DANA POINT, CA — Every contractor should know that pleasing the customer is key to operating a successful business. But do you really know how your customers feel about your company and the service it provides?

According to Dan Sakimoto, the opinions of the consumer rarely get to the people responsible for making changes. This and several other service issues were discussed by Sakimoto during his presentation entitled “Service Excellence: Value Through Leadership” at the MSCA Educational Conference.

Sakimoto explained the value in obtaining customer feedback, and detailed how companies can improve their overall service to boost sales and profits.

Are Your Customers Happy?

How much do you know about your customers and their expectations? Some contractors may not know, or they may think they are doing well because their customers have not complained. But Sakimoto says that this is more than likely not the case.

Sakimoto explained that if customers are not satisfied, they very rarely vocalize it to the service provider. Customers feel it won’t do any good or that they would feel awkward and pushy about doing it. Maybe the most damaging reason customers don’t complain about service is that they feel it would be easier to just switch to another contractor.

“There is a danger in not hearing complaints,” said Sakimoto. “If you can’t see the problem, you can’t solve the problem.”

Also, if one customer is dissatisfied, you will not just lose that one customer, but future referrals, as well. According to Sakimoto, on average, a customer who has received great service will tell three to five people about it. But a customer who has had a bad experience with a company will typically tell nine to 15 people about their bad experience.

This is why Sakimoto says it is important to get feedback from customers. If your business has made a mistake, you can rectify the situation and keep the customer for future service.

“Customers know that you’re human,” he said. “It’s OK to have an occasional mistake. It’s the way that you deal with it that’s the real test.”

Sakimoto says that if you can get 5% of your company’s ambiv-alent customers and make them into advocates for your business, you can increase your business up to 100%.

The Whole Company Contributes

Sakimoto suggests creating a contractor’s service cycle. To do this, think of all the many ways your business interacts with the customer. You will find that you are doing more than just installing or repairing a homeowner’s hvac system.

Sakimoto used a restaurant analogy. When you go out to dinner, what factors contribute to a satisfying night out? How did the host or hostess greet you? Where were you seated? Was the restaurant clean? How was your waiter or waitress? Was the food good? The list could go on and on.

The same goes for your business. How was the customer treated when they called your business? How were the technicians when they came to the customer’s home? Were they dressed well or did they look sloppy? Were they friendly or rude? Was the service done right and completed in a timely fashion? Again, the list could go on and on.

Sakimoto says that even if the work is done correctly, it only takes one thing to ruin a customer’s experience. Take the restaurant analogy again. The food may have been good, but your night is probably going to be ruined if the waiter is rude or spills a drink on you. With your business, the hvac system may have been installed properly and quickly, but that won’t matter if the technician was unprofessional.

“Have your employees diagram what affects the customer and then talk about it,” he said. “You will unearth more steps than you think. How many people are responsible for service to one person?”

Sidebar: Five Steps To Better Service

According to Sakimoto, there are five steps to exceptional service.

1. Know your customers and their needs. Sakimoto says that you must find out what your customers expect from you and then provide it. Each customer is different, and each company is dependent on its customers.

This also means dealing with internal customers. Sakimoto says that if your employees are not treated well, chances are great they will not treat your customers well.

2. Set a service goal. After you find out what your customers’ needs are, Sakimoto suggests creating a goal for your company and for each department. The goal should be specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and timely.

3. Deliver quality service. You must now put your goal into action. To do this, Sakimoto says you need to empower your employees. Train them in how to deal with customers and give them the authority and responsibility to make the customer happy.

4. Communicate about service. According to Sakimoto, this is about leadership. The person in charge must communicate what is important to the company by promoting goals, encouraging workers, and keeping employees focused on customer service. But, more importantly, the leader must be a walking role model.

5. Reward outstanding service: Sakimoto says you need to find out what motivates your employees. If a worker provided good service or achieved the goals set by the company, that employee should be rewarded in some way to encourage outstanding service.

“Providing good customer service is not like singing a solo,” Sakimoto said. “It takes a choir.”

Publication date: 10/29/2001