Most service providers have horrible customer service and while people love them once they get to know them, they have a bad reputation. If you are willing to consistently do the few things in this article, you will soon rise to the top in your region.
Use the customer’s preferred communication method. Some people like text, some prefer phone calls and some prefer email. As the small business person, it is YOUR responsibility to use what your customer prefers.
Set response expectations and always follow them. For example, if your email auto responder and your voicemail greeting both say that you will respond “no later than the evening of the following business day” then stick to it. Always. This huge window of time gives you time to respond and lets them know what to expect.
Provide accurate timeframes with as narrow of windows as possible. In many services, the exact time it will take to do a job varies, which makes it difficult to schedule. Most customers have busy lives, and often they are burning up favors and losing income by scheduling time off from their job to be home for your arrival. We ought to put ourselves in their shoes, and work hard to make their life wonderful.
Most customers can appreciate that we can’t give exact times, and as long as you are in good communication with them, they will be understanding. When I was a mobile windshield repairman, some repairs took an hour, and other times I would arrive and there was a dead bug on the windshield, and no rock chip. Two of either type would put me ahead or behind schedule, however I found that an hour was a pretty good estimate. I made the corporate promise that if I didn’t arrive in the two-hour timeframe that I promised; the repair was free. I only had to give away about one or two repairs each year.
Give yourself plenty of buffer so that you can always be on schedule. If you estimate that you can do the 4-hour job the following Thursday between noon and 5pm, instead say, “I have you on my schedule for next Thursday afternoon, if we get lucky and I am able to come sooner, I will let you know. If I am running behind, may I call you on Tuesday evening to give you an updated timeframe?”
It is wise to ask the customer for permission and their preferences regarding contacting them. For example, “I anticipate being able to arrive between 2pm and 4pm, but if my morning gets silly, may I text you around noon with any changes?” This will thrill them! It might also elicit the response you dream of, “I will be home all day, come anytime between 8am and 6pm, just give me a hour’s heads up if you can.”
Depending on the complexity and scope of your service, your timeframes might be longer. Communicate well with your customer, for example a custom home builder might say to the person hiring them to build a three million dollar house, “I have the framing and roof done on the current 3,500 sq ft house I am working on, how long do you think it will take me to finish?” When the customer gives an absolute answer or says they don’t know, the builder might say, “I have built a bunch of homes like this, and I can’t even give you an accurate 60-day period when we will be done. Things usually take 30% longer than expected and cost 30% more, so taking that into consideration, I estimate that we will be finished with the current house and will be able to start yours in 7 to 11 months. May I set a reminder for myself to give you updated estimates the first of each month?” By wording things this way, you have set clear expectations of the unpredictability of your type of work and have teamed with the customer, promising good communication.
Always under-promise and over-deliver!
Be on time. Always.
Do not use soft-sweaty-palm limp-handshake phrases like, “should be able to” or “probably” or “might.” Be a decisive person who estimates intelligently and who sticks to their word.