IT’S THE MESSENGER, NOT THE MESSAGE, THAT MATTERS MOST

It’s a reality that most local, independent businesses are constantly being pressured by large mass merchants. It matters not if you’re selling toothpaste or televisions, some large firm is bound to have a bigger, faster, cheaper version that they are promoting with yet another barely believable offer. The flooring business certainly falls into this category. However, we have a distinct advantage that those selling toothpaste don’t have in our opportunity to sell both product and our services.

Too often, it seems as if the local merchant views this form of competition with something between disdain and contempt. They want to blame the suppliers, the media and the gullible public. This is understandable, yet flawed logic. To compete with any opponent, you must first find out what their strengths are before you can determine where any vulnerabilities may be.

Remember that big businesses didn’t begin big. They were born small and grew only because in the public’s eye they did a lot of things right. One of the key common aspects of these successful businesses is that they all developed strategic operating systems. They have learned the most effective methods to bring their goods and services to market at the lowest possible costs. That is one of their strengths.

Think of these systems as the “rules of the game”. As customers, we are asked to play by the vendor’s rules. That is not a problem – until there is a problem. This is where in many operations a weakness exists on which a properly trained installation team allow your firm to capitalize.

Always remember that at the core, the customer only cares about their situation – not yours. We have all been told something to the effect of “the computer won’t let me do that”, “no substitutions allowed”, “deliveries to your area are made on Tuesdays only”, or the classic “you don’t qualify for this offer”. How’d you feel upon hearing comments such as these? My guess is these remarks didn’t exactly warm your thoughts. What we need to learn from this is that the problem usually doesn’t lie with the message, but rather the messenger.

Rather than projecting an attitude that says, “I’ll do everything within my power to see that your wishes are honored”, you are more likely to hear, “that’s not our policy”. These untrained representatives just don’t understand that it is the customer’s total purchasing experience, not just the product, which is most important.

All businesses must have clear policies that are fairly administered. Without them there is chaos. Just remember that when we explain them to the customer, it must always be with their point of view in mind. When did you last explain to your installation team the value of projecting a “customer first” attitude? Customers should always sense an attitude of “I’m working for you”. Big stores with big offers will initially attract customers, but without the right “messengers” they will always struggle to keep them. Use this weakness to your advantage. Make “customer first” one of your greatest strengths. You, and your customer, will both be the better for your having done so.

Tom Jennings

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BBB Inquiries: A List You Don’t Want to Be On

The flooring industry has long been viewed somewhat suspiciously by the buying public. Frankly, I believe this dubious viewpoint has been deserved. I served on the Northeast Kansas Better Business Bureau board of directors for many years and each year we were provided with a list of more than 200 business categories ranked by the number of inquiries received. Please note that these are inquiries and not complaints. Inquiries come before a purchasing decision is reached and complaints are registered afterwards.

Year-in and year-out, flooring contractors have been typically ranked in the top 10 by the volume of inquiries received. This is definitely not how upstanding flooring dealers wish to be viewed.

The root cause of this suspicion by consumers is, in my opinion, obvious. Most flooring advertising tends to fall in the Too good to be true or the “What’s the catch?” categories. Very few of our products can be shopped and easily understood by a novice. Compared to other fashion industries, the majority of retail flooring establishments fall well short of must see in our customers’ eyes. If this were not enough, this is all experienced before service and installation are ever mentioned. When you add this all up, is it any wonder why our products are viewed as a purchase that can be postponed? As an industry, we seem to make it too easy for our customers to do just that.

You may be thinking that may be true at other stores, but not at mine. The very fact you are reading this would tend to support that position. However, ask yourself: What are you doing to make your customers understand your store and its representatives are not typical?

I feel a great place to increase the comfort level of the flooring purchase is by introducing your staff. This industry is at a great disadvantage due to the fact it largely operates anonymously. I don’t mean in our facilities. Hopefully all of our stores are clearly identifiable and distinctive. I mean we are largely anonymous when we are working outside of the store.

Ask yourself…What does not only your customer, but also her curious neighbor see in the driveway when we do an in-home estimate? The majority of the time it is an unmarked personal vehicle driven by a salesperson. The same is true of our installation crews. The usage of subcontractors almost always results in an unidentified presence from both a personnel and vehicular perspective. First impressions do matter. What are your representatives saying about your firm?

Spend an hour at home and pay special attention to how other service companies present themselves when visiting your neighbors. I’ll bet you’ll have no problem knowing which companies are delivering their parcels, doing their pest control or repairing their appliances. Professional service companies recognize the value of a strong corporate identity not only from a marketing standpoint, but from a security standpoint as well.

When a company representative steps out of their vehicle, the automatic assumption is that the company has done their homework as to who they are sending into their customers’ homes. Based upon what they see from their window, can your customers have the same feeling of assurance? Is it becoming clear where the “top 10” ranking in the public’s buying perception is coming from? By not recognizing this fact, too many installers are making their job more difficult than need be, simply due to the customer’s initial perceptions.

I realize it’s unfeasible for most dealers to immediately obtain a fleet of matching vehicles. This is all the more reason why it is important to place an emphasis on the person approaching the door. Advise the customer who will be coming to work for her. A national auto glass company is e-mailing their customers a picture of the scheduled technician. What a great idea, and it’s virtually free to implement! Have the estimator or installer call a few minutes before arrival not only to identify themselves, but to also advise the customer of the type and color of vehicle in which they will be arriving.

Further, advise your customers if background checks have been performed. Identification badges can have a value far beyond their cost. In today’s world, people want to know to whom they are opening their door. If truck signage is not feasible, consider having the installer put out a temporary yard sign identifying your company while he is working. Let the neighbors in on what’s going on. They are not only curious, but suspicious as well.

The goal of all stores is to generate more repeat and referral business. The way to effectively accomplish this is to “be somebody” to your customers. Make sure your service representatives appear both proud to represent your firm and are held accountable. Attitudes are contagious. You will soon notice an improvement in your company’s perception. It’s the only good option available. Hiding behind a cloak of anonymity will only serve to get us more of what we already have – a spot in the customer’s most suspicious top 10.

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CURRENT VERSE… SAME AS THE FIRST!

In the 1990’s, my firm was among several dealers asked to monitor all installation related interactions that our firms had with customers. We not only tracked installations, but all correspondence that we had with our customers which may have lead to them being disappointed with the service experience that they received. There were both single and multiple store operations included. This group represented dealers with employee and contract installers. These surveys were gathered over a period of six months. I don’t care how efficient an operation you may run, catalogue every customer concern for six months and you’ll find yourself looking for a window ledge! There was no doubt that installation related concerns were driving us all to distraction. What we collectively found surprising was why.

To a company we all felt that the primary cause of complaint was typically an installation team lacking the proper skills or using incorrect methods. We found this perception to be true – less than 20% of the time! Nearly five of six customer calls were triggered by some form of poor communication, unrealistic expectations, etc. You know… the conversations that seem to always begin with the phrase “no one told me” or “if I’d only known”. While surprised, candidly we were pleased as we thought that this would be an easier “fix” than the physical installation process. Wrong again!

Fast forward to today. It’s debatable that much positive has occurred to improve the actual installation skills that we can expect to find among the installation trade as a whole. While some stores have taken strides to improve their staffs at a local level, the industry’s skilled craftsmen have inevitably gotten older as their replacements continue to not be fully trained. At times it seems as if an entire generation of potential installers has been lost. While lack of properly trained installers with great hand skills is still a problem today, my observation is that it’s still not THE problem!

Without question, our abilities to communicate with the customer have improved in ways no one imagined a generation ago. Virtually all of our customers and installers have a phone, with a built-in camera in their pockets. Most have access to e-mail. Virtually everyone sends and receives text messages. Many have navigation systems in their trucks to more easily find the customer’s jobsite. In light of these advancements, many of our problems have been solved in the last 15-20 years – right? Not that I can see! By contrast, the customer has learned to utilize her mobile device to great effect – too often alerting everyone on her contact list of the disappointment that she feels when a vendor lets her down.

Study after study in both the flooring, and related fields, seem to indicate that the customer is still putting up with the same incompetence and indifference that she has in the past. The sad reality is that she’s grown more used to this type of treatment. She hasn’t learned to like it, rather she’s just resigned to live with it.
Ask yourself; is your cable company significantly easier to deal with when scheduling an in- home appointment? Are the utility companies largely treating us the same? If anything, I think that what we have grown to accept as service has deteriorated further. Now instead of conversing with an indifferent receptionist, we just take orders from an answering machine. Added to this, there is now an entirely new generation in the marketplace that has yet to experience loving care from a concerned retailer, as virtually all of their shopping experiences have either been online or with mass merchants.

While both the problems and solutions are frustratingly similar to the 1990’s, one thing has clearly changed. That is our ability to truly shine when we satisfy our customer’s wishes! When we satisfy a customer’s expectations today, she’ll be so delighted that she likely will alert everyone that she knows via social media in a hurry. When you make the effort to widen the gap between businesses who proclaim to give outstanding service, and those who actually do, you will stand tall in your customer’s eyes.

Estimators, create accurate work orders for your staff. Use pre-installation checklist forms religiously. Seam diagrams aren’t an option! Installers are not mind readers, yet far too often we presume that they will intuitively know what it is that the customer wants. (And of course they will automatically have the correct materials on their truck!) Let there be no doubt what the customer should expect when she places her trust in your firm.

Installers, arrive at the jobsite with a presence that indicates that you take pride in your work. Remember that all a customer knows is what she sees when she opens her door to you. You may be the best craftsman in town, but if all the customer has to form a first impression upon is an unshaved face or a beat up van, you’ll be doing both yourself and the store that you represent a disservice. Leave a tidy workplace at the end of the day. Most importantly, if there is any doubt in your mind how a situation should be handled, always ask for clarification and confirmation. Apologies are a lot more embarrassing than questions.

Good communication and proper customer expectations were the overwhelming key to creating satisfied customers a generation ago. The same is true today. The goal hasn’t changed. The stakes have. With the proliferation of both big box and internet sources in today’s market, and the often impersonal customer experiences that they usually create, great customer service will stand out now more than ever before. Given that the products offered at most stores today all have a sameness to them, your service department is the only truly unique thing that your store has to sell. Conduct training sessions with all staff members focused on the proper ways to communicate with not only the customer, but with fellow team members as well. Perform as if your business’ very existence is at stake. Now, more than ever, it may well be!

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Putting the Pride Back in to Installation

Since the WFCA assumed the operation of The International Certified Flooring Installers Association (CFI) last fall, I have been receiving frequent inquiries regarding how we intend to address the problem of getting new blood into the flooring installation trade.

Unfortunately, the labor shortage exists in all facets of the installation industry, not just in flooring. Our first task will be to make the flooring category a desirable vocation, rather than being thought of as “just a job.” The majority of today’s installers entered the field as helpers who needed a paycheck, not because they had any particular skills or passion for the trade. Unlike sales or management, aptitude tests for entry level installers are virtually unheard of.

We’ve simply got to raise our requirements to elevate the trade from its current state. The entire industry needs to paint a better picture of the benefits of being a professional installer, including the pride of a job well done, in contrast to where many seem to view installation only as a necessary evil. It is apparent to me we need to increase not only the numbers entering the profession, but the overall quality of the applicants as well.

The industry needs to be more supportive of installation performed well. With no meaningful method of enforcing right from wrong techniques, the emphasis too often resorts to price and speed, leaving little incentive for a job to be performed correctly. It seems the industry would rather reactively deal with problems than proactively work to avoid their occurrence. We shouldn’t leave the customer caught in the crossfire when a problem occurs. We can’t blame the installers here – they didn’t create the environment they operate in. Earning potential simply must catch up with the times, but only if performance expectations are raised as well. The pay rates for installation simply can’t all be the same!

While we are always on the lookout for grant monies, etc., it is critical that the manufacturing, distribution and large retailing groups invest in providing scholarship funds to offset the costs of training for installers. While our tuition is very competitive with other trades that offer training, the typical applicant doesn’t possess the financial ability to self-fund their schooling. If we are not proactive in making training a reality for those interested in improving their abilities, then limited installation capacities will eventually have a crippling effect on both sales and manufacturing.
Since there is no one dominate method of communication with the installation trade, it will be critical that all facets of the industry cooperate in spreading the word of any upcoming training opportunities in their trade area, whether these be designed for novices or more seasoned installers. Opportunities to advance skill levels will be available in 2016, unlike any year in my memory, but they will only be as effective as attendance allows. Seeing this happen will require a commitment from all stakeholders. We need your voice!

In conclusion, while the WFCA/CFI is eager to facilitate the training of the next generation of installers, the need is greater than we could hope to satisfy alone. It will require a significant investment of both time and treasure on the part of all involved. However, it is critical that steps are taken to improve the situation now! Procrastination will only serve to make the need more urgent and the task more difficult. Surely our industry has sufficiently learned by now that doing the same thing repeatedly will not produce different results!

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A POOR PLACE TO SAVE MONEY

No flooring business seems to be flush with money today. Competition is fierce and margins are squeezed. As with every budget in the business world, the need to watch expenses is very real. I get it! It’s just that there are some areas of your business which may be poor places to attempt to save money. In fact, in order to actually grow your clientele you may want to consider just the opposite.

What I don’t get is why most flooring retailers that I encounter seem to think that installation can often be identified as an area of cost reduction, when service is the only element of a sale that really differentiates us from our competition.

To illustrate, allow me to make a comparison to the restaurant business. Every morning a food supplier makes the round to the various restaurants in a trade area. Whether it’s a carton of eggs or a sack of flour, essentially the same ingredients are available to all establishments.

What we all realize is that while the deliveries into the kitchen are very similar, the deliveries from the kitchen to the customer’s table vary greatly. The ultimate success of the restaurant relies heavily on both the chef’s abilities and the recipes used. A great chef using inspired recipes will create a wait for a table at which to be seated. However, a mediocre cook using bland recipes will eventually create a “for rent” sign in the front window. Similar ingredients can produce very different results!

Isn’t this scenario in many ways very similar to our own? Our “food service” trucks carry names such as Shaw and Mohawk on their sides. They essentially deliver the same ingredients to the dock of all flooring stores. It is only the efforts of those who can craft a beautiful bathroom from boxes of tile, for example, that differentiate a great place from which to buy flooring from a mediocre one.

For illustration, let’s say that an entrée had a price of fifteen dollars. Ask yourself, if a restaurant added one dollar to the price of every item on its menu, then consistently delivered a great meal using more skilled cooks, what do you think that the net results in their amount of business would be?

Now, now ask the same question, but reduce the prices by one dollar and use a less skilled kitchen staff. Do you really think that they would prosper by being a little cheaper at the expense of delivering a better meal? I sure don’t!

At the restaurant, you judge the meal presented on the plate, not the ingredients themselves. Just as not everyone wishes to eat from the dollar menu; neither do all flooring customers want a flooring installation bargain. The one dollar illustration above represents a six percent price change. Have you ever gladly paid six percent more for something that you really wanted? We all have. What could a six percent change do for your businesses?

My experience is that many customers will gladly pay a bit more to have a superior service experience. This is really nothing new. Will Rogers stated that, “It’s not what you pay a man, but what he costs you that counts,” nearly a century ago. It’s still great wisdom today. Don’t let low installation rates for questionable workmanship mislead you. Their real cost may prove to be quite high.

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A Great Way to Shop

Frequent readers know I believe before we can be good customer service providers, we must first learn to be good customers ourselves. By that, I mean we must pay attention to how we are treated when we are spending our hard earned pay checks. By doing so, you will learn a tremendous amount about both the service provider and their management. Please allow me to share two very different recent experiences I had on the same very day.

My first stop was a large national grocery store. I stopped to mail packages at the customer service desk; a task we all perform regularly. Not far away, I observed someone in a business suit (likely a corporate manager) dressing down a small group of department managers for clearly not following some arcane procedure. Right on the sales floor in front of customers! The employees were all looking either at their shoes or the light fixtures while this little leadership school dropout was attempting to showcase his authority. (You can imagine their spirits when out of his presence). Managers like this are toxic.  I couldn’t wait to get out of this store when the only reason I was there in the first place was to avoid going to the post office. Some choice!

My next stop was quite different. Needing to purchase a gift, I visited one of my wife’s favorite shops, Weaver’s Department Store in my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas. Upon entering, I was greeted by the general manager with a warm handshake and smile. Next, a sales associate personally walked me through the process of selecting items I have no qualifications to select. Once my decision was made, my purchases were gift wrapped at no additional charge!

The treatment was fantastic, and it appeared to be the de facto standard for everyone who walked in the door. The employees dealt with customers in the same happy, respectful and helpful fashion as their boss, and the cash register was clearly ringing. I spent at least twice as much as I had intended and left feeling great.

Is such customer service feasible in today’s economic condition? Perhaps I should mention the Weaver’s is the oldest department store west of the Mississippi River – founded in 1857! How many competitors do you think have come and gone in nearly 150 years? How many “new” forms of merchandising? How many recessions and depressions have occurred? How many wars?

There are two important lessons to be gained from relating these experiences: first of all, it is impossible for staff to treat their customers any better than the way they are treated themselves. It can’t consistently be done. We mirror the attitudes that we receive from above. Secondly, the best way for a local store to survive and thrive is to never forget the personal touch. Product alone is, will be, and always has been available for less elsewhere. Neither product nor price alone will attract every buyer.

Future generations will realize what past ones came to know. Being well served is still a great way to shop. How do your customers feel about their time spent with you?

Tom Jennings

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Choose Your Words Carefully!

At the risk of coming across as an old curmudgeon, I have a nagging question: What in the world has happened to common courtesy? Am I the only one who has gotten my fill of rude and insensitive behavior when attempting to give my hard earned money to a retailer or service provider? I hardly think so.

As an example, I recently worked on a series of videos for the WFCA’s website. I contracted with a well established firm to do the work. This is a significant company with over 200 employees locally. From the street they appeared to be very professional. Their images were all consistent. All of the staff was dressed in appropriate logo wear. Their vehicles were all professionally marked. Their grounds were all professionally tended. Their equipment was up to standards. They were not inexpensive, but, we were not looking for a cheap result. My first impressions were all positive. This company had obviously done their homework. I was happy that I had engaged them. Full speed ahead!

Then they began to interact with me. By e-mail I was told that I would have to “wait a couple of days since they were busy working on an important job”. Do you like being told to wait? Neither do I. Wait is a very negative word. Do you like to feel as if another’s project is more important than yours? I don’t. Great service providers have mastered the ability to make you feel like there is only one important customer at this moment – you! Though the end result would have been the same, I would have had a totally different reaction to “while we are busy, your project is very important to us. We will give it our full attention and best efforts. I intend to have a first draft to you within 48 hours. I appreciate your patience.” Do it the wrong way and you come off as an insensitive jerk. Perform correctly and you can save the benefit of the doubt.

I then attempted to reach the videographer by phone to simply ask a question. The recording that I received stated, “You know the drill. Leave a message”. That’s it. No hello, no sorry that I am out and apparently very little concern. He may have well have said “I’m busy – don’t bother me!” Do you think that my tone with him when he did return my call may have been different? I can assure you that it will was. And, I am sure that he blamed me for being terse with him. Do you ever notice that bad service providers always think there is something wrong with their customer? Never fails!

My question is: when was the last time that you examined how both you and your staff are communicating with your customers? I know that you know what you want them to say, but do you know for a fact that they are doing so? And if so, in what manner? Has this subject ever been addressed in your training sessions? Nothing could be more important to your businesses perception. While you make take pride in your ability to physically perform a beautiful installation, lacking good communication skills when conversing with customers may be robbing you of the ability to be perceived as a true professional. Training to improve in this important skill is neither costly nor time consuming. Don’t sell yourself short!

Product alone all tends to have a certain sameness about it. People, however can stand apart in many ways. Many retailers, and service providers alike, are spending too much effort on attracting the external customer while not tending to their internal ones. Then, when results are not as hoped for, they’ll blame everyone and everything but themselves.

They say that in business the opposite of love is not hate, but rather indifference. When you love a business you will return again and again. But when you are disappointed, you will simply go away. Common acts of courtesy when communicating can pay huge dividends. Do everything that you can to ensure that when your customers rant and rave about you and your firm that they too share your positive tone!

Tom Jennings

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Slowing Down to Go Faster

While casually watching a car race recently, I heard three-time NASCAR champion Daryl Waltrip make the statement that “sometimes you have to slow down in order to go faster.” He was referencing the fact that if you carry too much speed into a turn, you risk losing momentum going into the next straightaway. This results in going at a frantic pace, then slamming on the brakes to turn, then going like crazy again to regain the fast pace. A tired car and race driver are seldom a winning combination. To maintain the greatest overall performance, you need to drive the entire track as fast as possible while remaining under control.

What does this have to do with the flooring business you ask? I feel in running a successful operation, the goal is also to accomplish the entire sales-to-service aspects of a flooring purchase under control. Just as there are four turns on an oval race track, there are four critical areas of a completed flooring sale and installation when it is critical to slow down so that you can go faster.

Turn one: sales to jobsite assessment. Whether the salesperson measures their own jobs, or assigns this task to others, it’s critical that when at the jobsite you know exactly what you are being asked to do. Never confuse a measurement with a site assessment. Measuring is simply doing the math to arrive at the quantities required. This is a component of the complete task. You must be able to evaluate and tailor the desired product’s finished application depending on a variety of existing conditions at the home or office. Faulty or missing information may cause the job to be estimated incorrectly, causing delays (slamming on the brakes).

Turn two: jobsite assessment to ordering. When the job has been correctly assessed and sold, there is a great chance that materials will be ordered correctly and the job will proceed as planned. When the required items and quantities are ordered inaccurately, the job will again stall causing you to lose momentum going into the next turn.

Turn three: ordering to installation. Regardless of the capabilities of your installer, they can only be as good as the information and materials that you provide. When these items are complete and correct, no momentum will be lost. If not, you will again be slamming on the brakes heading into the homestretch.

Turn four: installation to sales. This is the turn where the racer often gets in too great of a hurry and hits the wall. They can see the finish line and can lose their focus. The same thing can happen in retail, as well. We all recognize that our best customers are cultivated through repeat and referral business. Unfortunately, this is the area where communication is most lacking at many companies. Was the job completed satisfactorily? Was it finished on time? Did anything occur during the installation that the in-store staff should know about? Were any promises made by the installer that the store should be aware of?

These are among the answers that every salesperson needs to know before contacting the customer for a post-installation follow up. Without it, there is a likelihood they will procrastinate making contact, losing the opportunity to build on a good relationship. It is critical that the installer report back to the appropriate person at the end of each job. Only then can the salesperson, and the business as a whole, maintain full momentum across the finish line to successfully complete this lap (individual sale) and proceed with speed into the next one.

When you are completing each turn during the sale, make sure that you slow down and get it right the first time to keep the momentum going forward. Just as in racing, good flooring teams know that to win the race you need to spend as little time as possible in the pits.

Tom Jennings

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Managing Installers First Impressions

Many flooring businesses train their internal team members a variety of ways to positively manage the customer’s first impressions when she interacts with a sales professional. This is both logical and necessary given the logic that “nothing happens until somebody sells something.” It has been my observation, though, that far too few dealers take the same approach with the service portion of their operation. Let’s examine some opportunities to make a positive impression when she meets our installation staff.

There will have been several impressions made before the installer actually arrives at the jobsite. If the customer’s goods were custom ordered, was the customer kept aware of the expected delivery dates? Did the store proactively call to schedule the installation, or was this task left to the customer? Was the installation scheduled at a time that was most convenient to her, or the installer? Did we promise a reasonable arrival, or did we act like the cable company by not validating the worth of her time? These are all interactions that will affect the installer’s day before he ever arrives to perform his duties.

Just as sales professionals, the installer should always be respectful of a customer’s time. In a day when everyone has a phone in their pocket, there is no excuse for arriving late without prior notice. A good habit to get into is calling a customer a few minutes prior to the promised arrival time to advise her that you are on schedule. She will now know that you are in fact coming. She won’t feel compelled to look out the window wondering if you remembered her or not. This is a courtesy that she will appreciate and will make you stand out from the field. She will now likely greet you at the door with a smile, and you will be well on your way to establishing a good initial impression.

When arriving to perform the installation, a flooring mechanic should always arrive at the door carrying nothing but a clipboard with the jobsite information. Always dress correctly and offer your name. Always find something complimentary to say about the worksite. Such topics may include the family pet, the view out the window, the landscaping, etc. The subject matter isn’t important, so long as it is not too personal in nature, but setting a positive tone for the day is.

Ask to see the area where the work is to be performed and listen to the customer’s wishes. If you see any potential problems, point them out and explain your suggested remedies at this time. Should any surprises be discovered, always notify the store immediately. Don’t needlessly involve or alarm the customer with job particulars unless necessary to do so. Never complain or point fingers!

She is likely somewhat uneasy about the disruption of the installation process, investment cost, having strangers in her house, etc. Now is definitely not the time to be intimidating or off-putting in her eyes. Such an approach will only produce a day filled with mistrust and frustration for the customer and installer alike. Days like this are hardly ever fun…nor hardly ever necessary! Remember, she hired you because you were billed as a knowledgeable professional. Always act like one!

Ask the customer job specific questions (where to set up saws, put furniture, removed flooring, leftover materials, location of water faucet, etc.). Ask the customer’s permission to leave your truck in the driveway. Once this has been completed, now is the time to carry in the toolboxes and materials.

These are very important steps. If you were going to have surgery, the doctor wouldn’t meet you in the waiting room wearing a gown and carrying a scalpel! He would counsel you, ask for questions and tell you that he would now go prepare and would see you in a few minutes in the operating room. He wouldn’t try to intimidate his patient. Rather, he’d do his best to be reassuring and professional in his approach. While we may not be saving lives with our work, shouldn’t we strive to be just as professional and respected for the work that we do?

While individually these may seem like small steps to take, collectively they will produce a tremendous gain in confidence by the customer, resulting in a more rewarding experience for all involved. When you learn to properly manage the first few minutes of an installation, you will see your success rate begin to climb and your level of frustration begin to fall.

Tom Jennings

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Creating a Welcome Arrival

Whether you’re an installer, estimator or inspector, I would bet that you’d agree that your day is both more enjoyable and productive when you can quickly develop a good working relationship with a client. Do you want the customer that you have an in-home appointment with to think good thoughts about you before you even arrive at her home? Consider doing this: call her a few minutes before your scheduled visit just to let her know that you will be on time!

Every good service provider calls if they are running late. This is expected behavior. Why, you may ask, would I need to call if I’m on schedule and doing what I agreed to do? Because it will set a positive tone for your arrival.

This act of giving a courtesy call will serve several purposes. First of all, it will validate her importance to you. It will also express that you respect her time. She now knows that she has a few minutes to freshen up, make a phone call, etc. I don’t think you can overstate the importance of respecting a customer’s time. We all get tired of being told we have to change our schedule to fit a vendor’s wishes. Don’t run the risk of being thought of in the same manner as the utility companies, big box store delivery services, etc.

You may ask yourself what difference a 15 or 20 minute notice will make to your customer. While it may not seem like a long time when you’re busy, it can seem like forever when you’re not. Try waiting in line for a taxi for 20 minutes and see how long it seems to be! Looking out of the window for an appointment to arrive can have much the same effect.

This is also the time to describe to the customer the type of vehicle that you will be arriving in. If you have a lettered company vehicle, this will be obvious. However, a good many in the flooring business drive their own (unmarked) vehicles to a jobsite. Arriving anonymously does not produce positive recognition when the customer looks outside to see who just came to the door. Security is a big deal to many people today. When you let the customer know in advance what to expect, she will be more likely to see you as a professional.

Do not confuse this courtesy call with telephoning the day before to reconfirm an appointment. Nearly every service provider, good and bad, does this. Some are so impersonal and insincere that they are computer generated. This surely makes me feel important when I drop what I’m doing to answer the phone!

While these calls may be necessary to serve as a reminder, they will nearly always generate one of two responses: you will either leave a message on a recorder or you will interrupt your customer. Reminder calls are nearly always perceived as benefitting the vendor – not the customer. Every action that we make must be viewed as in the customer’s best interest!

Having made this call and introduced yourself, when you do arrive at her door, your customer will likely open it with a more certain attitude about both you and your firm. Your customer now feels that she, and not just her pocketbook, is truly important to your firm. A good first impression will have been made before you even ring the doorbell – and it was virtually free! Try it. Both you and the customer will feel better for your having done so.

Tom Jennings

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