Reputation, References And Customer Feedback

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How to improve what your customers are saying about you. April 10, 2005

I wish to improve on my word of mouth references. I always seem to be pressed for time and the post job follow-up is usually left to when clients pay. As more people are using direct deposit banking, I'm in the dark as to my customer satisfaction and assume when they don't make a complaint, all is well. I know I'll have to change, so am looking for a good system where I can overcome problems early and go that extra mile for my clients that they won't be used to. What do you do to ensure better customer relations that lead to better references?

Forum Responses
(Business Forum)
From contributor P:
1. Do a superb job. Only deliver something which you would be satisfied with in your own house.

2. Be considerate of your clients: be clean, be on time, be clear on what you will be doing.

3. If there is a dispute, it's better to go a little bit farther to resolve the situation than the client expects. Even though this may cost you in the short run, it does lead to good references.

4. The longer you are in business, the better word of mouth works.

5. Develop a niche market, where you can't be treated as a commodity.

6. If you really want to hear it from them, send a mail survey two months after you have completed the job. This is very scary, but you will learn something. Ask them to rate the quality of your communications, your workmanship, your design, and your business practices, and leave room for comments. Include a self addressed stamped envelope, and make sure that it doesn't take more than 2 minutes to complete. This in itself will tend to lead to good recommendations, as you are reminding them who did the work and that you care enough to improve your business.

From the original questioner:

Thanks for those tips. It is not an easy road to make sure all things are done correctly, especially once the work goes out of the factory and on to the job site. A certain amount of trust is required and with new staff, double checking their quality of work and frequency of client complaints.

I do and don't like your idea on the questionnaire, as it does not sit well when you are told of your quality faults. When you do 4 or 5 kitchens a week, it's not easy to have all of them run perfectly, but if you're aiming to wipe out your weak points, you need to be told.

In my search of personal service improvement on the net, I did stumble on car salesman motivation newsletters. They did make a point of using newsletters, surveys, anniversary dates to keep in touch with clients. I thought maybe a free maintenance checkup 3 to 6 months after the kitchen is installed might be worthwhile?

From contributor O:
Absolutely! I always call after the customer has had a few months to digest their new kitchen/living room, etc. Not only does it give me ideas for future customers, but it occasionally leads to more business.(matching furniture/built-ins/etc.). Often, old customers become repeat customers become best customers. Do anything to help them remember you!

From contributor P:
I'm not in the kitchen business, so my experience is not directly applicable. I agree that questionnaires are very scary, but you will also get information that is impossible to get otherwise. I make custom furniture, lots of it (16 employees), so I understand perfectly that not every project is going to be perfect - but on the other hand we try to make it perfect and look for patterns which prevent perfection. If your questionnaire returned evidence of a consistent problem, then you can correct it.

Regarding 6 month service calls: excellent idea. Especially if you are using Euro hardware, there is bound to be something which needs adjusting. We don't do this ourselves, as well-made furniture should not go out of adjustment in 6 months, or 600 months.

One other thought on word of mouth: although it is a valuable part of our marketing plan, by itself it won't grow your business very much. Your clients and their friends just don't buy kitchens all that often. We have always used a multi-pronged approach to marketing: word of mouth, repeat customers, high visibility location, architects and designers, a showroom and advertising. These together have generated average yearly growth rates of more than 20 percent over the last 19 years.

From contributor A:
To quote Robert Browning…
The greatest gift the Giver ge-est
Is to see ourselves
As others see us

That said, I find it critical to get customer feedback. Each customer has their hot points and no two are the same. So we work hard to try to sense what they are and to insure we do a good job in those areas. About 75% of our business is referrals and you can be sure that you need to know if your clients would refer you or not.

We do the mail survey (with self addressed stamped envelope). We explain to our customers that the only way that we can get better at what we do is with honest criticism. We word our letter such that we try to make them a part of our family so that they feel they are helping us improve.

From the original questioner:
Yes, you are right. The way we think we are being looked at is totally different than we may expect. I guess it comes as a shock when you do hear feedback via the grapevine that a certain job had been disappointing enough that that client is going out of their way to bag you.

I guess the way to go is to work on the feedback while you are average busy to fine tune the system, then when you have overcommitted, you can rise to the occasion. This is easily said, as I do tend to overreact when pushed between a rock and hard place.

The other point you made was treat all customers as part of the family. I know that is true as I have had regular clients who have done work for 25 years or so. They trust me enough not to get other quotes, which is nice. I think I will have to put in place this friendly feedback form and act on its findings. I do have a contact software program that I will get the office staff to use for all clients and then do followups and newsletters/promotions. I know some firms do reward systems, which may be a good idea. A free gift voucher to pass on to a friend.