Customer Service: Now, More Critical Than Ever

I believe that, by now, many of us are seeing an improvement in our business. Showroom traffic is up, sales and closes are on the rise and there seems to be a better attitude from clients about investing in their homes. But most dealers agree that it will likely never be like it was in the past.

That means we’ll all have to do a better job of earning our clients’ business. Today’s clients are more demanding, and they are going to hold us to a higher level of service and professionalism. They will demand the very best price and value for the project that they are going to entrust to us.

Customer service begins the first time a prospect calls or walks through the door. If that first impression is negative, it’s likely you will not have another chance to win that client over.

Poor Service

Here are some stories customers have shared with me about not-so-good customer service they received while shopping for a kitchen or bath. In each case, the poor service led them to choose not to do business with that company.

One customer called several companies to come out and give a bid for the project. The first company that showed up was 15 minutes late and never said anything about it, then looked over the kitchen and promised to get back to them with a price. The customer never heard from this company again.

The second company showed up with a book full of pictures and some door samples. They measured the kitchen and asked about the customer’s preferences based on the samples they brought. After going through some of the pictures, the customers were given a price for the project based on only an hour of questions and answers. Many of the items that were needed for the project were priced as allowances based on the salesman’s experience. The design was not much more than what they already had – just a dress up of the existing kitchen.

This customer came into our showroom and we sold her a design retainer after spending about 90 minutes with her. We spent the time going over a variety of different design and product considerations, and offering creative design concepts. We sold this project for over $85,000.

Another couple came into our showroom and was very standoffish. After trying to talk with them with more than just a few closed ended questions, I asked them what was wrong. They explained that they had been thinking about remodeling their bathroom for the past few years but after getting some bids and talking with a number of contractors, they were not sure that they could afford what they really wanted. They told me that from the looks of our showroom, they thought we were going to be out of their budget.

We sat down and opened up a dialogue of what they were interested in doing. We showed by example other projects that were similar to theirs and the cost vs. value magazine put out by Remodeling Magazine. After some discussion, we came to a realistic budget. They contracted for our design retainer and we moved forward with the work at hand. We sold them a bathroom that was in their budget with many of the items they did not think they could afford.

Professionalism Counts

The bottom line is that, if you’re not being professional and honest with your customers, they will see right through it. Today more than ever, customers are looking for that professional designer or salesperson who is willing to give them the time and knowledge that will ensure they get the kitchen or bath they’ve always wanted. They will not put up with sloppy bids, hand-written quotes, hand-drawn plans and just a lack of concern for what the customer needs.

We must be better than the closest competitor. We need to provide the most professional appearance, and show the most concern for their project.

Take a look at your proposals and ask yourself, would you like this to be presented to you in the same manner? Is it as professional as it can be? This does not have to be an expensive proposition. Something as little as having a typed agreement with a nice cover sheet could do the trick. On the cover sheet, you may want to put a home phone number or cell phone number in the event that your customer needs to get in touch with you. This could go in a clear plastic folder with a nice binder that the customer can walk out with.

While we work on many projects day in and day out, we must remember that the average customer may only do one or two projects in a lifetime. If they do not feel the warm and fuzzy feelings from you, then they may well go elsewhere.

Winning over Prospects

Here are some of the simple things that can help you transform prospects into clients:

  • Get names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Send a thank you note for coming in, thank them for the phone call, acknowledge that you have spoken to them and that you would like to develop a business relationship with them concerning the project you discussed. You must let them know that you are there to assist them when they are ready to continue.
  • If you’re in a working relationship with a customer, be sure to keep him or her in the loop concerning everything that’s going on.
  • Set specific time lines for being ready with the designs and plans, and make appointments before they leave the showroom or before you leave their home.

It really is the small things that make the big difference. Helping a customer with how to find a replacement item for their kitchen or bath may well be the difference of them coming back for the big project they are considering.

Times have changed and it’s a whole new ball game out there. If you’re going to continue as you always have and if that’s not as professional as it could be, you’re at risk of missing out on some business.

Take a serious look at what you do for your customers and how you present your designs, plans and bids and make sure your presentation is the best it can be. Remember, professionalism does not cost, it pays!

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