Laurie Brown runs a company called The Difference, in Ferndale, Mich., which specializes in customer service and sales training. Reach her at www.thedifference.net.
REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR: How do you define good customer service?
LAURIE BROWN: Really good customer service is personal; understanding your customer more than they know themselves. And that's about listening closely to body language, tone of voice, and comments people make, and picking up on them and responding in a way that delights the customer.
RC: How do I set a customer service goal for my replacement contracting business?
LB: You have to change your mindset about what business you're in. If, for instance, I think of myself as being in the roofing business, then what my people do is replace the roof and leave. That limits your creativity and your desire to do the right thing.
But if you think of yourself as being in the customer service business, then it's everything you do. From showing up when you say you will to returning phone calls to customer aftercare. Maybe a year later you come in and make sure everything's fine. Now the customer is saying: “Wow, I never heard of a roofing company coming back to see if the roof is good.” And they're going to tell friends. The last contact you have with a customer is the one that stays in the customer's mind.
RC: How do I identify problems in the way my organization handles customers?
LB: The first thing I would do is go to my employees and find out if they're happy. If they're not happy you can be sure your customers aren't happy. I would make sure all my employees have everything they need to do their jobs and listen to all their complaints. I would start talking to them about the people in the houses they work on. Train them to listen to the customer. Then empower them to fix the issues and to report back to the owner about what the issues are.
RC: How do you train employees to care about customers?
LB: First, hire employees who care about the customer. In hiring there are really two skill sets: the skills to install the siding, roof, or windows; and the ability to care about the customer. You want to hire people who can do both. If they can't, you may have to do some of that customer service work yourself. Tell customers: “Here's my cell phone, call me 24/7.” The important thing is that there be a contact person to immediately respond to any issues. The last thing to do with a dissatisfied customer is wait a week.
RC: How do you measure customer service?
LB: Look at repeat and referral business.
RC: How should I reward employees for providing excellent customer service?
LB: Some people love a day off. Others like companywide recognition. Open a file where you catch them doing the right thing. Often, we file all the things they don't do right. When you spend energy looking for the problems, you find the problems.