I’ve got a fondness for old houses, old cars, and old buildings too. So, on any given day, things are breaking all around me, “just because.” I’ve got contractors on speed-dial (though some have me on call-block) relative to every system that can fail, which of course means all of them. To contractors, I am a walking invoice.
Buying a brand-new home should grant you some immunity. All the mechanical systems are new, everything is plumb, your closet doors don’t spank you when you lean over, your lights don’t dim when the toaster oven is on, and certainly the scenario below shouldn’t happen.
But it does. Things break (hooray!) and they need fixing (hooray again!) but you’ve got to keep in mind, when you’re in the service business, you must fix the item AND the customer.
Such was not the case with one of our top copywriters, Jessica Knight, who tells the following painfully true story about her new house in her own words…
Scenario: Jessica’s Tale
Drip. Drip. Drip. It’s Saturday morning and normally I’d be happy to feel the splash of warm water clearing the sleep from my eyes. Just one problem…I’m not in the shower. I’m not even in the bathroom. I’m standing in the kitchen wondering why my bunny slippers look like they just got home from a water park. And when I look up, there’s water filling my light fixture. In case you missed it, water + electricity = not good.
My first instinct was to call a plumber. But then I remembered that the heating and cooling system is in my attic – gulp – directly over the kitchen. I’ve worked at Hudson Ink long enough to draw that conclusion.
Maybe I Am Still Asleep…This Is Definitely A Nightmare!
After finding a drain pan overflowing with water, I suddenly felt incompetent to just “fix it myself”. Apparently the company I called had the same problem.
Although they installed the system less than a year ago and I have a 10-year parts and labor warranty, as well as a maintenance agreement, my contractor said I shouldn’t expect same-day service. Never mind the fountain forming in my ceiling, right?
By the time they did arrive on Sunday, I’d braced the ceiling where it had buckled. My kitchen could easily have been mistaken for the Williams Sonoma showroom thanks to all the pots scattered to catch leaks. After a fourminute inspection, the technician’s diagnosis was decidedly unhelpful: “Maybe you should change the filter,” he told me.
He sounded a little condescending, so I offered, “It’s a 90-day filter and it’s been in a week. I’m very conscientious when it comes to maintenance.” His response?
“Uh, ok, we’ll have somebody else come out and look at this.”
Eventually, a series of FIVE technicians came to my home, each with a solution that solved nothing. My tensions grew. After mentioning to the last tech that, “something will be done to resolve this… one way or another” the owner finally came out.
In under an hour he discovered that his company had installed the system incorrectly. They had to take everything out – including the soggy ductwork – and start from scratch.
Did I mention that my ceiling was now dry but warped from exposure to all that excess moisture? At this point, angry, frustrated – even furious – didn’t quite cover my feelings. The words “referral” and “satisfied customer” aren’t rolling off my tongue.
And then this came in the mail…
I just wanted to apologize for your inconvenience and lost comfort over the last few days. All system repairs are, of course, covered under your warranty, but that seems small compared to our mistake.
I’d like to make amends and keep you as a loyal customer. To that end, please contact the contractor of your choice and schedule whatever repairs are needed for your ceiling at my expense. I’d also like to offer free maintenance for the life-time of your new system.
If there’s anything else I can do, please don’t hesitate to ask. Sincerely,
In the two minutes it took to read the note, I went from ready to “cancel all relationship” with them to pleased, and a bit sheepish, at my own attitude.
So What Does This Have To Do With You?
Everyone makes mistakes. I’ve made nearly two this year! A mistake doesn’t have to end a relationship – it can actually begin one. Think about it:
This is the time to focus on customer retention. In Jessica’s case, we call this a “save” since she was clearly “at risk”. You should have a “save” plan at your business.
When you turn a negative experience into a positive one, you don’t just take the sting out of bad memories, you replace the sting with benevolence. It’s an opportunity to prove your word. Here’s how…
1. Admit the mistake and fix it. Trying to defend a clear error only makes you look worse – and the customer even angrier. Admit and rectify.
2. Throw in a little extra. Nothing removes bitterness like a big dose of free, discounted, or extra. Free service, free gift certificate, movie tickets or dinner – you get the picture. Calculate the value of your “saves” in dollars now, damage saved, future sales, future referrals and you’ll feel far less stingy about them.
3. Get with the program. The depth of the relationship measures the depth of forgiveness. Make good customer retention a habit. You should be sending your newsletters 2-4 times per year with other non-sales items – such as postcards or holiday cards. If you’re not staying in touch in the good times, don’t expect any leniency during the bad ones.
None of us want a fair-weather friend, and business isn’t any different. Show your customers that you’re there to solve their comfort problems regardless. They’ll appreciate the security, and you’ll appreciate the profits.
Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors, and author of the recently published Contractor Marketing Secrets. Readers can get his free contractor marketing newsletter by faxing their letterhead with the request to 334/262- 1115. Call 800/489-9099 or check out www.hudsonink.com for other free marketing articles and reports.