by Steve DiGioia, Featured Contributor
I ONCE READ that if you can’t learn something new each day then it doesn’t make sense to even get out of bed. Well that may be a little harsh but there is something to this statement.
In all our interactions with others, with all the snippets of information we have gathered from books or television and with all we have learned through trial and error, we hold a plethora of valuable information that can readily be transferred to another business, hobby or endeavor.
This is true in my case as well.
Prior to my foray into the fabulous world of hospitality, I spent a stretch as a plumber and heating/air conditioning mechanic. Not a very glamorous job but one where I learned more about a customer’s expectations than I have from all the information crammed into the dozens of business books I have read since.
A customer doesn’t enter into a transaction before they are assured that the product or service you provide is not only something that can benefit them but is of the highest quality and value.
Why else would they buy from you over someone else?
But during the evaluation process prior to their purchase I have learned 3 valuable things that can be used in almost any business.
►Keep Your Pipes Straight
Now, most businesses don’t have to deal with pipes but as a plumber I was knee deep in them. I had the opportunity to briefly work with a man with 50+ years of plumbing experience. Bob was a fountain of knowledge with every conceivable method and trick in the book on how to get the job done.
The one thing I will always remember from him is that a customer will always think one plumber is better than another just by how much attention is paid to the way his pipes are straight and level. Bob would say “Who would you rather deal with, someone that has a hodgepodge of crooked pipes or someone that has made a piece of art with his work? Seems like an easy answer.
But how does this relate to your business?
Just as a customer will initially judge your plumbing work on a photo or visual inspection of how it looks, and of course operates, so too does a customer as he/she enters your business.
Are your clothes arranged neatly and straight on their racks? Are all the products on your shelves constantly reset, moved to the front and in easy reach for your customers? Do you provide an organized and easy-to-navigate flow throughout your “store” or website or are your customers forced to wander around looking for help just to find an item?
Remember, the layout or “look” of your business is the first impression your potential customer receives. Make sure your “pipes are straight”!
►Customers Buy From People They Like
As I entered each home or business of a prospective customer I always remembered that I was just another blue-collared guy trying to make a living. But what could I do to separate myself from my competition?
Sure I could spend a small fortune in advertizing to get more customers, but I understood that my best tactic was just to be me.
I found that by being honest and explaining exactly what steps I would take to fix their problem went a long way to put my customers at ease. They realized that I had their best interests at heart and put much thought into how I would do the job.
Never use industry slang or jargon, never speak with the customer as if they are an amateur or have no idea of what was involved in the work. Take their concerns and ideas and find a way to incorporate it into the process. Make them a part of the effort.
At the end of each hard day of work I would send a thank you card to my customers with a hand written note of appreciation. One day I paid a repeat visit to an old customer and noticed my thank you card on their kitchen table. “Wow, I’m surprised you still have my thank you card”, I said. “You kidding”, she answered. “I was so amazed that I got a card from a plumber that I leave it here and tell all my girlfriends about you when they come over”. That really is a WOW for both of us!
I received many recommendations and Christmas cards from my customers, many times there was hot coffee and bagels when I visited my repeat customers and always I was welcomed with a warm smile and greeting. What more can you expect from your customers?
How do you endear yourself to your customers? What sets YOU apart?
►Leave the Place Cleaner Than it Was Before You Got There
Whether it was the quick repair of a faucet or an all day installation of a boiler, my job was not to just fix what was broken but to make my customer glad that I was the one doing the work. I learned this the hard way.
Once, during the middle of a very hot summer, I was replacing the fan motor on a small window air conditioner and was happy that I was able to get the unit back the very next day. But I never expected the response I got from my customer. Instead of being grateful at my quick service he was upset that the unit was returned with the same caked-on dust and with dried leaves still stuck inside.
I was just focused on the task at hand and didn’t realize that the customer’s expectation was different than mine. He expected the unit to be returned clean. I felt foolish and that I let him down.
From that day on I carried a full complement of cleaning products, a broom and rags. I swept up all debris from my work, placed it in MY garbage bags and carried it out to the trash cans. I would clean and polish the top of the boilers, remove my work boots on rainy days when entering a carpeted home, and do anything I could to do just a little more than what was usually expected of me.
In your business, do go one step further in your guest interactions? Do you assist your customers to their car with their heavy packages? Do you have an easy way to return a product and even include a postage-paid return label with each mail order item? Do you still offer the advertized discount even though the customer doesn’t have a coupon?
What do you do to exceed your guest’s expectations?
It wasn’t so bad being a plumber. I was able to put many traits & skills to good use in my later hospitality career. Traits that have allowed me to provide a “WOW” customer experience to many. I wonder what I would have learned if I was a cab driver?
Don’t splash puddles on the people walking on the sidewalk. Don’t make sudden stops and turns that make the backseat riders nauseous. Don’t smoke those nasty cigars before picking up a customer.
Just common sense things but ones usually don’t fall under “customer service”, or should they?