When the customer is picky

If you have been in business for very long, you have likely run into a customer who can’t find anything right with your work. They mark the slightest imperfection with blue tape. They stand on chairs, use mirrors, and more to inspect your work.

Such customers are much worse than simply frustrating. They threaten our reputation and our profit. And if we don’t deal with them properly, they could hold us hostage for a very long time, demanding that we redo our work over and over.

The best and most effective way to deal with this type of situation is to avoid getting into it to begin with. That might seem like an easy thing to say, but more difficult to actually do. I do not concur with that evaluation.

The fundamental issue with the overly picky customer is unrealized expectations. In other words, they expected one thing and received something else. Why did this occur? Why did the customer expect one level of quality or appearance and actually received another?

I put the bulk of the blame on the contractor. One of the primary goals of the sales process is to set reasonable expectations. We do this by asking questions, listening to the answers, and then educating the customer. We must try to uncover the customer’s expectations long before we start the job– how else can we propose a job that will meet those expectations.

In the case of the overly picky customer, this can easily be identified during the first meeting. Ask the customer if she is happy with the last paint job. If not, why not? If so, what did she like about it? Ask her what level of prep she desires and the appearance she seeks for the final product. If her expectations are unreasonable, you now have an opportunity to address that fact. If her expectations remain unreasonable, you can refuse to submit a proposal.

The second part of avoiding overly picky customers is to have a well written contract that details exactly what is included and what is not included. This helps define expectations and does provide legal protection for both parties.

If you fail to do the above and find yourself dealing with an unreasonable customer, I cannot offer much advice. You cannot reason with unreasonable people. All you can do is remain calm, stand your ground, and get through it.

Interestingly, in the past few years I seem to be attracting more and more customers who tell me up front that they are very picky. Every one of them has been thrilled with the quality of our work and the service we provided. Many have called us for more work. The “secret” was understanding their expectations, and then delivering.

Actions speak louder than words

You don’t need to spend much time looking at the advertisements of competitors to see repeated claims of professionalism, superior quality, etc. Of course, it is easy to make such claims, and quite another thing to actually deliver on them.

I often amused at the contradictory messages sent by these ads. For example, one local company stresses their customer service with prose that is filled with misspelled words and grammatical mistakes.

Such errors make me wonder how they can deliver good service if they overlook details like grammar and spelling. Certainly painting contractors aren’t hired for the quality of their writing. But if a company will tolerate such easily corrected errors I must wonder what other details slip through the cracks.

In other words, they are telling me one thing while showing me something entirely different.

Marketing is primarily about communications—delivering a message about your company. That message may be as simple as the services you offer, or as complex as your business philosophy. That message may be delivered explicitly—what you say or claim—or it may be implicit—how you say it.

Both the explicit and the implicit messages must be consistent. Otherwise your message will be confusing at best, and contrary to your intentions at worst.

In addition, the implicit messages are generally much more powerful. They are showing rather than telling. They are demonstrating some characteristic about your company, rather than simply claiming that your possess it.

Take the company with superior service as an example. Anyone can claim such service, and if you do so you will be no different from the others. But if you actually deliver superior service from the very first phone call, you will demonstrate it.

So rather than tell your customer how your company is better, show him.

Empowering employees in customer service

Bill Hogg tells how Home Depot recently impressed him because an employee was empowered. An employee offered to discount an item to match a sale price. When asked why he did this, the employee responded, “I am empowered to make our customers happy”.

This may seem like a simple thing, and in many ways it is. But are your employees empowered to make customers happy? Certainly, we don’t want them arbitrarily giving away work or discounting prices, but there are many other ways to make a customer happy.

A simple example recently occurred with my company. When I originally met with the customer, they did not want their garage door painted. I went through my normal explanation as to why I thought it best to paint the door, but the customer persisted. However, on the first day of the job my supervisor raised the issue, pointing out that the door was going to look dull and worn after everything else was painted.

He did this without prompting from me. He recognized that the customer would be more satisfied with the door painted, and the customer quickly agreed. Because he was empowered, the supervisor created a situation that is beneficial to everyone.

Serving your painting customers

Customer service pertains to the relationship between a company and its customers. That relationship revolves around an economic transaction in which both parties seek to benefit. In other words, each party seeks to trade a value it has for a value owned by the other party. In our context, the trade involves painting services for money.

However, customers often seek values that are not tangible. Values such as convenience, professionalism, and consumer education do not necessarily take a physical form. These intangible values are not exchanged in the same manner as a paint job, an automobile, or a meal is. Yet, intangible values are real and are desired by customers.

In simple terms, customer service is the manner in which a company services its customers. But there is more to customer service than providing service. Service has a particular purpose— providing the values sought by the customer.

The value sought may be purely physical, such as repairs or peeling paint. In such instances the value sought is the protection of their property. The value sought may also be psychological. The customer may not need to paint, i.e., the present paint is in good condition. They may want to paint to have a color more to their liking, to match their décor, etc.

Customers value the time they save by hiring a professional contractor. They also value the time they invest in hiring a contractor, their involvement during the project, etc. If the customer must baby sit the contractor the value offered by the contractor is reduced.

Customers value convenience. The popularity of shopping malls and corner stores are two examples. Prices are typically higher at such stores, but the convenience offered is worth the additional cost. Businesses that offer greater convenience to its customers offers greater value.

Professionalism encompasses virtually all aspects of a business. For the customer, professionalism creates a sense of trust and confidence. That is, the customer believes that fewer problems are likely to occur, and if problems do occur, they will be dealt with promptly and fairly. This too is a value.

Superior customer service requires that we recognize the values sought by our customers, and then seek to satisfy those values.

Page 5 of 7« First...34567