Well, one of those things is your customer service. This leads to your reputation and brand, and positions you in the eyes of the consumer. What do they say? A happy customer tells two other people but an unhappy one tells 10!
Good customer service is the lifeblood of any business. Promotions and sales only go so far, and may not result in repeat business or quality referrals. Good customer service is aimed at bringing customers back and forming a relationship the customer wants to pursue with you, ahead of anyone else.
So how do you go about building this relationship and how do you get started? One important thing to remember is to build trust, as you are judged not by what you say but by what you do.
Here are some very basic tips on what you might consider doing to build excellent customer service (and this is by no means exhaustive).
Answer the phone
Yes that’s right, answer the phone! Get call forwarding or an answering service. Hire staff if you need to but make sure that someone is picking up those calls and the business.
People want to talk to a “live person”, and if they do leave a message call them back. If you don’t they are gone and will probably tell their all their friends that “they never bothered ringing me back”.
Don’t make promises unless you WILL keep them . . .
. . . not plan to keep them — will keep them. Reliability breeds trust and is one of the keys to a good relationship. Think before you give a promise, because nothing annoys customers more than a failed expectation. If you say you are going to be there Monday morning at 7.30am then be there.
Listen to your customers
There can be nothing more exasperating than telling someone what you want, or what your problem is, and them not paying attention and you needing to explain it again. Or they talk over you and tell you what the problem is. Show the customer that you are listening by letting them finish, and make appropriate responses and suggestions.
Deal with complaints
No one likes hearing complaints, and many have developed a reflex shrug and then saying “you can’t please everyone”.
Well, if you deal with them quickly and smartly they will go away. Believe me, if you don’t they will escalate beyond control and you will have wished you had addressed the issue at the time.
What is it that L V Martin said? “It’s the putting right that counts.” While we strive to get things right in the first place, problems do happen, and it is how you deal with them that builds your reputation as providing high quality customer service.
Be helpful — even if there is no immediate profit in it
Have you ever popped into a shop to make an enquiry about something and they helped you or fixed some little thing for you for nothing.
I have, and where did I go the next time when I needed something more substantial? That’s right.
Train your staff to always be helpful, courteous and knowledgeable
Do it yourself or hire someone to train them. Talk to them about good customer service and ensure they have enough information and power to make those small customer-pleasing decisions in your absence.
Take the extra step
Go slightly beyond what the customer would expect. Rather than post the quote back, hand deliver it and talk it through.
Throw in something extra
Whether it’s a coupon for a discount on a small piece of furniture or a picture frame to hang the house photo, it doesn’t really matter. Don’t think that a gesture has to be large to be effective; a small thing can be highly appreciated.
I hope you find some of these tips helpful. Building your customer service is entirely within your control.