If there is one thing that will make or break your relationship with your customer, it is communication. Customers want—and need—to know about the work, products, cost and timeline for delivery on any product or service.
Some purchases (and customers) require and expect a higher level of communication. In general, think of the relationship and satisfaction as function of how well you communicate with the customer. If a customer is making a major purchase, ensuring that they know what they are getting—and not getting—in the purchase is important. Set the expectation with the customer by communicating accurately, honestly and in a timely manner concerning delivery dates, product features, warranty, changes in schedule, project scope and who will be doing the work or when a product will be available.
For most customers, service issues are about not knowing what to expect or perceiving a lack of responsiveness to their needs, questions or issues. A customer that is expecting a delivery on a certain date and at a specific price will be more understanding if they are notified that the date of delivery or price is changing as soon as you know. Scheduling issues and other factors that are unavoidable will occur on many projects and purchases. It is typically only an issue when customer expectations are not managed by informing them promptly about changes.
The Parts Are Less than the Whole
The entire organization must be focused on timely and accurate communication in order to align all activities into a great customer service perspective. When multiple people are involved in the process of delivering the “product” to the customer, everyone in the company needs to be on the same page.
Construction and remodeling projects are a prime example of how customer service and satisfaction is significantly impacted by the shared knowledge and coordination of the phases of “delivery” to the customer. For instance, a customer contracts with a prime contractor for major upgrades to a home. These upgrades include a new roof, windows, siding, doors, decks, gutters and light fixtures. The initial start date for the project is one month from the time the contract is signed. The sales person tells the customer that the timeline will be one day for the roof; one week for the doors and windows; one week for siding and another week for lights and gutters.
The customer waits to hear from the contractor for a firm project start date. No call is received and a month has passed. The customer has to initiate a call to the contractor to find that some of the materials have been delayed and it will be another two weeks.
Two weeks go by and no call to schedule. The customer initiates another call to see when the project will begin … another two weeks. Then the customer calls again. The contractor says “we plan to be on-site next week.” One problem: the customer won’t be home that week. “Okay, then we’ll be there the following week.” They set the date for Tuesday.
On Friday, the customer receives a message: “We have been delayed and won’t be there on Monday, but Tuesday instead.” Wasn’t Tuesday the agreed-upon scheduled day? Another miscommunication by the contractor is noted.
Tuesday comes. No one arrives at the scheduled start time. Two hours go by and no one arrives. The customer calls the contractor, and it turns out they’re not coming until Wednesday: “No problem. We can get the roof done in one day.”
The roofers come on Wednesday, but there are no materials, so the project gets a slow start. The one-day roofing job becomes three days. The customer has no communication as to the expanding timeline … until he makes a call to the contractor.
The roof is finally finished. The contractor commits to coming in two weeks to start the rest of the project, and another two weeks go by with no communication or schedule. The customer calls again … and gets a date. The contractor is late yet again, pushes the schedule another day out and arrives three hours after the start time. Do you think this customer will use the contractor’s services ever again? Doubtful.
Communication : Originate the Good and the Bad
If your customer is calling you to find out where you are and what is happening, you are on the slippery slope to customer dissatisfaction. If you take the example above and the contractor calls to notify the customer of schedule changes, product delays, and potential late arrival, then the customer may not be perfectly happy, but will at least feel as if he is being treated with respect. “Stuff” happens and most reasonable people understand that. What they don’t understand is when you as the service provider know “stuff” is happening and don’t let the customer know. Time is money for most people, and delays and reschedules at the last moment will impact their ability to make money or have time to be involved in the project.
For most of us, it is easy to call with good news, but we hate calling with bad news or no news. However, when it comes to good customer relationships, making a call with any news will go a long way to improving customer satisfaction and feedback.
Author: Lea A. Strickland, MBA CMA CFM CBM GMC
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