Why is this so tough?

What’s the worst customer service experience you’ve ever had? Think about that for a second.

How would you describe that experience? Was it inconvenient? Was it a waste of your time? Did a lack of transparency or information lead to a bad outcome? These are the calling cards of a bad customer service experience.

My recent experience with Monoprice, an online retailer, nearly caused me to have multiple aneurysms. I ordered some speakers and a small amp for my living room and the day they showed up, I was so excited to set them up that I forgot to eat dinner. It was better than Christmas. The problem is that one of the tubes on the amp was damaged during shipping. Not a big deal, right? Any reputable retailer would take care of this in no time.

After waiting on hold for an hour to speak with a customer service rep, I finally gave up and tried their online chat tool which lead to even more frustration and wasted time. When I finally reached someone, they told me they would ship me a new part. They didn’t. This happened 3 more times before they finally replaced the entire amp. 5 months. That’s how long this whole process took. WTF? What an opaque, inconvenient process. This was not the easy way.

Changing gears, what’s the best customer service experience you’ve ever had? This question always takes longer to answer because most of us don’t mentally catalog our good experiences. How about the first time you used a good app to make a purchase with something like Amazon, Uber, or Domino’s? Even though you didn’t speak with anyone to make that purchase (except your Uber driver), you probably had a great customer service experience that was convenient and transparent. That’s the easy way.

Service contracting is hard as hell, but it shouldn’t be for your customers. It should be as easy as ordering a pizza from Domino’s or buying products from Amazon. Pull that off and your brand will stand out from the competition. Customers will be loyal and happy to pay you a premium if you can take the hassle and worry out of their lives.

My Amazon order history tells a pretty interesting story that starts back in 2011. That’s the year that I finally decided to create an account because I realized I was probably going to be purchasing a few more items from this Amazon company and I was sick of retyping my credit card information. At this point, I didn’t realize what an impact Amazon was going to have on my day-to-day life.

It’s not like I immediately started ordering everything from Amazon. Quite the contrary. Between me and my wife, we made one order on our Amazon account in 2011, four in 2012, and fifteen in 2013. You see the trend. Later that year, we subscribed to the Amazon Prime program to get fast, free shipping for an extra $80 a year. That changed everything. Our Amazon use skyrocketed to the point where we made over 70 orders to Amazon last year. And, a quick poll of my co-workers suggests that we’re light users.

Here’s the kicker, Amazon is not the cheapest option. I price shop all the time and find better deals. But, those cheaper options either mean ordering from some sketchy online retailer that might take my money and run or a stressful, frustrating trip to a big box store. I’m not dealing with that mess. There is almost nothing as inconvenient as a trip to Walmart or Best Buy. It’s a waste of precious time. I don’t mind waiting 2 days for a product to ship from the Amazon Warehouse if it means avoiding the hassle of those madhouses.

That’s how doing things the easy way can make a loyal customer for life. Amazon is the easy way for me and for that, they’re making a killing. Compared to their most dominant competitor, Walmart, they’re absolutely cleaning house. As of the writing of this post, Amazon’s stock has increased in value over 2,600% since 2005 to a market cap of nearly $700 billion. Not bad for a company that started as a little bookstore. Walmart’s stock price, on the other hand, has only grown 82% to a market cap of $260 billion. Would you be happy with 82% growth in the value of your company over 13 years? How about 2,600%?

Now, I know you’re probably not running a multi-billion dollar company, but this strategy isn’t unique to megaretailers. Ever heard of Spiffy or FilterEasy? These aren’t big companies, but they’re growing like crazy by doing it the easy way. These two brands are built on the premise that customers want convenience and transparency and are willing to pay a premium for it. Check out my last blog post for details about their convenience-first strategies.

Could you imagine if all of these successful companies only used employees equipped with spreadsheets, phones, and email to provide this level of customer service? A concierge for each customer to update them on the progress of every purchase, answer their every question and resolve any issues. It would be a rat’s nest of communication. Of course, this is preposterous. The costs would be astronomical and the results would be a mess.

So, why is that how most service contractors solve the same problem?

Instead, Amazon, Spiffy, and FilterEasy use scalable customer service technology to make their customers’ lives easier. They cut human costs and provide a better, more convenient, and more transparent experience with applications that differentiate their brands. Of course, there are still people involved, but their cost to deliver customer service doesn’t increase with each new customer. In fact, the cost per customer goes down as they grow.

What technology are all of these companies using on the backend to manage accounting and logistics? It doesn’t matter. Their customers don’t care how they manage the business. Customers just want their lives’ to be easier. In their customers’ eyes, Amazon’s warehouse software doesn’t differentiate them from Walmart. Spiffy’s accounting system doesn’t set them apart from Jiffy Lube. FilterEasy’s payroll system doesn’t help them sell more filters.

So, why is that most service contractors think their backend and accounting systems will help them grow?

I’ll never buy from MonoPrice again and I avoid Walmart like the plague. I’ve never spoken with an Amazon customer service rep, yet I’ve been a loyal customer for over 7 years and spend more with them every year. Good customer service is convenient and transparent but great, scalable customer service can only be achieved with technology.

This doesn’t have to be hard. Give your customers the easy way.

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Nope, it’s a Tide ad.

The Eagles didn’t win the Super Bowl. Nope, Tide won it with their amazing ad campaign. Everybody is still talking about the Tide ad campaign. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could generate that kind of buzz with your customers and prospects without spending anywhere near the estimated $15M Tide spent on their ads? It’s possible. Take a page from Tide’s book: impress customers, steal the spotlight, and reinforce your value to make your brand memorable:

Make an Impression

That ad is impressive. Instead of exceeding our expectations, it transforms them. For that, it will leave a lasting impression on us, increase Tide’s sales, and improve their brand loyalty. Not bad for a laundry detergent. How are you going to leave an impression on your customers? With an invoice and a bunch of text describing the services they are paying for? The last time you bought laundry detergent, did the receipt leave an impression on you?

Of course, you’re not going to spend $15M to impress your customers. Fortunately, your customers don’t expect much from service contractors. With the right technology, you can transform your customers’ expectations and leave an impression without spending millions. Building your company’s Digital Wrap will change the way your customers think about working with you. Instead of a relationship built on invoices and emergencies, you can transform the conversation to one about the great work you do and the value you provide.

Steal the Spotlight

After that Tide ad, every other ad became a Tide ad. No matter what the ad was about, viewers were looking at the actors’ clothes and thinking about Tide. They convinced viewers to dissociate the actors and their clothing from brands and logos. What if every time your customers looked at an invoice from another service company and thought about your brand?

Start by challenging them to dissociate the valuable services you provide from the cost of those services. Impress them with online summaries of the work you perform that include pictures, videos, and information that helps them make the best decisions about their equipment. Don’t rely on invoices to convey your value.

Do this, and your customers will think about your company every time they look at an invoice from another service contractor. They’ll wish the other contractors could offer the experience you provide. You can steal the spotlight when you transform their expectations and leave an impression.

Reinforce your Value

Tide didn’t stop with that one ad. No, they played 3 more!

These marketing impressions reinforced Tide’s message in order to keep viewers thinking about their brand and wanting more. We call these MIPS: Marketing Impressions Per Service (or Super Bowl, in Tide’s case). Instead of one impression (a single ad or an invoice), shower your customer with useful MIPS to reinforce your value. A month before they are due for service, send them a reminder. Send them an en route notification that shows them what the tech looks like and when he or she will arrive. Send them an online summary of each appointment with pictures and videos. Your customers will eat up the information and ask for more.

Is Tide better than other laundry detergent brands? Online reviews suggest they are comparable to other detergents. Is Tide cheaper than its competitors? Not by a long shot. They are 3-4 times more expensive than other options on Amazon. Do you think they are selling more product than their low-cost competitors? After their Super Bowl ad campaign, you can bet your ass they will. Tide shows that a premium brand can easily overcome price concerns when it brings something new and unexpected to its customers.

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An Easy Differentiator for Service Contractors

Want to charge 146% more than your competition and still have customers beating down the doors? The secret to easy money for service contractors is simple:

Convenience is more valuable than low prices.

Modern buyers are willing to pay a premium for convenience. In a world flooded with One Truck Chucks and low-cost competitors, differentiating your service brand with convenience, instead of price, can give you a serious competitive advantage. Spiffy and FilterEasy are a couple startups that teach us a lesson about how service contractors can make easy money.

Spiffy

Would you pay $49 for a basic car wash with interior vacuuming and $69 for an oil change? For comparison, pricing from traditional national chains is about $19 and $29 for the same services. That’s a 146% price increase. Sounds like a ripoff. What if the service came to your car, wherever it was, and you could easily schedule the appointment with a mobile app? Now we’re talking.

That’s just what Spiffy is doing. What has this convenience-first strategy gotten them? Since they were founded in 2012, they’ve raised $9.1M and expanded to cover 5 major cities. They didn’t do it by having the best price in town. Instead, they focused on customer convenience. Now, customers love them and Spiffy is making piles of easy money.

 

 

 

 

FilterEasy

Drop by Walmart or Lowe’s and you can find cheap home air filters for under $1. You can even find allergen air filters for less than $5 on Amazon. Why would anyone choose to pay $12 – $20 for a filter? You guessed it: Convenience. FilterEasy is a subscription service that ships home air filters to customers on a frequency that matches their HVAC system’s need. Home with no pets? You get a filter every 3 months. Home with 3 dogs? You get a filter every month.

When I tell people about the FilterEasy business model, it’s not uncommon to hear this: “I’d never spend that much on filters!” That’s fair. I wouldn’t either. That doesn’t change the fact that FilterEasy has raised $11.4M and is growing like crazy.

Their customers love that they don’t have to remember when to change filters. Their customers love that they don’t have to waste their time with a trip to Walmart or Lowes. Their customers don’t really care that they’re paying more. Now that’s FilterEasy money!

your logo here

Commercial Service Contractors

So, how are commercial service contractors supposed to make easy money? Start by thinking about how you can use technology make your customers’ lives easier. Give them instant, online access to past service history and current service activities so they never have to contact you or wait for information they need. Set up your contracts with subscription payment so your customers never have to worry about month-to-month budgeting. Sell more repairs with online quotes so there are fewer costly and disruptive emergencies.

Your customers will tell you that price is all that matters, right up until you give them a more convenient alternative. That’s how you make easy money.

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Snakes on the Roof!

Every popular book or movie generally hues to a typical formula.  A hero faces a daunting challenge and makes a big effort to overcome trouble.  The reason this formula works is because humans are captivated by trouble and drama.  Jonathan Gottschall, the keynote speaker for the Digital Wrap Conference, documents in great detail the human attraction to dramatic story in his book The Storytelling Animal.   

Here are a couple of the money quotes from the book:

“Human minds yield helplessly to the suction of story.  No matter how hard we concentrate, no matter how deep we dig in our heels, we just can’t resist the gravity of alternate worlds.”

“Stories the world over are almost always about people . . . with problems.  The people want something badly – to survive, to win the girl or boy, to find a lost child. But big obstacles loom between the protagonists and what they want.  Just about any story – comic, tragic, romantic – is about a protagonist’s efforts to secure, usually at some cost, what he or she desires.”

If you want to keep the attention of your customers and get paid a premium for your services, you need to give the customer some trouble.  That sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  “The customer doesn’t want trouble!” you retort indignantly.  “Quite the opposite, in fact.  The customer really just wants nothing!  No breakdowns, no disruptions, no aggravation, no hassles.”  

And I couldn’t agree more.  But the problem with delivering nothing is that your service is taken for granted, and you will get unplugged from the account by “one truck Chuck” when he promises a lower price.  You can almost hear the customer now responding to Chuck’s low price pitch:

Nothing ever happens around here!  Why am I paying these other guys so much?  Chuck, thanks for saving me some money!  You won the business with your low price!

Of course, Chuck will screw it all up, and pretty soon the “nothingness” that was taken for granted will become a series of disruptions, breakdowns, hassles, and aggravation.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

 

You can give the customer what they want, which is nothing, as long as you are regularly finding snakes on the roof, snakes in the riser room, snakes in the ductwork, snakes in every nook and cranny of their critical equipment.  Of course, these are figurative snakes, not literal snakes.  The snakes are the equipment deficiencies that your technicians are recording with photos, audio, and video for the customer to review online via your Service Link. The deficiency snakes are clickbait that constantly reminds the customer how your diligence keeps them from getting bitten by disruptions and breakdowns which inevitably lead to hassles and aggravation.

The customers are only human.  They can’t resist clickbait.  Clickbait is a good story that shows how you have charmed and corralled the threatening snakes to save them from trouble.  When they open your online quotes offering all manner of snake traps and snake killing repairs and upgrades (mind you, no snake oil for the customer!), they are practically gleeful that the hero of the story (that would be you) has again prevailed over the devious equipment snakes that were plotting to harm them.  Approved! If you want to keep your customers for the long term, give ‘em some trouble by finding some snakes on the roof!

Also read:

Better techs, better service? Try a better experience.

Do you have a “Papa John’s” sales pitch? They claim to have better ingredients, better pizza. Whether it’s true or not, the financial markets have spoken and Papa John’s is getting crushed by its biggest competitor, Domino’s. Here’s the stock growth for Papa John’s and Domino’s since 2009:

Does your sales pitch sound something like this: Better techs, better service? Even if it’s true, why should your customers believe it? Your competition makes the same claims. Who should the customer believe? It’s your word against theirs. The same goes for any other platitude you may use in your pitch. We care more. We work harder. We have more integrity. Prove it!

If it doesn’t work for Papa John’s and their multi-million dollar marketing budget, do you think it will work for you?

On the other hand, we have Domino’s. Obviously, they are doing something very right. In 2009, they moved away from slogans and hollow talking points when they introduced their mobile app and pizza tracker. They did so to harness the power of the Experience Economy, which is summed up nicely by the Harvard Business Review like this:

“An experience occurs when a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event. Commodities are fungible, goods tangible, services intangible, and experiences memorable.”

In other words, successful companies like Domino’s are winning more customers, making more money from each customer, and keeping them for longer by creating a memorable customer experience. And now more than ever, that experience is increasingly digital with fewer in-person interactions. For another example, consider Amazon’s convenient shopping experience compared to the chaos of a trip to Walmart. That alone explains Amazon’s wild growth compared to Walmart’s lackluster stock performance.

The problem with a great customer experience is that most of it happens after the customer buys something, making it difficult to incorporate into your marketing and sales pitch. It’s difficult to convince someone that’s never used Domino’s or Amazon just how awesome it is until they make the leap and try it out. Here are a few tips to overcome that barrier:

  • Adopt a modern customer experience: If you don’t have one, you can’t sell it. This blog post is a great starting point to build your service company’s customer experience: Customer experience is more important to your business than customer service.
  • Use language that describes the experience: Convenient, transparent, modern, accountable, and data-driven are all words that mean a lot more when you can back them up with a sleek, digital experience that offers these benefits. They stand out compared to what your customers are hearing from your competitors.
  • Give prospects a taste of the experience: As quickly as possible, show prospects what your customer experience is like. For example, you can give them access to a demo account in your online service portal or send them a sample online job summary (in ServiceTrade, send them a Service Link) or quote with pictures and videos from a real job. They won’t get the full experience, but they’ll quickly see that you’re a cut above the competition.

Platitudes won’t get you anywhere. Until you align your sales pitch with a valuable customer experience, you’re going to continue losing to the competition. Drop the Papa John’s slogan and try to offer a Domino’s experience.

 

Learn how to sell a service program with a modern customer experience: Webinar – Sell the program
Read more about Domino’s strategy as it relates to service contractors: Domino’s Dominance – There’s an app for that

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Give the people what they really want

If you asked people in the 1890s about personal transportation, they’d say “Give me a cheaper, faster horse.” Instead, they got cars and they happily spent more.  If you asked people of the 1990s about entertainment, they’d say “Give me more selection and cheaper rentals at Blockbuster.” Instead, they got Netflix and they happily spent more. If you asked people about retail in the 2000s, they’d say “Give me more selection and cheaper options at big-box stores.” Instead, they got Amazon Prime and happily spent more. If you asked folks about their pizza in the early part of this decade, they’d say “Give me better, cheaper pizza.” Instead, they got the Domino’s mobile app and they happily spent more. If you’re scratching your head about the last one, check out Domino’s stock growth since the introduction of their mobile app in 2011:

Domino’s stock growth of 644% since they introduced their mobile app

If you’ve been reading my blog posts, you know that Domino’s is using their customer mobile app to dominate the pizza wars. Every time I write about them, I have to pull a new stock graph to show just how much they’ve grown. Their success boils down to one word:

Convenience

 

That’s all customers really want. They’ll bark about price and quality right up until someone innovates and makes their life easier. At that point, they’ll happily fork over more money. When cars were introduced, they cost far more than a horse, but they didn’t have to be maintained on a daily basis. When Netflix hit the scene, it had a small selection, subscription services were unheard of, and it seemed to cost more than the occasional Blockbuster rental. But, Netflix didn’t require multiple trips to Blockbuster to watch a single movie. Amazon has shipping delays and costs more than big-box stores, but customers don’t even have to leave the comfort of their own home.

In this era, you don’t have to be a technology company like Netflix, Amazon, and Uber to be a game changer. Domino’s shows that you just have to think like one. Use scalable technology to give your customer a convenient experience and they’ll happily give you more money. It’s that simple.

What does this mean for B2B service contractors? Make customers’ lives easy with technology. Give them better information so they can make better decisions by providing convenient online:

  • Visibility throughout the service process
  • Access to detailed historical records
  • Quotes for issues that need repair

This may not seem like much, but neither does an app that makes it a little easier to buy pizza and track deliveries.

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Whole Foods Whole World

I bet the grocers that had a bad day when Walmart got into groceries about fifteen years ago are having a really bad week now that Amazon has announced their intention to buy Whole Foods. The innovations Amazon is going to bring to grocery buying go well beyond low price and internal operational tweaks. Amazon is going to use technology to transform the grocery buying experience, and the old competitors focused on their tired, old, internal metrics will be toast.

 

Marc Andreesen, a famous internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist, once said: “Software is eating the world.”  You can read his editorial in the Wall Street Journal here.  It’s true.  Customer service innovations driven by software are transforming every industry.  Netflix to Blockbuster.  Uber to taxis.  Amazon to booksellers, hosting companies, and now grocers.  When will it be your turn?  Which side of the statement will your company be?  The eater? or the eaten?

Do you suppose the first innovation Amazon is going focus upon is how Whole Foods does accounting?  Is that where they are going to put their innovation muscle?  I ask the question because it seems that accounting remains the first priority of service contractors when they think about how to apply technology to their business.  But it sounds really silly in the context of the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods, doesn’t it?  As I have said before, your perfect accounting process is perfectly irrelevant to your customer.  You should have a good one, but it will not save you from an innovative, customer-focused competitor.

I am not going out on a limb when I say that Amazon understands that accounting is irrelevant, and their focus with Whole Foods will be transforming how customers buy groceries.  They will eliminate aggravation and uncertainty for the customer through technology.  I bet there will be an awesome mobile app for pricing your groceries in the aisle and eliminating the checkout line.  I bet you will use that app to find the groceries you seek without wandering up and down the aisles.  I bet you will get interesting recipe ideas based on the ingredients you buy often.  I bet your buying preferences will lead to deliveries to your house via drone for the items you buy on a regular basis.  I bet the best customers with the most money to spend on groceries will gravitate to Amazon and their innovations. I bet I cannot even imagine the things they will do to make grocery shopping more convenient, and none of it will relate to how they do accounting.

So when will it be your turn?  Will you be the eater, or the eaten?  Are you considering how to upgrade your customer’s buying experience with your services?  Or are you piddling around with how to extend your accounting to wring a small bit of extra margin from your internal processes?  Are you building an innovative and growing brand that attracts customers to you?  With an experience that they cannot easily trade for the low price guy? Think about it.  Who do you want to be in your market?  Amazon, Uber, Netflix?  Or the other guy?

Real Deal Customer Service Saves the Day After a Flat on I-95

A flat tire on my boat trailer on Interstate 95 ranks high on my list of things that suck most in life.  Of course, it has to be on the traffic side of the trailer to really suck.  It sucked on Saturday morning at 8:50 when I heard the blowout and looked in the driver’s side mirror and saw rubber spewing out from the wheel well.  The rear tire on the left side had blown, and I needed to get onto the shoulder quickly before the other tire on that side also fell victim to the load from my Grady White fishing rig.

I was en route to West Palm Beach in preparation for a run to the Bahamas and a week of fishing and diving. Not going to get there with this flat tire, so might as well suck it up and get out in the South Carolina heat and mosquitos and change the tire and get back underway.  Fortunately, I planned for this problem because it has happened before and ruined my day.  I pack a ramp in the back of the F250 that allows me to avoid the hassle of a jack.  Just pull forward (or back up as the case may be) with the ramp in front of the good tire, and presto, the back tire that just blew outcomes off the ground to be changed out.  I also packed a bicycle pump because I did not take the time to get the spare filled to 65 lbs of pressure.  After 15 minutes on the changeout (most of which was spent detaching the spare from the trailer) plus a 10-minute workout with the pump, I am ready to roll again – sweaty and greasy but happy with my ingenuity.

Now the problem is that the spare is a different brand tire and it is 9 years old.  I still have 550 miles of road to travel, and I do not like the idea of being without a spare.  I buy all my tires from Discount Tire, and now I am going to put them to the test.  Will I have a good customer service outcome?  Fortunately, the story has a happy ending because Discount Tire is the real deal when it comes to great customer service.  How do they do it?  

Let’s look at the lessons service contractors can learn from my experience.

First, Discount Tire offers a premium program.  If you buy tires from them, they will rotate and change all the tires in your household for no extra charge.  Why?  Because they want to see you in the shop as often as possible so they stay top of mind with you. They also provide air pressure reminders via email – again to stay top of mind.  I can never forget who takes care of my tires even if I only buy tires every 3 to 4 years.  I know who to go to with tire problems.  Do your customers know what brand they rely upon for servicing their critical equipment?  Are you constantly in their inbox with valuable information and reminders?

Second, I opened Google Maps on my iPhone and zoomed in on Jacksonville, Florida – the next big city I was going to hit.  A search for Discount Tire yielded six hits.  Sure enough, one of them was right off the highway.  One more tap on the iPhone and I am speaking with Jeff.  Can they take care of me today?  “Absolutely. We will figure it out. When will you be here?”  Are your locations registered with Google?  Do you have reviews to push you up the listings?  Can they tap to call?

When I pulled into the store, Mike took care of me (not certain where Jeff went, but it didn’t matter).  He pulls up my record on their system and stares hard at the screen for about 4 minutes as he reviews my history relative to his capability at this store.  “Look, you have a warranty on that tire that blew, but the spare is 10 years old.  Also, someone in our shop made a mistake and mixed a 10-ply tire in with 3 other 8-ply tires when you had your last change.  We need to make that right.  I suggest we warranty replace 2 of your tires, have you buy 2 new ones, and put the best current tire as your spare.  It will be $289 and I can have you rolling in 90 minutes.”  SOLD!  Now I have 4 new matching tires, and I am writing about Discount Tire (and giving them backlinks on this post).  Do your people have access to the customer information they need to help the customer buy more from you and become so happy that he/she writes about you online?  If not, why not?

You cannot deliver good customer service without great information that is accessible and easy to use by everyone in your organization.  You cannot deliver good customer service if the customer cannot find you easily (i.e. online, not in the phone book).  You also need a premium program that puts your brand in front of the customer over and over again as part of your service cycle (read The Digital Wrap).  Do you have one?  Is it branded?  Do your customers rave about your service?  Do you have a digital wrap?

A blowout on Interstate 95 became a very good thing for Discount Tire.  Do your customer’s challenges (or lack thereof) regularly become good things for you and your company?

The Digital Wrap

 

Learn how a Digital Wrap makes your happy customers evangelists for your brand like Billy is for Discount Tire. Go to digitalwrapbook.com.

Good Enough is not Good Enough for Commercial Services

There’s a new article on forbes.com by customer service consultant Micah Solomon that’s worth every commercial service contractor’s time.

Read Is ‘Good Enough’ Customer Service Good Enough For Your Business?  I’m sorry to steal Micah’s thunder, but anyone who wants a profitable, growing service business already knows that the answer is no.

Micah Solomon’s five elements of extraordinary customer service are:

  1. A perfect product or service
  2. Caring delivery
  3. Timely delivery
  4. An effective problem resolution process
  5. Anticipating and serving unexpressed wishes and needs

They’re especially relevant for companies like yours that are competing for commercial service contracts. What would these look like for a service company?

#1 – A perfect product or service. Perfection in services means predictability – providing predictable outcomes for a predictable price. Reacting to unexpected breakdowns, system failures, or emergencies is bad for everyone and can be minimized by proactive maintenance and early warnings about potentials problems.

#2 – Caring delivery. We don’t often use the word caring in the rough-and-tumble world of facility services. Your customers will know you care when they have visibility into what’s going on in their facility. Sharing photos or videos online where the customer can refer to them anytime is part of #5 below. Not every vendor does this, and the ones who do stand out.

#3 – Timely delivery. Ensuring that business operating systems are in place to keep you on schedule is a job for technology. Timely delivery is dependent on a web-based application that is available to people who need it in your office and in the field.

There’s another element of timely delivery where service companies often fall short, and that’s setting the customer’s expectation. Do your applications inform customers about scheduled appointments or when they can expect you’ll be performing future inspections or contract service calls? You may be focused on an operational scheduling system, but be sure that it puts customers in the know, too.

#4 – An effective problem resolution process. We don’t talk about this one with you much, but Micah is right that things will inevitably go wrong. After an apology and making the situation right, take the time to analyze the source of the issue. You’ll probably find it fitting into one of the three buckets: Work not done to standards, operational inefficiencies, or human error. Solutions might be training or revamping business processes or updating your application infrastructure. What’s most important is recognizing when you have an issue that requires a solution.

#5 – Anticipating and serving unexpressed wishes and needs. Micah says this is the one that moves your service beyond good enough to exemplary. We think this is where you earn distinction as a leader in your space and can command prices above the lowest labor rate.

What conveniences do your customers enjoy from online retailers or banks, but don’t think about getting from you? Maybe the convenience of getting online reports, an online quote with a picture of the problem for repair, or a self-service online account where they can access all their records and service history.

Be sure that you make #5 an everyday part of how you work with your customers when #1-4 might pass for good enough. Here’s another link to the Forbes article.

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Say “yes” to the quote

Are you worried that customers are going to “shop” your repair or upgrade quote around to other service contractors? If so, you failed earlier than you may realize. Getting customers to a “yes” on quoted work starts well before you ever find a problem and send a quote. It starts with trust. I’m not talking about the kind of trust built through personal relationships and old-school customer service. That’s not scalable or reliable. I’m talking about trust built on a technology-enabled, convenient customer experience. I’m talking about giving your customers the Amazon experience so they won’t consider buying from anyone else.

Amazon is dominating its competition because it innovated for the customer instead of focusing on backend efficiency. Now, they don’t have to compete on price. Walmart, on the other hand, focused on efficiency and logistics. They are the low-price leader, but the markets have spoken and you can see from the stock chart below that consumers will pay a premium for convenience. I, for one, will happily pay a few extra dollars to avoid:

  • Fighting for a parking spot
  • Wandering around looking for products
  • Waiting in line to check out

It’s not just the brick-and-mortar retailers that Amazon is dominating. Other e-commerce retailers struggle to compete with Amazon’s innovations. Even though other sites have lower prices most of the time (just check Google shopping), Amazon customers are loyal and don’t consider buying from anyone else. Why? Two reasons. Amazon’s order process is more convenient, reliable, and transparent than any other e-commerce site. From beginning to end, Amazon’s customers can trust that they are ordering the right products based on pictures and reviews and that their order will arrive on time based on notifications received throughout the process. Prime is the second reason Amazon customers don’t shop around.

Amazon sold the program when it introduced Prime, a service that gives customers free, 2-day shipping on most orders for an annual fee. It’s not like 2-day shipping is a new concept, and customers are still effectively paying for expedited shipping with the annual fee, but the concept built loyalty. Prime customers are bought into the program so they feel obligated to buy exclusively from Amazon and buy more to get their money’s worth. It’s brilliant.

Service contractors can take a page from Amazon’s playbook. First, sell the program to build customer loyalty from the beginning. Your program won’t look exactly like Prime, but here’s a webinar showing what it means to sell the program as a Service Contractor. Once they are in the program, use technology to give your customers a convenient, transparent, and reliable experience. Then, when you send a quote for an upgrade or repair, customers will trust that you are the only option to consider.