Are your customers telling you the whole truth?
How to turn customers into raving fansMay 3rd, 2018 by
Dave Bryan knows a raving fan when he hears one. Or about one. That’s the client who, at a cocktail party, can’t wait to tell someone planning to remodel about the fantastic experience he or she had with his company, Blackdog Builders, in Salem, N.H.
In his 2004 best-selling business book called Raving Fans, Ken Blanchard defines the individual who loses his or her sanity in sheer enthusiasm over a business as “a customer…so devoted to your products and services that they wouldn’t dream of taking their business elsewhere and will sing from the rooftops…” (or at cocktail parties) “… about just how good you are.”
Project vs. project experience
Remodelers say it’s usually the experience, rather than the actual project, that makes for raving fans. For instance, “five or six times a year,” while walking a house in the course of selling a job, Jim Kabel, owner of Case Design/Remodel of San Jose, comes across a recent remodel of high quality. “I ask [the homeowners] if the contractor who did that work is in the running for the job,” Kabel says. “And they say: ‘Well, we liked the work but we’d never want to go through that again.’” Which is why Kabel says he believes that when it comes to making raving fans—and Case Design/Remodel of San Jose has many — the quality of customer communication is actually more important than the quality of construction.
“We follow every step with communication,” says Gregg Cantor, owner of Murray Lampert, a design/build remodeler in San Diego specializing in the kind of lengthy projects that can easily try a homeowner’s nerves. That can be email, text, phone, smartphone, U.S. Post, even fax. How do you know what method clients prefer? Ask, he says, and right away. Murray Lampert starts with a lifestyle checklist and a functions checklist. You have to ask,” says Bob Fleming, owner of Classic Remodeling in South Carolina, “and you have to listen.”
Beyond that, multiple “touches” — points where your company seeks feedback — give customers a sense of ownership in the project and pride in the results. For Murray Lampert those touch points extend to well after the job’s closed out and paid for. At a time when most homeowners never expect to see the contractor again, Cantor shows up with a bottle of wine and a restaurant gift card to say thanks and ask what his company could’ve done better. “Nine times out of ten they say nothing, but my ears are open to hearing,” he says.
Ask and listen
Owners may know what raving fans are, and how valuable they are, but much depends on the rapport built in the course of a project, and lead carpenters are the key players.
Fleming’s first definition of a raving fan? One who’s “sad to see our guy leave.” That rapport, in turn, comes out of a company culture centered on the idea that “keeping the clients happy and making sure they’re satisfied” every step of the way is understood to be the company’s purpose. “We have a client who just emailed us,” Bryan says. “He said: ‘We miss you guys. We’re bummed we haven’t seen you recently.’”
There are, he and others point out, two surefire ways to make homeowners deliriously satisfied. One is to do something they never would’ve expected. “That might be one of our guys dropping whatever he’s doing to empty a car of groceries,” Fleming says. The other is to amicably resolve a problem that might under other circumstances have become contentious. For instance, a crew chief working for a weatherization company affiliated with Classic Remodeling once accidentally put his foot through the ceiling of a house. “These people were very fastidious,” Fleming says. “They went nuts. They’re thinking: he put a hole in my ceiling and he’s not going to take care of it.” Classic Remodeling sent out a lead carpenter to fix the ceiling. “Then we did some extra things we didn’t charge for, that weren’t in the contract,” Fleming says. “They were blown away.” Had that foot not gone through the ceiling “we still would’ve made the house warm, but they wouldn’t have been raving fans.”