In January 2023, The Institute of Customer Service found that that customer service has declined across a range of organisations in the UK. But it’s not all doom and gloom – could this be an easy win for the trade? The good old ‘personal touch’ is now a valuable commodity!
The truth is, many find it difficult to make contact with tradespeople. While much of this is to do with the trade being in demand due to the lack of skilled workers, and the fluctuating cost of materials, the customer is naïve to this, and thus frustrations may brew. Managing customer expectations can make all the difference; it could even grow your business.
So, what exactly is ‘customer service’? And how does it apply to the trade who are often run off their feet managing a small business with all that entails, and possibly also managing employees and contractors, while trying to do the job itself?
Customer service is the key to standing out from your competitors – and the truth is, it’s an inexpensive way to improve your advertising reach. When you treat your customers well, they are more likely to use your services again and again, and recommend you to colleagues, friends, and family. The great thing about word of mouth is that it’s also completely free!
Salecycle estimates that the likelihood of selling to an existing customer is 60% – 70%, while selling to a new customer varies between 5% – 20%. Add to this, existing customers are likely to spend 30% more than new ones.
Bad customer service, in its simplest terms, is when a business fails to meet customers’ expectations – sounds avoidable, doesn’t it? We explore the characteristics of what makes good customer service, and some clangers to avoid.
Five customer service tips for better business:
1. Define your values
Having an ‘always helpful’ ethos is a good place to start. By communicating this with those you work with, you can be sure that you are all on the same page when it comes to representing your business in person, on the telephone or via email and messaging. Why not even state your values on your website and reassure customers that you value good communication before they even contact you?
2. Treat your customers as you would like to be treated
Most of us have experienced poor customer service, whether in a restaurant, returning faulty goods, being on hold for too long, no replies to an enquiry, or not receiving a quote. Remember those experiences and do the opposite.
3. Address problems head-on
Things can go wrong in any business, whether it’s a misunderstanding, a more complex job, illness, ever-changing Building Regulations, or faulty materials. Never is customer service more important than when things go wrong – in fact it’s a great opportunity to show what a pro you are. Discuss problems openly with the customer and work out a way to put things right – as a result you’ll be hired again and earn a stellar review.
4. Manage customers’ expectations
Honesty is the best policy. If you know you are likely to take on other work while working on an extension, for example, make this clear upfront so the customer isn’t confused or concerned. If you tend to work 8am to 3pm, tell the customer that’s how you normally work. If you don’t want to work weekends, make it clear. If you say you will get a quote to them by midday Friday, if you can’t make it happen, call them and tell them you will get it to them the following day. Every point of contact is a bonus.
And if material prices are fluctuating, explain this and issue an estimate for the works as opposed to a quote. In the end, you’ll sound knowledgeable and organised, which will reassure the customer.
5. Keep your customer updated
As you pack up for the day, it’s a good opportunity to speak to a customer about what you have completed that day either in-person or via the telephone. You can also outline what your goal for the following day is. It gives your customer an opportunity to run through any concerns, or positive feedback that they may have at that time too, rather than saving it all for the end.
Five customer service clangers to avoid:
1. Not responding to enquiries
The job may be too small, or you may be too busy, but a courteous response goes a long way. Customers today value talking to a human being, and this approach (and polite decline) could see you contacted in the future for a bigger job. If you are too busy right now, let the prospect know, as many are prepared to wait for reputable tradespeople.
2. No online presence
Having a website will give your business better prominence and kudos than using just a Facebook page, although your social media channels can be useful to boost that presence and respond to queries. Customers will also read Google reviews when they look for a contractor. If you are online and offer an email or chat service, make sure you respond promptly, otherwise prospects may assume you are no longer in business. A quick call could even save you more time than emailing and creates a good impression.
3. Last-minute surprises
If a job is going to cost more or take longer, because it’s more complex than originally anticipated, speak to the customer as you go, explain why, and offer options. This can help to avoid issues when you come to billing them (read our previous blog ‘Trade owed average of £6,984 on late payments!’).
4. Playing the blame-game
We’ve all heard it: poor customer service excused ‘due to COVID’, or ‘due to the cost-of-living crisis’. While aspects of this, such as retaining employees, are difficult and not untrue, customers are feeling the pain too, but have chosen to move forward and invest in their homes regardless. Break the mould with your excellent service and you’ll stand out from the ‘blame-game’ crowd.
5. Dodging the insurance question
Customers are more likely to ask you about your insurance and other credentials now, so mention this on your website, and be willing to provide them with details. If you aren’t sure whether you have the correct insurance cover for your business, talk to ‘whole-of-market’ business brokers like A-Plan who can advise you free of charge.
We know that one of the things that makes A-Plan unique is our customer service – it’s why we’ve been in business for 60 years this year! We pride ourselves on treating our clients as individuals and are proud to have received over 35,000 reviews on Trustpilot.
If you, or your business require any specialist insurance support, from home insurance to public liability and more, you can call your local business branch directly or pop in to speak to someone in-person. The team will be more than happy to help and advise you on all your insurance requirements and even handle a claim on your behalf, because we truly value customer service.
Sources: The Institute of Customer Service, Salecycle.com.