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Imagine for a moment that you ordered an expensive $2,600 sofa from a reliable furniture store for your home and gave the company the required 50% deposit. The affable salesperson told you to expect delivery in 12 weeks.
Well, 12 weeks go by and the sofa hasn’t arrived. You now realize that through the entire waiting period, you never heard from the furniture store…neither a thank you for your order nor a notice of a delay.
So you get on the phone and call your furniture salesperson only to find that she no longer works there. The store manager acknowledges that your sofa was indeed ordered, but it will take another three to four weeks to arrive. He delivers a belated apology. You hang up wondering out loud whether this is really a reputable company that professes to have outstanding customer service.
Now you know how your clients might feel when they have given you a $20,000 deposit on a $40,000 kitchen and haven’t heard a peep from your firm about their project! Regular communication procedures are a hallmark of a professional marketing company that practices – not professes – outstanding customer service. Indeed, an effective communications system makes such a positive impression upon clients that it has proven to be a source for additional business….both from them and from the friends they talk to about their remodeling experience.
Thank You Letter Basics
Within one week of the clients signing your agreement, your firm should be sending them a letter that first thanks them for the privilege of furnishing their new kitchen or bath. The letter should continue: “In developing your design, many ideas and possibilities have been considered. The enclosed floor plan, specifications and contract reflect all of your final selections of materials, equipment, colors, labor and services.” It is a good idea to then remind them of the agreed upon payment terms.
The third point to address is missing selections. Ask them to review the documents “to ensure that everything has been covered. Should you discover some color selections not yet made, please make these decisions quickly to avoid any unnecessary delays in the project.”
The final point of this letter is to acquaint your clients with Change Order procedures. For example: “Any additional work either requested now or during the installation stage will require a signed Change Order for a specified sum. Our clients prefer this arrangement since verbal understandings may sometimes lead to confusion. Any Change Orders must be paid in full at the time they are agreed to.”
Job Start Letter
Professional marketing firms are always proactive. So, it is critical that a second letter be mailed two weeks prior to the job start. If your firm has a project manager on staff, it should go out over his or her signature.
The main purpose of this letter is to project a tentative starting date based upon delivery information from your suppliers, couched with some cautionary disclaimers. For instance, the letter might read: “Scheduling work to be done may be affected by many factors, including late deliveries, vacations, late selections and overruns on other jobs. For these reasons, we will verify the exact starting date 48-72 hours in advance.”
The balance of the letter should condition the client for: (1) approximately how long the project should take (not including Saturdays, Sundays and holidays) to have it substantially completed; (2) what to expect during the course of the project, and (3) that the company truck driver is authorized to receive the second payment, which is “due upon the cabinet delivery from the manufacturer.”
To prepare clients for the remodeling experience, the most professional kitchen and bath dealers will include a helpful tips booklet with the job start letter. When I developed one many years ago for our four Connecticut showrooms, our firm discovered that it made an indelible impression upon our clients. It projected a caring attitude for their welfare. It also greatly diminished the number of questions to our installers – and frantic phone calls to our project managers – because our clients had a better understanding of what would take place on the job.
We found our “Relax During Remodeling” booklet to be so effective that we decided to include it in our Showroom Information Center. It sent a message to prospects that we cared about the project after the sale was made. As such, it became one of the “stars” in our marketing tool kit to set us apart from the competition.
End-Of-Job Letter Evaluations
The final letter in your client communications system should be a personal thank you from the sales designer at the conclusion of the client’s project. It should also introduce an evaluation form by saying something like: “Since the majority of our new clients are a direct result of referrals from satisfied past clients, it is important to us that you feel completely comfortable with the work and services we have provided.
Toward this end, we would ask you to take a few moments to complete the enclosed client survey and return it in the postpaid envelope.”
I also recommend including a postscript that states: “Please be assured that each referral we receive will be given our utmost attention and courtesy.” If you have done a good job, and the clients feel they have received an excellent value from their investment, they will happily refer you to their friends, relatives and neighbors.
By the way, the testimonials that a dealer receives on these evaluation surveys will be infinitely more effective in your marketing than anything a professional advertising copywriter can create. For example, several dealers I know have showcased these endorsements in simple 8"x10" frames and hung them in each of their displays. Others have presented completed client evaluation forms in showroom binders or on their storyboards, letting prospects know that they care enough about their performance to be graded on it. These are just two more ways how an effective client communications system can be leveraged as a marketing tool to capture valuable, new business.
To read past columns on Bettering Your Bottom Line by Ken Peterson, and send us your comments, visit the KBDN Web site: www.kitchenbathdesign.com.