Although the secret of success in service may be to profitably (and competitively) provide what the customer really wants, effectively addressing those wants is far from easy. Even with the advance in technology today and the accompanying increase in the options we have, there is little we can do unless we know what they are.
So, how do you get to know your customers and find out what they really want? Here are a few ideas that may prove helpful.
Ask Your Customers
If you want to know what your customers really want, why not ask them? This can be accomplished in several ways. For example, if you don't already do so, arrange to conduct annual (or semi-annual) meetings with larger customers. This should be a formal review with appropriate preparation.
Reviews of this nature provide a great opportunity to evaluate past performance, showcase improvement and discuss unaddressed recommendations. These reviews will also enable you to get to know your customers personally and gain a better understanding of their needs.
Prepare questions to explore needs beyond the obvious such as, "What are we not doing that, if we did, would add real value to our relationship?" or "What are we doing that we could we do better?" Where personal visits are not practical, you can add these questions to your customer satisfaction surveys to explore their needs and to get to know them better.
Bring New Ideas
Henry Ford has been quoted as saying: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." This certainly can apply to the HVACR service business.
Because of the advancement in technology and the subsequent enhancement to the services we can provide to our customers, they may not know that new capabilities exist that can directly and positively impact their business. In those cases, it is helpful to bring your ideas to them.
You can do this as part of the annual meeting by presenting an idea that you think may be of value and soliciting their feedback. You could simply preface the idea with, "What impact would it have on your business, if we were able to [idea]…?" or "How valuable would this … [idea] be to you and your business …?" are two examples.
To reach a broader audience with your ideas, you could send a note to your customers explaining the concept you have in mind and asking for their feedback on how much value they see in the idea.
Using online survey tools will make it easy for your customers to respond and for you to consolidate the collected information.
Engage Your Technicians
Who better than your technicians to discuss customer needs with your customers? They have the trust of the customer and direct access to them.
Are there questions you can provide to your technicians to ask customers that can be recorded and captured by the office that will provide added insight into your customers and their needs? For example, questions that will allow them to explore how technology can add new features to the service and whether the customer sees value in capability.
Your technicians are also in an excellent position to identify unmet and partially met needs through their observations. By providing a place on the work order for them to easily and quickly record their observations either manually or electronically, you will capture information and insight on your customers and their needs that would otherwise be lost.
For another way to gain a better understanding of your customers and their needs, consider setting aside part of a service/safety meeting to brainstorm with the technicians on the topic of customer needs and identify ways that will enable you to address them.
You can "salt" the discussion by introducing some of the ideas generated through your technicians' observations. Before implementing any of the ideas generated from this process, you can get feedback directly from your customers through the annual meetings and surveys discussed above.
Address Common Characteristics
Sometimes specific characteristics about a customer group can provide insight into their needs. For example, I was visiting my mother recently when a technician arrived to service her furnace. The technician was obviously very much in tune with my mother's needs. She is in her late 80s and, like many of her generation, not up to speed with technology. She is also not overly comfortable about having strangers in her home.
This technician explained every step that he took from when and why he would be going into the basement, to how long each step should take to when and why he was going out to his truck. At the end of the service, he carefully went over the details of the work performed in clear language. He then asked her about her programmable thermostat and inquired into whether she had any questions about its operation.
It was simple, perhaps even basic, but right in tune with the needs of his customer.
Review Implemented Ideas
It is a good idea to go back to those ideas that you have identified to address specific customer needs and evaluate whether they are delivering the value that was originally intended. This review can be conducted in several ways including through formalized meetings, surveys and discussions with the technician.
Getting to know your customers and their needs will pay dividends. When you become more intimately aware of their needs, you can provide a differentiated service uniquely tailored to them. This will significantly increase the value of the customer experience and differentiate you from your competitors — resulting in higher levels of customer satisfaction and retention.
This, in turn will drive revenue and profitability that will allow you to further differentiate your business through your ability to satisfy your customers' unique needs.
Jim Baston is president of BBA Consulting Group Inc., a management consulting and training firm dedicated to helping technical service firms leverage the untapped potential in their business-development efforts. For additional information, visit jimbaston.com.