You have to talk to Joe, and he’s only here the third Friday of the month between ten and one.”
“We’ll be there sometime between nine and three and if you miss our warning call, we’ll cancel the visit.”
Who wants to deal with that? Even doctors are starting to realize that their patients really dowant to be seen at the time of their appointment. Same with a contractor, people want you to show up on time, do what you say, and not make them work too hard to get a response. No one’s got time to stay home all day and wait for the plumber, especially if the toilet’s backed up. So what are some contractors doing to make it easier for their customers to pull that proverbial trigger, or better yet, write that proverbial check? The business owners we talked to agree that a combination of good ol’ communication, friendliness, timeliness, and modern technology all work together to make the customer experience seamless and easy.
Eric Beaugh: Celeritous Services, Opelousas, Louisiana
In an industry surrounded by stories of horrible things contractors have done, we make sure to take every step to help the customer feel safe in their business transaction with us.
- I have a vast history when it comes to technology, and I utilize this in every aspect of my day-to-day interaction with customers. I’m synced up to email, phone, and SMS 24/7, and I’m always available to get my customers the answers or information they need.
- I make our payment process super-easy by not only accepting payments online, through QuickBooks, but also in person, whether it’s a personal check via remote deposit or credit card swipe. (We carry a pocket-sized swipe for PayPal, QuickBooks, and Clover.)
- We provide detailed estimates down to every single item used, along with a detailed description of our services so that the customer understands what we are providing.
- We provide a service agreement contract with every single job so that the customer feels safe doing business with us.
Michael Craine: Craine Painting LLC, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
I do about 90% cabinet refinishing nowadays, so much of my business is designed to help customers understand the process.
- I get a lot of people reaching out to test the waters on pricing. There’s not enough time in the day to do an onsite visit for all of them, so I made a quick video of what I’d need from them to give them a ballpark estimate online.
- Along with the estimate, I send them a link that shows them our entire cabinet refinishing process and what products we usually use.
- They can send me photos with an overview of items like islands, peninsulas, door and drawer count, time frame needed, etc.
- As we are in an area with a lot of vacation homes, there have been times we don’t even get to meet our clients face to face. Everything is done electronically, from color selection to contract. We complete the project and send pictures when done, and they pay via credit card from wherever they are in the world.
Chad Turpen: Turpen's Painting Company, Evansville, Indiana
Customer service has been the pinnacle of our success. From the initial call for a quote to the end of the project, making sure the customer is 100% satisfied is our #1 priority.
- We take a unique approach in color selection. By providing a sample on their wall of choice and by utilizing Sherwin-Williams’ ColorSnap app, we are able to offer our customers a better visual representation.
- Our estimates include much more than paint or room selection. We break everything down, from the prep to the cleanup! We follow up to ensure customers have received the estimate and that all questions are answered and clarified.
- We offer after “business hours” appointments to accommodate working households.
- We offer 10% veteran discounts and low down-payments to secure scheduling.
Christian Militello: Militello Painting & Powerwashing, Ambler, Pennsylvania
"Making It easy With Militello"
- 18-month interest free financing.
- Credit card payments, online scheduling, online ballpark pricing for interior and exterior painting.
- Online submission of room dimensions for an online proposal.
- Instant quotes online for washing services.
- Dedicated office staff.
- Project managemnet software so that we can invite clients to follow their projects along with us.
- Digital etimates with pictures, proof of insurance, and product descriptions.
- Communication through text, email, or phone, to office or project manager.
Jeff Dupont: Sound Painting Solutions, Seattle, Washington
We find out up front if this is going to be a good fit. One thing we do on the website is ask how they found us and what they are looking for – high quality, low price –so we do an intake on our website. We call them back, schedule a bid, and come visit.
- We use Estimate Rocket, which has a three-tier follow-up system. We send three emails beforehand, for example, a month out, “here’s your date,” then the day before … that saves us from missing bids.
- We typically give either a bid on the spot or in a couple of hours. Then they can tell us if they want to scale the scope back or add to it. We send the bid and they can make changes, or if they accept it, they can accept it right there.
- We accept payment through Quick Books, ACH, or credit card. Some companies would argue with me about accepting credit cards – it costs 2%, but we have won more work with clients who want to pay by credit cards than not. It’s easy for the client.
- When we close a job, we send them a color schedule form to fill out, so when we get there we have the info and the client doesn’t have to do any heavy lifting.
We win a lot of jobs because our systems are streamlined. They have enough of a problem cleaning up the house and moving things.
Matt Jansen: Matt the Painter, Billings, Montana
Stand out with communication; it’s an easy way to differentiate yourself.
- We use an online link to facilitate scheduling so there aren’t so many back-and-forth phone calls.
- If they struggle with color… consultation! Help them and walk them through it. We provide some samples or put up some sample boards so they feel confident in what they’re choosing.
- We have a vanity phone number, 1-800-PAINTING. It’s easier to remember.
- Be reachable online as well, and return phone calls. Customers like to text so make sure that’s an option.
Aaron Moore: Precision Painting, Bellwood Illinois
One big way we make it easier for our customers is by utilizing a project management tool that allows our field employees to provide daily updates via video, photo, etc. We can bring in our clients to view the updates or share them. This keeps everyone on the same page in real time.
Sean Kennedy: Kennedy Painting, St. Louis, Missouri
We do color consultation; it takes away the excuse of, “I don’t have a color."
- We have a texting service. People don’t like picking up their phones, so you can send reminders that your estimator is coming, the crew will be there to start the project, etc. Zipwhip is a texting-based service that helps.
- Along with email reminders, we also send calendar links, and can have Google put it on their calendar.
- We are getting away from accepting credit cards. That’s prompted people to be there and walk through the final job so if there are any issues, the painter can fix them before they make the payment. In that case, we made it harder for customers to get out of doing some of that stuff, but it improved customer service.
- We use CompanyCam; it’s a photo app. We have estimators take pictures of the project; then they can email or share links with the customers or the crew, make notes on it, or tag people. It’s a way to share photos among groups of people. You can take a picture of the house and draw what you’re doing, and the crew has access to the link and has more pictures. People out of town can log in and see updated pictures (with notes, if needed) daily.
- Find tech that works for your company. Don’t implement 12 things. Find one that you’re really good at. If it doesn’t work, then get rid of it. We had a chat box on our website but we had to chat right away or people would go away. If someone wanted to chat at 2 a.m., we didn’t have anyone available. It just makes people mad.
- All our job leaders, crew leaders, and supervisors have iPads and all the job notes, forms, email … everything they need for the projects.
Bill Silverman: Springboard Business Coaching
Bill learned a lot about customer service as the head of market research for Marriott Courtyard. Much of his advice to make it easy for customers starts with making your business a great place to work.
- Our CEO, Bill Marriott, had a saying: “Take care of the employees and they’ll take care of the customer.” I surveyed our employees twice a year to learn how satisfied they were with different aspects of their jobs, and then we would make changes to ensure that our employees were highly satisfied. This helped us attract and keep the best.
- Develop and implement standard operating procedures. Consistent excellence was something that our competitors couldn’t deliver and SOPs helped us achieve that goal. That doesn’t mean that you need SOPs for every procedure in your business, but at least for the ones that are most important to consistently delivering excellent services for your customers.
- Empower employees beyond those SOPs. If a problem comes up, make sure employees and crew are trained to help solve it so again, it’s easier for the customer to get questions answered and problems solved.
- Find out what they want and what they’re willing to pay for. We spent a lot of time talking with our target customers to understand the services and the level of service that they wanted and were willing to pay for.
- After they’ve done business with you, see if they’ll take some time to let you know what they liked or didn’t about your services. It might help you make it even easier for the next customer and make the current customer feel so valued they’ll do business with you again and refer you to their friends.
By Jerry Rabushka
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