Asked whether customers are more difficult to satisfy today, Graham noted the average recommendation rate for companies GuildQuality surveys has changed negligibly. “They remain very high and seem to be hovering around the 91 percent range, keeping in mind these are people who invest in customer satisfaction surveys, so they’re certainly not representative of the entire industry,” he says.
“I think customers are more demanding and want more for their dollar; there is greater anxiety about pricing,” he notes.
The rate improvement in customer satisfaction scores has slowed, Graham says, although it’s still very high. “It’s easier to go from 85 to 90 percent than it is to go from 90 to 95 percent,” he explains. “From when I started the company almost 10 years ago, the industry has dramatically matured and advanced. The pace of innovation has accelerated during the downturn as remodelers have innovated to survive. It was a lot easier to make money, be less experienced and stay in business six years ago. Now, it’s almost impossible to stay in business and not be extremely professional.”
GuildQuality conducts formal customer satisfaction surveys for its clients, while social media provides informal customer reviews. Graham doesn’t see social media as competition. “The empowerment of customers who have their voices heard via social media has put a needed spotlight on the customer experience. That customer empowerment coupled with the economic downturn has made delivering exceptional service a top priority for all great business owners,” he says.
“You just can’t survive by delivering poor service; you will die much faster if you do. Eventually one of your influential customers is going to start sharing bad things about you and that can completely demolish a remodeler, especially one who is highly geographically focused,” Graham says.
“The black swan will eventually come to visit any remodeler who is not focused on delivering a great customer experience. That threat is a very real one and not just a perceived one. The pace at which poor businesses will fail has been accelerated,” he adds.
Graham thinks it is an exciting time for remodelers “whose challenge is to focus on what matters and ignore those things that don’t,” he says. “One of the things they can always focus on is quality of service. An exceptional company can turn all their customers into marketers for them.”
He adds: “At some point you could have a convergence of marketing and service so just through the delivery of your product you are marketing your service. The experience your customers receive becomes marketing collateral they’ll share with other people. I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon for most businesses, but if you’re exceptional it could happen.”
Facebook, Twitter and websites are important, but they aren’t everything, Graham says. “They are tools that can accelerate your business, but the foundation is delivering a great experience; those tools will be useless if you don’t deliver a great experience.
“The friction is being removed from getting the words of customers out, whether it’s from the customer doing it directly or from customer survey feedback,” Graham adds. “We’re moving in the direction of greater transparency in the customer experience, and it’s happening whether you like it or not, whether you start your Facebook page or not.”
One downside, consumers are becoming over-saturated with surveys. “Every business recognizes the need for customer feedback to help them improve the quality of their work, but it has become so mainstream that surveys become noise. It has put a lot of pressure on us to make feedback as easy and seamless as possible. I think where our members have been most successful with the survey process is where they set the expectations that the sharing of feedback by the customer is a part of the process, just as much as picking paint colors or appliances is part of the job,” he says.