This week I experienced the stark contrast between a business that implements systems to address issues and one with no set strategy. It struck me that this “tale of two customer relations strategies was the perfect illustration of how establishing business systems can save your business.
As a small business owner and military spouse, I tend to favor businesses that also fall into those categories. Part of it is that I choose to support folks that are in a similar situation to mine and I like working with people who can identify my own challenges and lifestyle. With the military’s frequent moves, I generally count on word of mouth recommendations to find the services that I need. From mechanics to doctors to boarding my horse, my first solution is to post a question on my Facebook to ask for suggestions. From there on, though, its up to each business to establish professionalism and prove they deserve the business I’m bringing them. The two situations I encountered recently were both businesses that came personally recommended, that I was initially satisfied with, and that I planned to continue using.
The Service In Question
Business #1: I board my horse at a dressage barn, Salado Creek Riding Club, almost 30 minutes from my home. The distance is a little farther than I would like but the facilities are wonderful and I enjoy the dressage trainer who teaches at and manages the facility. Obviously, this is something of a luxury (as horses always are, no matter how necessary they may feel). It is very important to me that my horse’s care is consistent enough that I can be confident that everything is okay when family or work obligations prevent me from checking on him – sometimes for a week at a time. I have been boarding at SCRC since the beginning of August and have had no complaints. I enjoy the atmosphere and have recommended it to multiple friends.
Business #2: Last month, I finally pulled the trigger on a question I’d been debating for the better part of a year – I booked a monthly cleaning service. As a working mom who is also trying to get fit and pursue a time consuming hobby (riding horses), I have to guard my time. It is vital to me that I’m using my time in a way that matches up to my priorities – both personal and professional. A clean home is necessary for me – I’m one of those people who is very bothered when my environment is cluttered and needing attention – but I wanted to spend my evenings enjoying my son and husband instead of scrubbing bathrooms. After requests for personal recommendations and interviewing services, I settled on one that had availability before my husband’s return from Afghanistan and offered a monthly deep clean. The first service happened at 8 am on a Monday in November and made a wonderful difference in my home, although it took longer than I’d been told to expect as one 1 employee was sent instead of the 2 that had been scheduled. I spoke to the owner to schedule about a week before the initial clean in mid November and also scheduled the December visit for a month later.
An issue emerges
Business #1: In early November, I clipped my horse – gave him a hair cut to eliminate the heavy winter coat that had him sweating profusely every time I road. Clipping made him more comfortable while working and resulted in less grooming time with every ride – a big help for a busy working amateur. That clip means that he needs to be blanketed and those blankets changed regularly thanks to Central Texas weather. It is not unusual to have 30 degree temperature swings in this area of the world, which can make blanketing especially challenging. Over the last month, a few other boarders and I had noticed that the blankets were not being consistently changed to reflect the variable weather and this was brought to the attention of the resident trainer last week. From my perspective, my horse’s blanket was consistently being removed when the weather warmed up but not always being put back on in the afternoons.
Business #2: Two weeks after my initial clean, I was surprised to find the cleaning service again at my door on a Thursday morning. In response to my puzzled question about the scheduling, the employee asked if I had heard from the owner as she should have called to confirm that I would be there. After establishing that I had already scheduled my next clean for December, they expressed that they must have the wrong “Smith” and left. I didn’t hear back. Bright and early on Monday of this week, they were again at the front door – 3 days earlier than I had expected them and a different time than I had notated ( 9 am instead of 8 am). When I opened the door and explained that I had scheduled for Wednesday, they explained that they had car trouble, were running an hour late, and had been scheduled to clean my house then not Wednesday. Unfortunately, I had a sick husband and had made plans for meetings and to be out of house for part of the morning and could not accommodate the schedule change.
Addressing the problem
Business #1: When I spoke to the trainer last week, she immediately offered a couple of options for more clearly communicating blanketing needs. I shared some ideas that I had seen at previous barns and between the four people participating in the conversation, there were a couple easily implemented ideas. By the weekend, the barn had provided colored duct tape to use to label blankets and thermometers labeled with the duct tape. The idea was that each color of tape indicated a temperature range associated with a specific thickness of blanket. Each horse owner could use the tape to easily identify which of their blankets they wanted used at a specified temperature range. It created a consistent, easily communicated and implemented system. It also placed a degree of control in the hands of clients. Early in the week, an email was sent to the barn’s client email list outlining the new system and inviting any questions. After just a few days, implementation is well on its way.
Business #2: When I explained to the cleaning service employees on my door that I had scheduled my service for Wednesday not Monday and could not accommodate the change, they called the business owner. By this point, I’d been standing in my open front door in my yoga pants and tshirt (a definite perk of working from home) for more than a few minutes. After a quick conversation where the employee explained that I had not planned to be at home that morning to the business owner, I was handed the phone. What followed was the most frustrating customer relations experience I have had in months. I spoke to the owner for almost 20 minutes. I explained that when we had scheduled the original clean, I had notated on my calendar that the December clean would be done on the same date in December – the 17th – which was Wednesday and had planned my schedule around that. No, I could not change my schedule. No, I could not leave them in my house while I went on about my planned day. The business owner rather condescendingly explained to me that she schedules based on a four week cycle depending on the day of the week, not the date. I apologized for the miscommunication, and questioned whether a follow up or reminder in writing had not been sent or a phone call made as my previous conversation with the employee had indicated would happen. With each of my questions, the business owner became flustered and frustrated and complained that she only reminded her “elderly” clients and I should not need that as I appeared to be about the same age as her. She insisted that she had nowhere for her employees to go for the next few hours and that was my fault because I didn’t understand that “monthly” meant every four weeks in her scheduling. She complained that she couldn’t reschedule for Wednesday and had to talk to those clients and so on. Understanding that there had been a miscommunication, I offered to reschedule for a different day but received the same frustrated response. After several minutes of this, I hit my frustration point and suggested that I should just cancel the service – after all, paying a cleaning service should make my life easier instead of harder! At that, I was told that there would be charges and there were vague references made to additional charges if I didn’t let them clean that day as scheduled. In the end, they left with no resolution and my assurance to the employees that they had done nothing wrong. I slammed my front door and told my husband that it was not worth it if I was paying $100+ a month to deal with this hassle. To be honest, I was in a bad mood for the rest of the morning because of that encounter.
Business #1: The day following the instructional email, I applied the colored duct tape as outlined and checked with the barn staff to let them know I had completed it. I thanked the trainer for putting something in place and went on with my ride. I thought about it again this morning, gratefully, as the temperature dropped overnight and I can be confident that blankets were adjusted as needed. My complaint has turned into something that I appreciate about the business.
Business #2: Following that distinctly unpleasant phone call, I chose to use email to follow up. As there is no email listed on the cleaning service’s website (I didn’t notice that before as I had called), I used the website contact form to express, again, my apology for the miscommunication, question the previous unscheduled appearance, and that I would prefer to use email to coordinate the rescheduled clean so I had it to refer back to. Instead, I received a rambling voice mail message that repeatedly referenced other clients and referenced late Wednesday as a possible time for the clean. There was no expression of apology or empathy and a distinct implication that I was inconveniencing her. Again, it irritated me and I chose not to reschedule the clean.
It’s about the systems
In this instance, it was systems – and how each business’s systems reflected their customer relations strategy – that made all the difference. Business #1 heard about a problem, invited feedback, implemented a suggestion, then used an established communication channel to communicate the solution to relevant clients. It’s likely that there were clients on that list who had also identified the same issue but hadn’t addressed it. In those cases, she solved their problem before they even brought it to her – major customer relations win!
Business #2 was set up for failure by a lack of systems – ineffective communication ( a simple written followup would have easily caught and solved the miscommunication), a lack of any scheduling reminder (which is pretty standard for a monthly service that requires access to a client’s home), demonstrated disorganization in the scheduling with employees and failing to communicate in the client’s preferred method. I was completely satisfied with the initial service as it was provided, but the frustration of dealing with ineffective business systems and abrasive customer relations lost them my account and the ongoing income. I also shared the experience on my social media accounts and personally messaged every person that I had recommended the service to and updated them on my experience and choice to discontinue. I was obviously frustrated – enough so that I have managed to write what might be my longest blog post ever.
So. How does this apply to your business?
Every business has systems – how you handle initial inquiries, how you follow up with people, how you address people who cancel your service or return a product. The effectiveness and thoroughness of those systems can be either a tremendous tool in excellent customer relations or a source of frustration for unsatisfied clients.
Not sure where to start? Here are a few ideas:
- immediately implement an email list, bonus points if it can be segmented based on service provided or timeline
- establish a tracking system to note clients’ preferences regarding communications and any issues they may bring to you so that you can follow up later
- take a hard look at your scheduling – is there a way to make it easier and more convenient for your client?
- examine your website – are your policies clearly expressed?
- review your intake process – whether you sell a product or provide a service, does the intake process make expectations clear to the client and provide opportunities to catch miscommunications?
Still not sure how systems can grow your business? Schedule a free consultation to get specific, immediately implementable ideas!