Compete by delivering superior service consistently

Five stars (Photo: iStock.com/D3Damon)
Photo: iStock.com/D3Damon
Five stars (Photo: iStock.com/D3Damon)
Photo: iStock.com/D3Damon

How do I compete with these guys? This is a common question I hear from our clients. The concern behind the question is real. It’s mostly expressed in terms of competing with contractors who may lowball their prices or when going head-to-head in bids with regional or national companies.

The simple answer is deliver a superior service experience consistently. It sounds cliché perhaps, but service is the competitive advantage. In fact, you could argue that high-service local companies already have a competitive advantage over regional or national companies and lowballers. Really? Certainly. That’s why regional and national companies target these companies for acquisition and avoid the lowballers. They want these companies because they already have what they want and need: loyalty and repeat business.

Three elements of service

Delivering a better customer experience and doing it consistently drives retention, loyalty and upsell business. Higher retention and upsell business increase profit margins. Higher profit margins provide the means necessary to attract better people and customers. Better people and customers are the building blocks of competitive advantage.

What are the building blocks of a superior customer experience? There are three.

  • Responsiveness—the way you respond to problems and requests. Let’s say a customer calls wanting the removal and replacement of some dead flowers. Is it clear who in the company handles this call? Is there a process for documenting the request? Is there a procedure for assigning ownership as well as a process for responding? Is there a management report that monitors the responses and the response times? I pose these questions because high-service companies do these things as a matter of course. For these companies, service is more than a slogan. It’s a system.
  • Delivery—the way you do the work. To continue with our example, let’s say the customer signs off on the proposal. The proposal clearly states the services promised and when the work might be completed. This service building block is like the first one in that it consists of an activity and a time attribute. The customer’s experience always has a “what” and a “how fast” expectation. When you get the customer’s go-ahead, is it clear who schedules the work and how it’s communicated to the customer? Is there a process for providing the crew with all the information and means to do the work? And what if something changes the original schedule? When the work is done, who checks the quality and approves the work for billing? And how do you ensure the customer receives an accurate invoice? It’s clear from these questions that it’s the little things not done consistently that color the entire customer experience.
  • Anticipation—the way you do something without being asked. This is the most challenging building block. Let’s say the customer never had to call you in the first place to request replacement of the dead flowers. You called him instead. You not only called, but you provided a proposal and delivery date. To make this happen, who recognized the need in the first place? Then, like the customer response system, who delivered and monitored the process? This, too, is a system, and one that especially requires time, expertise and an investment in technology and people to execute it consistently at a price that is likely higher than the competition.

Three service solutions

  • Responsiveness solution—issues management. This is a system married to technology that has the capability to capture and document a request with text and pictures, record the request date and location and automatically communicate it to the responsible person. That person can then link it to an estimate and proposal that’s emailed to the customer and track it in a sales report. It allows the customer to sign and accept it electronically. That’s a system that is both easy and fast for the customer.
  • Delivery solution—integrated proposal/schedule/crew mobile management. This is a system and technology that produces a proposal from a request; communicates it to the scheduling, purchasing and the shop/yard people; and at the same time communicates job details with photos and documents to a crew. The crew uses the same technology to report job time and material for automatic payroll, job cost and invoicing, so the invoice arrives on time and accurately in the customer’s email inbox to be paid online. This is a system that’s convenient for the customer and good for the company’s cash flow.
  • Anticipation solution—site inspection management. This is a system with the technology to document a property review with text and photos, all linked to a geoproperty map for the customer’s use for review and budgeting, which is then linked to proposal creation referenced in the other solutions. This is the beauty of systems and technology—the power of marrying service slogans with business processes integrated in such a way that the customer feels like you know what you are doing and that the left and right hands of your company are working in unison to make the customer’s life easier.

This is how you compete. Invest in the people and technology to develop and manage the building blocks that create a competitive difference. Those who don’t will have a hard time matching.

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