Small Business

How well does your firm communicate with clients? MARKETING Kay Millar: Businesses that serve customers effectively offer a welcome reminder of how things ought to be handled

July 25, 2005

How well does your firm communicate with clients? MARKETING Kay Millar Businesses that serve customers effectively offer a welcome reminder of how things ought to be handled

Having spent four months with my husband preparing one house to sell and another to move into, I'm sharing our observations on the behaviors of small businesses - using as examples our contractor, carpenter, electrician, painter, roofer and mason.

Hopefully, this will help managers of other businesses review their own practices.

Communication with customers

As we've commented in this column before, we're continually amazed at the number of businesspeople who never respond to a call offering an opportunity to do business. The businesses we've worked with on our two houses are ones that responded to our first call asking for their assistance. Several folks never got considered because they never called back.

Question: How many pieces of business have you lost because you and/or your employee(s) never responded to the initial inquiry of a potential customer?

Also, the businesses we've worked with listened to us, to our lists of to-dos and our explanations of what we wanted to accomplish. Then they responded with suggestions, recommendations and professional advice. As a result, we've had few disagreements, no withheld payments, very few doovers, and we've shared good conversations as well as light-hearted banter.

Question: Are you able to describe your customer interactions in the same way?

Pride in the project

The workers we've been dealing with committed themselves to our project. They behaved as if they understood how important their work was to us.

The contractor often would drive from another building site to monitor our work. He and his carpenter ensured that "standard" cuts of wood were manually planed and shaped to fit a custom space. And they dreamed up creative solutions.

The painter made excellent suggestions and offered special painting treatments that accomplished the Tuscan kitchen and gold dining room I had been envisioning.

Once the electrician saw the level of taste and quality we were trying to bring to both houses, he provided advice in terms of code and quality for electrical installations that we would never have known of on our own.

The mason squeezed our chimney work into his schedule so that we could meet our deadlines for getting the old house completed. The roofer went out of his way to double-check a leak and made a special trip to bring my husband materials so he could do a minor repair himself.

Question: Do your employees enjoy their work so much that they make the customer's project special and take pride in its accomplishment?

Promise versus completion

Timing and deadlines is a big issue. The workmen on our project showed up when they said they would and worked until the job was done, in every case within one-half day of the time they said it would take.

Question: Does your business meet its promises to customers?

So often, a challenge with custom work is the surprising invoice that has no relationship to the original estimate. We had no problem with these businesses on that score. When we added work to the list of painting projects, for instance, the painter simply gave me an adjusted estimate, which I approved before he continued the work.

Question: Does your business estimate its work accurately and honor its estimates?

And the biggest issue is quality of work. In this case, our contractor, carpenter, electrician, painter, roofer and mason shared the pride they had in the work they did. They have complimented each other's work and have taken pride in the total results.

We are delighted with the results. In fact, I can hardly wait to get the new house settled and have a party for our friends.

Question: Do your customers want to host a party so they can show off your business's workmanship?



Millar is CEO of Millar Communication Strategies Inc., a public relations firm that offers strategic planning, including crisis planning/communication/recovery. She can be reached at 2500 One American Square, Indianapolis, IN 46282, or call 639-0442.
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