How your business can be truly unique to the customer.

I do an all day Business Management Seminar for the National Kitchen and Bath Association. It was developed for small business owners and managers. It follows a recently completed book I wrote on the same subject and covers in depth each of the three main areas of business:

  • Financial Management

  • Human Resource Management

  • Marketing Management

One of the questions I ask during the marketing section is, “How many people believe their business is unique from their competition?” Out of a hundred people in attendance, 75% - plus or minus - will raise their hands. I then ask “What makes your business unique?” The answers are almost always “We give great service.” Next, I ask all those who had their hands up on question one: “How many of you believe that you render great service also?” Most of the same hands will go up. Then I ask, “If most of you believe that it's the great service that you render that makes you unique, then are you REALLY unique?”

The truth is most folks give a lot of lip service to this broad word service … but few folks really try to identify those unique things that allow them to give truly superior service. You should be able to recite the things that really make you unique!

In this article I'd like to cover a number of things that can be done to improve customer satisfaction. In 2003 a major accounting firm working with the Association of General Contractors of America did a survey of construction companies and found that they ranked customer satisfaction as the primary indicator of business success. Yes, for the first time since 1992 the general contractors put customer satisfaction ahead of net income and gross profits in importance. So, with that in mind, let's look at ways forward-looking companies can actively work to satisfy their customers.

Always strive to exceed your customers' expectations. The overall quality of your work will have a direct effect on your company's reputation and your continued access to future jobs. The customer has chosen you for his or her project - honor that by doing more than is necessary or expected.

Keep up with changing trends. Staying on the cutting edge of the industry is vital to attracting and keeping your customers. You must learn to track changes in customer expectations over time and continually adjust in order to meet those changing expectations.

Make a great first impression in everything you do! How you treat potential customers, especially during the first contact, will set the stage for their lasting opinion of your company. Be sure that every employee understands the importance of positive impressions and that they always work to put forward a favorable image of your company. It's a fact that quite frequently how a client feels about the transaction (how they are being treated) is actually more important than the underlying quality of the product or service being purchased. Being treated poorly leaves a damaging and lasting impression that is difficult to overcome.

Resolve “problems” with speed and sensitivity. If you let a customer down (and you will from time to time) make sure that you communicate that you value their business enough to go the extra mile to remedy the situation. Discover the facts of the situation and then find out what will put a smile back on the client's face. Then exceed the expectations to win the customer's favor. In many cases you'll find that good problem resolution can actually increase customer satisfaction beyond the level that existed before the problem occurred.

Use research to determine your company's image. This can be in the form of customer satisfaction surveys (I love them), follow-up calls or other post-job interactions. It's important to find out how your company and the services rendered are perceived. You won't to be able to correct difficulties if you don't know what they are. Always strive to do more than you think you need to do. Your customers are looking for anything that sets you apart in today's competitive environment.

Do everything in your power to improve employee satisfaction. Creating a culture geared toward employee satisfaction will allow you to attract and retain the best staff. This in turn reduces employee turnover and improves productivity. Get and keep your employees motivated and involved in your business and this will reflect positively in their interactions with your customers.

Encourage success within the company. A team environment, in which both the individual and company success is rewarded, can create invaluable motivation and solidarity among your employees. Learn to recognize and cater to individual employee strengths. This will benefit the company as a whole. It's been said that leaders and managers who treat their internal customers (employees) with the same attention and commitment that they devote to their external customers will have invested in a long-term strategy for a competitive advantage.

Create a user-friendly Web site. A unique Internet presence establishes your company as current and authoritative. A friendly and usable Web site in which people can easily find what they're seeking can truly set your company apart. More and more clients are coming into your showroom who have been on the Internet discovering who and what's out there! These customers will be forming first impressions about your business when they call up your Web site. Therefore you need to offer a simple, professional site with just enough special features to set your company apart.

Be approachable and responsive. Return calls and e-mail immediately. Don't make customers work to contact you - if it's easy they will be much more likely to do so. Establish joint actions involving both the customer and yourself to move to a higher level of customer involvement and customer satisfaction.

Define your mission statement. Determine your corporate goals and then make sure your employees are familiar with them and buy into them. Fight complacency among your employees. Motivate them to do good work and your company can impress the customer beyond their expectations.

Have the best trained staff in your marketplace. This includes product knowledge, sales skills, computer and internal policies and procedures.

Normally my articles are very showroom specific. But as I travel the country consulting, doing “mystery shopping” and delivering seminars, I am disappointed more times than not on how poorly most companies perform in the area of customer satisfaction. Your main job in the showroom is not only in helping select products or assigning a price to these selections. Your main job should be in providing the very best total customer satisfaction possible. I promise you that sales will come, margins will grow, and that you'll have more fun when everyone is happy!