5 Ways To Add Value For Your Customer (That Won’t Cost You A Thing)

In the service business world, it can be easy to convince yourself it’s all about price. You have potential customers who end up going with whichever company quoted the lowest price and customers who abandon you when a Groupon pops up or an Amazon Prime day offers them 40% off of Amazon Home Services. How can you compete and make a decent living when you’re being undercut on price left and right and that’s all customers seem to care about? Offer more.Man-Being-Offered-Money-In-Exchange-For-Idea

More? What do you mean more? I can’t afford to lose money on every job!

No, I’m not saying you should not charge for products or time, but there are some things you can do to add value for your customer that don’t cost you. Let’s look at some examples:

#1 Clean Up After Yourself

You may think it’s a given that service business crews clean up after themselves, but truthfully, it’s not. Simply by taking precautions to make sure your customer’s property and home stay clean throughout and that you leave no traces behind is a great way to add value that doesn’t make you any less profitable. It may take a little more time to put down drop cloths or vacuum up after a job, but it’s not going to take up your whole day. Just include a little buffer for cleanup in your appointment windows.

#2 Offer To Move Furniture

If you’re a house painter, a flooring guy, or you perform some other home service that may require the moving around of furniture, offer to do it for the customer if you’re physically capable of doing so. This can be an especially valuable service for the elderly and is just one way to make the job less stressful and less of a hassle for your customer.

#3 Go Ahead & Do Small Add-On Services

Did your customer mention needing or wanting a small service performed sometime in the future? Offer to do it while you’re already there and have the products needed. If you’re a painter, this can be offering to go ahead and touch up baseboards while you’re in the home. If you’re a chimney sweep, this can be offering to go ahead and fix a damper that’s missing a pin. Offer to change out a light bulb that’s burned out or swap out an air filter. If you’re open minded and listen to your customer, you’ll likely find it easy to identify small ways you can add value and provide additional services without breaking the bank or wasting time.

#4 Educate Your Customer

One thing you may take for granted as a service professional is your knowledge. You have years of experience and education in a field that most people know nothing about — sharing some of that knowledge can add value to your customer’s life. If you’re a chimney sweep, this may be educating your customer on the best tips for seasoning your wood or getting your fire started. If you’re a house painter, this may be letting your customer know that wiping down a painted wall (especially if it’s a darker color) can leave streaks if a wipeable paint is not used. If keeping their kids’ fingerprints off of their walls is something that’s important to them, recommend a paint product that’s made to be wiped down or washed. These small tips and suggestions can lead to happier customers, and all it takes is a little attention, listening, and sharing.

#5 Be On Time Or Call If You’re Going To Be Late

You might be amazed at how many service professionals are perpetually late and don’t take two seconds to call the next customer and let them know. Most customers will understand that things come up and schedules change, but if you don’t take the time to call and let your customer know you’re not going to make the agreed upon time, your customer will feel disrespected. Make every effort to be on time to each and every appointment — and when things don’t go according to plan, make the phone call, apologize, and let them know when they can expect you and that this isn’t the norm.

What are some ways you add value to customers? We’d love to hear them!

Which Comes First: The Employee Or The Customer?

In both big and small companies, customer service, for the most part, sucks. We hear all the time that companies need to create a “customer-centric culture,” but is that really the answer?Chick-Coming-Out-Of-A-Brown-Egg

We’re willing to bet that the companies with major customer service problems are the same companies with major employee problems. These companies treat their employees terribly and then wonder why their customers end up being treated like dirt. It’s not rocket science: if you’re treating your employees like expendable burdens, you can expect them to treat your customers the same. Let’s look at some quick examples of companies that can’t seem to get either right:

United Airlines

It’s been a year of epic fails for United Airlines. In fact, you can’t Google their brand without learning of yet another big failure (Go ahead, Google them. We’ll wait). Perhaps the worst part is that these less than stellar episodes now define the brand. The brand is no longer what they say they are, but what we see them to be. They can make all the heartwarming ads they want, but people perceive them as insincere. Why? Momma taught us, “Actions speak louder than words,” and when it comes to backing up the talk about how important their customers are to them, United leaves customers feeling the complete opposite.

And it’s not any better for employees. In a recent Unpodcast episode, Scott & Alison Stratten talked with Dave Carrol, one of the many people who have had a terrible experience with United. The difference is, Dave wrote a song about it, “United Breaks Guitars.” Since then, he’s received letters from United employees, and the resounding message is: If you think it’s bad flying with us, try working here.

Uber

Uber, the ride-sharing company, has had its fair share of incidents over the years, including rapes, murders, robberies, and assault. But since the drivers for Uber aren’t “technically” employees (they’re contract workers), the company has been relieved of all responsibility in these incidents. It makes you wonder, if the company isn’t responsible for the folks providing service to customers and doesn’t have any sort of standard for how customers should be treated, how can they ensure a great and safe customer experience for their customers? Well, the answer is: they can’t, but do they care? Let’s look at their company culture…

Want sexual harassment cases and sexism? What about poor treatment of employees and unfair wages? Looking for a CEO who doesn’t care about the law, his employees, or really anything other than money? Uber has it all, or had it all — the CEO and founder, Travis Kalanick stepped down earlier this year. And although Uber’s cleaned house, fired many employees, and hired an Apple marketing executive to “rescue its tainted brand,” can they really make the change when the current culture is so pervasive? And if so, is it too late, since most of us have already made up our minds about what kind of brand Uber is? Time will tell.

The Heart Of The Problem

From an outsider’s point of view, there are a couple of major flaws at the center of the culture of companies like Uber and United:

Us & Them Mentality

Whether it’s “us,” the upper management and “them,” the employees or contract workers, or “us,” the company and “them,” the customers, an “us & them” mentality and culture is a big problem. Not to get too philosophical or political, but this is the mindset behind a large portion of the world’s problems.

So what’s so dangerous about this mindset? It removes empathy, understanding, and even the desire to know or understand the “other.” It’s divisive, not uniting, which is kind of ironic in United’s case, because they clearly have an “us & them” culture — just read the letter that the CEO sent to employees and consider the circumstances around the “passenger dragged from the plane” incident in April. 

Uber has this at the heart of its culture as well, which is evident in the way they completely reject any responsibility for the behavior and actions of workers representing the company. This separation mindset makes it impossible for a company to truly deliver exceptional service and treat both its employees and customers with respect, which is why you don’t see either within Uber.

The Scarcity Mindset

Another big cultural problem is the scarcity vs. abundance mentality. Think about how you feel when your tanks are empty and you aren’t getting enough sleep, food, love, _______. In these times, do you feel like giving or taking?

Now, think of how you feel when you’ve got everything you need and more; how you feel when someone else is generous and kind towards you. Are you more generous and kind towards others? It’s no different as an employee. If you don’t feel you’re getting even the most basic care and respect from the company you work for, you’re not going to feel like giving even the most basic care and respect to the customers you interact with.

You Can Suck, But You Can’t Hide

The problem (for companies like Uber and United) is this: today’s customers, especially millennials, want to use their consumption choices to make a statement about who they are and what they believe in. They want to work with companies that reflect their values, and thanks to the Internet, it doesn’t take long for us to decide which companies align and which simply say they do. These days, you can still suck, but you can no longer hide the fact that you suck — your customers and potential customers will find out.

So what’s the solution? Treat people decent. Just treat people decent, whether they work for your company or they purchase your products or services. Don’t go through all the work of creating a “customer-centric” culture if you aren’t also putting your employees at the center. It’s not one or the other or one before the other, it’s both — and it’s time companies accept that reality.

6 Things You Can Do When You’re Not Ready To Partner With Us

We love partnering up with local service businesses as they power on towards their dreams, but the reality is, not every business is ready to make that commitment, financially or otherwise. If you fit into that category, we want to give you 6 tips for what you can be doing until you are ready to work with us. Here you go!Diagram-Of-A-Plan

1. Network.

Getting involved in local networking groups like BNI, your local Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, Jaycees, Gold Star Referral Club, etc. is a great way to get your business name out there and gain referrals. It’s also beneficial for you as a business owner to connect with other business owners and build relationships with those in your community. So get involved, even if you don’t think of yourself as the networking type.

2. Make The News.

Most people watch the news, which is why getting a local news spot is one of the best ways to get your name out to those in your local area. Reach out to a local reporter and give them a story. Are you a chimney sweep? Maybe it’s chimney swift season or there have been a series of chimney-related house fires. Look for opportunities to present yourself as an authority and educate or inspire those in your community.

3. Give Back.

Getting your company involved with a charity is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Not only is charity work good for your spirit, but it communicates to your employees and customers that you care about more than just what you can gain from those in your community. You’ll meet new people, get involved in meaningful, big-picture work, and you may even discover new ways to raise funds and awareness through your business throughout the year. Everyone wants to find purpose and meaning in their day job, especially on the tough days when things don’t seem to be going right. Partnering with a charity and using your business to give back can provide that purpose and meaning.

4. Sponsor Teams & Events.

Have you considered sponsoring local sports teams and events, like little league teams, football teams, soccer teams, golf tournaments, tennis matches, local chamber events, community fairs, or town festivals? Getting your business involved through sponsorship can provide yet another way for those in your community to discover you and the services you provide. Plus, like the other tips on this list, team and event sponsorship provides the opportunity to build relationships and network with those you may not have otherwise come in contact with.

5. Get Social.

Everyone’s getting social on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and if you aren’t there to be a part of the conversation, you’re missing out! Some studies have shown that more than 60% of consumers check a business’s Facebook page before deciding to do business with them. Would those looking for you find you? Social media also provides great advertising opportunities, and since social profiles are free, they’re a cost-effective way to communicate important things like hours and services to those looking for you. Get out there, create social profiles, post engaging and informative content, and let your customers and potential customers see your personality, core values, and what makes you and your business special. Get creative, have fun, and socialize with your customers!

6. Get Your Culture, Procedures, And Customer Service Right.

When it makes sense for you to start investing in online marketing, you want to make sure you get the best ROI. But no matter how many potential customers your website or Ad spend sends your way, if you have scheduling problems, procedural problems, or customer service problems, you’re going to lose out and fail to convert some of those leads. So take this time to work on getting your company culture, procedures, systems, and customer service 100%. By getting all of these things established and in peak condition before you’re ready for us, you’ll be able to confidently serve the customers that find you through your online marketing efforts when you are ready for us. You’ll already have operations and customer service down to a science so you can focus on retaining the new customers coming into your sales funnel so they don’t go looking for anyone else.

If financial constraints or other constraints are preventing you from working with a digital marketing company, don’t get discouraged; there are still things you can be doing. Go out there and make the most of this time — we’ll be here for you when you’re ready!

Are You Eliminating Or Creating Problems For Your Customers?

Every day, we encounter problems and hiccups that cause annoyance and stress. Even the most minute and trivial problem can decrease joy when repeated and multiplied – especially when you’re having “one of those days.”

Take your phone, for example. Have you ever had an app shut down on you while you were in the middle of doing something? What about the view flipping between landscape and portrait while you’re trying to show someone a photo you took? Or what about when you’re too fast for your unlock passcode and think your phone has registered four numbers when it’s only registered three? These are little, meaningless annoyances – #FirstWorldProblems in the grand scheme of things. But when you’re having a bad day, every one of these can be the “last straw.” What if you could put a stop to all of those little annoyances? As small as they are, wouldn’t that make you just a tinge less stressed and more content?woman-stressed-out

Now, let’s apply this concept to business.  When a company is committed to pinpointing those little problems and hiccups in relation to their services, and eliminating them for a more seamless and pleasant customer experience, they have the power to reduce the stress levels and boost the contentment levels of their customers. They have the power to create a more pleasant customer experience and keep the association positive and stress-free.

And in many cases, eliminating those little problems is easy. But you can’t eradicate what you can’t see – and you can’t see what you aren’t looking for. Are you looking?

Read into reviews and feedback. Feedback and reviews aren’t just for other customers – they’re for you! Really analyze what your customer liked about the experience and what they didn’t like about the experience. Sometimes the wording used and the things your customer chooses to mention or leave out can reveal so much. Look for the big “but” in each review. What follows will usually let you know where the customer felt discomfort, stress, or disappointment.

Ask your customers, family, and friends. I know it’s crazy, but have you considered asking your customers and others in your life what little problems or hiccups in service reduced their overall satisfaction? Maybe they found it annoying that the service provider didn’t ask before using their restroom. Maybe it bothered them that no one mentioned the service charge when the appointment was made. These are things that, as the business owner, you may not think about. Asking those on the customer side of things can reveal what’s hidden to you, but obvious to the customer.

Hire your own company or another company to perform the service in your home. If you can be objective, take things a step further and actually spend some time in the customer’s shoes. Hire your own company or another company to come out and do the job in your home. The perk of hiring your own company is that you’ll get a true idea of what type of experience your customers are having. The perk of hiring another company is that you’ll see what they do better or worse than you, which may open your eyes to opportunities to improve and surpass their level of service.

Read the reviews of your competitors. So many business owners are obsessed with their competitors, but they don’t take the time to really use their competitors for their own growth.

Read your competitors’ reviews! See what their customers liked and disliked about their experience. You don’t have to be the best, you just have to be better. Look for where your competitors are succeeding and failing and use that knowledge to improve your business and win over new customers.

Don’t just perform a service – improve your customers’ lives, every little way you can.

 

If you’re having trouble getting online reviews for your company, check out The Spark Review Engine™ – it works!

How To Keep Your Brand’s Message And Image Clear As A Bell

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Yelp, Google+…there are more soap boxes for dissatisfied customers to shout from than ever before. And because these platforms don’t have borders, messages can go further, faster. Most of us have come to terms with this reality and know that businesses can’t afford to have an “off” day or even an “off” moment. There is no “on” or “off” time for service businesses in the Internet age. But should this level of speed and transparency really change anything?

Brand Message Communication - Spark MarketerIf you think about it, there’s never been a time when it was okay for service businesses to be inconsistent in their messages or level of service. The only real difference is that now, we, the business owners, can very clearly see the messages our customers are putting out there regarding their experiences with us. These messages are heard by other customers and potential customers, and become part of our brand message. But many business owners are so consumed by their fear of negative online reviews and comments that they shut down – they miss the treasure altogether and forget to ask the questions that really matter:

Are certain people or behaviors in your company sending out the wrong messages and hurting your business? Where is your message breaking down and why?

Your brand message isn’t just coming from your marketing department these days, but from your social accounts and every single employee that is a part of the customer experience. If you’re cringing at the messages your customers are receiving, zoom out and take a hard look at what’s really wrong.

Is Someone On Your Team Sending Out The Wrong Messages & Hurting Your Business?

I recently went to a new coffee shop in town to grab a Green Tea latte and get some work done. I was pretty excited when I walked in to find the place empty, with the exception of one employee. (In fact, I texted my coworker several confetti emojis to express my joy.) I placed my order, took a look around, and chose the perfect little table with the perfect lighting. As jazz music played softly, I opened up my laptop and prepared for a record-breaking productivity streak.

But shortly after I started typing, the barista picked up her cell phone, prematurely ending my epic productivity streak. She talked with her friend about every car her brother had ever had, when she had last taken the bus to work, how her mom had been nagging her to get her flu shot…yada, yada, yada. It completely ruined the atmosphere and made it impossible to focus. My hopes were dashed.

Now, I know everyone thinks millennials are the worst and have no idea what professionalism looks like, but I’m here to defend at least some of us. I’ve had several jobs in the service industry and I would never have considered having a personal conversation in front of a customer. In fact, I would have lost my job if I pulled out my phone while working.

Even though I was frustrated by this situation, I’m a relatively easygoing person and decided to give the barista the benefit of the doubt. I figured she would hang up any minute and restore the focus-friendly atmosphere. Instead, she committed the cardinal sin: she talked about the customer and the job as an inconvenience…in front of the customer (me).

“There’s nobody here…just one person. It’s so slow…”
“I told you, I’ll do that when I’m able. I have a customer and it’s a very small place.”
“I still have hours to go and I just want to leave…”

Ok, now I just felt awkward. My patience had worn thin, so I packed up my stuff and headed to the door. As I left she said, “Have a nice night.”

Now, I’ve been to this coffee shop several times, and with the exception of this particular instance, I’ve always had a wonderful experience. In fact, I’ve been there when there were only a couple of other people in the place, and the other baristas had always maintained professionalism. But that one bad experience has forever tainted my view of the shop, because it left me with a very different brand message and made me question the kind of customer experience I would have on my next visit. Now, even though I have had positive experiences with all of the baristas but one, the honeymoon is over. Is someone at your company ending the honeymoon for your customers?

Where Is Your Message Breaking Down & Why?

Broken Brand Message - Spark MarketerI was on the road recently and stopped in at a Sheetz to grab a water and use the bathroom. If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn that my 5-year-old twin nieces had just been left unattended in the women’s room for a solid half hour. The floor was covered in water and paper towels, and it looked like the trashcan was more of suggestion than a requirement. It just so happened that right at the heart of this disaster was a sign from the owner, which read:

We want you to be satisfied every time you visit Sheetz, so I personally promise the cleanliness of all Sheetz restrooms. If they’re not to your satisfaction, or if you feel there is room for improvement, please call me toll free at …

Obviously, Mr. Sheetz’s brand message and standards did not translate at this particular location. So, is it the owner’s fault that I got a very different brand message than the message he intended me to get? Where and why did his message break down? How can you make sure that everyone in your company maintains professionalism and upholds your company values and culture when you aren’t around?

Hire Right!

The first step is to hire right. This is easier said than done, but if you take the time to do it right, you’ll have employees that you can trust to uphold your brand message, whether you’re in the room or not. Here’s a great article on how Southwest Airlines approaches hiring to ensure a clear brand message and consistent culture.

Communicate Company Culture

Does your team even know what brand message you’re trying to communicate? Do they know what qualities you value and what kind of company culture you’re trying to create and uphold? If this isn’t communicated clearly to your employees, how can they work with you to keep your brand message consistent and protect your company culture? Team meetings, SOPs, employee manuals, and company mission statements are just a few ways you can communicate this to your employees.

Set Expectations & Lead Well

As a business owner, it’s important that you set expectations for your employees. For example, when I worked in the service industry, my employers made it very clear that I was expected to stay off of my cell phone for the entire length of my shift. When I was at work, our clients were my world. Because I knew what was expected of me and what types of behaviors were and weren’t acceptable, it didn’t matter if my bosses were around – I communicated the brand message they wanted me to communicate.

But you don’t have to get out the employee manual or make a long list of rules to communicate these expectations – you can lead by example. If you maintain professionalism and handle yourself appropriately at work, your employees should hear the message loud and clear and follow suit.

Zoom Out & Make Changes

Don’t wait for a negative customer experience or a nasty online review, take a long look at your company and staff now, and ask yourself what could be done differently to ensure that your customers are receiving your brand message clearly and consistently. If you see areas that could use some improvement, don’t be afraid to make those changes! Your business, your customers (both existing and potential), and your employees will thank you for it!