The sky is falling! The sky is falling! The economy is depressed, spending is down, and those fat tax-stimulus checks are going straight to Chevron, Mobil and Shell in $4.29 increments. Remodeling companies are taking the downturn in the shorts — many are laying off sales people, reducing ad budgets, and just hoping to survive. Grab a helmet; it looks like Chicken Little might be right this time.
Meanwhile, Dan Wolt just logged his best sales month ever. Again.
Wolt, who owns Columbus, Ohio-based Zen Windows, seems oblivious to the large chunks of falling sky that seem to be pummeling his competitors. It’s 8 a.m. on a sunny early summer morning, and he’s on his way to the first of his two daily sales appointments. Both leads are referrals, and he’s smiling because he knows there’s a 90 percent chance he’ll close both deals.
Dan should know — he’s got plenty of experience working with referrals. Since he started the company in 2005, his referral business has risen from less than 10 percent that first year, to 20 percent in 2006, to 35 percent in 2007 — and clear up to just over 50 percent this year.
That’s over a million dollars a year in sales from referrals, from a 3-year-old company, in a down economy, in Columbus, Ohio. This from a man who sells windows at full price, encourages “one-leggers,” refuses to run leads after 12 noon, and has no formal referral program in place. Please resist the temptation to light yourself on fire.
Before we get too far, I should mention that this article is not about how to get more referrals. It’s about how to achieve total customer satisfaction — and referrals are just a tasty little treat that results from customers who love you. But the fact is, you don’t just wake up one morning and find that your customers are so thrilled that they’re willing to give you a million dollars. It takes some planning and some work. But it is achievable.
Believe it or not, it’s not all that difficult to shine in the marketplace, simply because so many customer experiences are either ordinary or horrible. Think about the sum total of all of your experiences as a customer over the last couple of years. Have you had any experiences — with any kind of company — that left you stunned with amazement (in a positive way)? Has any business performed so well that you felt it necessary to brag to your friends that you found the customer-service holy grail?
I haven’t. I took my family to a restaurant recently that featured an inattentive waitress, mediocre food, disgusting bathrooms, and a ladies’ billiards tournament showing on all seven of its televisions. I’m just saying it’s not all that hard to shine, if you just put some effort into it.
Step No. 1:
Fix your business (Yes, you!)
Did you ever notice that the prettiest girls never really need to try very hard to get dates? Your goal should be to make your business the remodeling version of the most attractive person at the party — and then you can sit back and watch the customers line up. The problem is your business probably looks a lot more like Ugly Betty right now than you think it does.
Don’t think so? Then answer this question: Does your business do anything to prospects/customers that they absolutely hate? Most businesses do — and if there are even one or two things that customers can’t stand, you’ve ruined the experience, even if you do everything else right. Would you go back to a restaurant with fantastic food, excellent service and a fun, lively atmosphere if it had a gas-station-where-you-have-to-ask-to-borrow-the-key-and-there’s-pee-all-over-the-floor-and-grafitti-on-the-stalls bathroom? Of course you wouldn’t. As humans, we’re just wired that way. One booger in the burger and we’re done forever.
So what’s your dirty bathroom? Here’s a short list of things that remodeling customers hate about the industry — chances are you’re guilty on at least one or two items: long sales presentations (i.e., anything over 30 minutes); high-pressure closes; pricing games (buy now and save!); late/no-show sales people; cheesy/desperate sales people; having to have both spouses present for a sales presentation; down payments; high prices; high interest rates; long waits between purchase and install; lack of communication during the entire process; installations that seem to take forever; creepy looking installers; unkempt jobsites; ruined landscaping; short warranties; and unexpected, add-on charges.
Notice none of these beefs have anything to do with your actual windows (or siding or cabinets or whatever). They’re service issues.
Most people have a blend of two reactions to the above list: 1. “We already don’t do any of those things,” or 2. “Some of those things are just a necessary part of our business — they can’t be avoided.”
First of all, if you’re telling me you’ve already eliminated all of the things on the list, you’d probably lie to me about other things as well. Or you should be writing this article. Either way, remember, I stated earlier that nine positives out of 10 things aren’t going to cut it — it has to be 10 out of 10. Read through the list one more time and see if you’re failing on even one of the items. If your sales presentation is more than 60 minutes from the time you set foot in the prospect’s home, you fail. If you offer any kind of discount for “acting now,” you fail. If your salesman reminds people of Dwight from “The Office,” you fail.
If you require a deposit to get the job started, you fail.
Which inevitably leads to the second rebuttal: “Those things are just a necessary part of doing business.” I know, it takes two and a half hours to warm the prospect up, present the product, and overcome the objections (and close). I get it — if both spouses aren’t there, the husband will kill the deal when he gets home and finds out how much money his wife just spent. I realize that it takes a few weeks to get the parts from the factory before you can install it. And I know that good installers are hard to find, and the occasional neck tattoo might be visible. You might even need the money from the customer’s deposit to place the order at all.
But hear this loud and clear: Just because you do some of these things as a regular part of your business doesn’t mean that customers don’t hate them! Don’t let your familiarity with your process desensitize you to the fact that people don’t like your process — regardless of how long you’ve been doing it this way. While they may seem normal to you, they’re as obvious and disturbing to your customers as checked bag fees on the airlines.
Take a closer look at Zen Windows to find out how to get your customers to give you a million dollars. The list of “dirty bathrooms” he’s eliminated is astounding: quotes in five minutes (yes, five minutes); both spouses not required in the presentation; set prices on all windows; zero sales pressure; no “buy now” incentives (in fact he offers coupons that specifically state they’re always good); and no money required until the conclusion of the project — and the customer signs off that he’s thrilled with the job. Please resist the temptation to find Dan and light him on fire.
If you truly want to thrill your customers, my advice is to eliminate as many of these “dirty bathrooms” as possible. They may require you to overhaul your thinking about how your business works. But if your customers love you, keep coming back, and start referring their friends — I think you’ll find it worthwhile.
Step No. 2:
Setting proper expectations
The next step in making your customers love you has to do with a concept called “Cognitive Confirmation Bias,” which means that people have a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms their preconceptions and avoids information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs.
It’s the same principle that allows Lakers fans to ignore the fact that Kobe Bryant is a ball hog, a whiner and an all-around lousy teammate. It’s human nature — when we really believe something is true, we’ll go out of our way to find evidence to support our belief, and we’ll avoid any information that contradicts our belief. So if you believe Kobe’s the ticket to a championship, you’ll be the first to point out when he high-fives and praises a teammate after a basket (“See, he isn’t a jerk!”), and you’ll rationalize it away the other 16 times when he cusses that same teammate out and does his glare-at-you-during-the-timeout routine. “He wasn’t glaring; that’s just his competitive focus! He’s a great teammate!”
Here’s the best part: In your business, you can set your prospects’ beliefs for them, then supply them with the evidence to support those beliefs. And you can do this with marketing tools before you ever arrive for the appointment, so that when you do arrive, they are already convinced that you’re the best company to do business with.
The way to accomplish this most effectively is with a good prepositioning package. To be effective, the package should contain a written brochure/report that documents all the wonderful things you do (now that you’ve cleaned up your dirty bathrooms). For our clients, we create a 20-page brochure called the “Contractor’s Standards Guide” that shows customers what to look for — and what to look out for — when hiring a remodeling contractor. The guide is broken down into four major categories — stability, reputation, professionalism and workmanship — and several sub-categories.
For example, in the professionalism section, we’ve created a document called the “No-Tricks, No-Pressure Sales Agreement.” It’s a one-page document signed by the owner, the sales manager, and the individual salesperson that pledges to not apply sales pressure, to show up for appointments on time, to be well groomed, and to respect the customer’s decision — regardless of whether or not they decide to purchase.
Think about it this way. If I spent a lot of time and money making sure my restaurant had clean bathrooms, most people would still go into those restrooms and fail to notice how clean they actually were. After all, unless there’s an obvious problem, people just don’t really pay that close attention to the bathrooms. But what if I put a little sticker on every table in the restaurant that said “We have the cleanest bathrooms of any restaurant you’ve ever been to.” Do you think people would then notice the bathrooms and their state of cleanliness? They would. In fact, they would rate the bathrooms to be far cleaner than if we asked people to rate the same bathrooms if no stickers were on the table.
It’s the same reason our clients’ customers rate their salespeople to be much friendlier, much less pushy, and much more punctual than they would without the pre-positioning materials. We tell them ahead of time how great they are, and the customers notice. And now, when our clients go into an “efficiency drop” close, the prospect doesn’t think “I knew it, high pressure!” Instead, they think “Since these guys don’t pressure people, this just must be a good deal if I act now!”
All of this, of course, requires the bathrooms to actually be clean. Or your sales people to not be that pushy.
Step No. 3:
If you’ll fix your business to eliminate the stuff your customers hate, and then set proper expectations, you’ll become a closing machine. The final step in creating really satisfied customers is to systematically remind them on an ongoing basis how great their experience was.
Here’s why: People forget.
Even if you do everything right, people will forget how thrilled they were when you serviced them so well. The memory will become buried by next week’s — then next month’s, then next year’s — memories. We’re just wired that way as humans.
So your job is to continually remind them. Do this and you’ll see repeat business and referrals roll in.
It’s not that hard to do; it just takes a bit of effort. First off, when your job is finished, send your customers a gift. Yes, a gift. Make it proportional to the size of the job; it should be worth $50 if the job was up to $10,000, and worth $100 if the job was over that amount. Next, send them cards in the mail every quarter thereafter. It could be any kind of card — a birthday card, a 4th of July card (you don’t get many of those, do you!), or a simple postcard. Just make sure you send something that basically communicates this idea: Thank you, we’re thinking of you, and we value you. That’s it.
These cards will snap your customers back into your moment of glory with them just as effectively as Journey’s “Faithfully” will snap you back to a zit-faced dork at the high school dance. Assuming your customers experience with you was pleasant and then some, all it takes is a gentle reminder on a consistent basis to get the good feelings flowing.
So there you have it — a simple three-step method for getting your customers to love you — and potentially giving you a million dollars to boot. Like anything else worthwhile, the plan is deceivingly simple. And it will take some time and effort to pull it off. But the rewards are tremendous if you’ll commit. So put down that gasoline can and match and get to it!