Electrical contractors field calls daily in response to their customer’s electrical needs. What separates the good electrical contractors from the great electrical contractors is how they respond to their customers. Whether you believe it or not, you are a problem solver. You may think you respond pretty well when a potential customer asks for a quote for a fire alarm system, but take a minute or two and think about how you process requests. You receive the call. The customer tells you he or she wants a fire alarm system. Do you ask why? Do you assume the system is to meet the minimum requirements of the building code? Do you inquire about the customer’s fire protection goals?

The customer’s needs will presumably be satisfied when you agree to provide a proposal for the fire alarm system, but what are the customer’s expectations? Taking care of your customer’s needs goes beyond the initial request for services, and that involves time, follow up, research and money.

In a recent Web article discussing how to build customer loyalty, Tracey Lowrance, president and CEO of OutSource ConneXion, said customers expect the following:

1. Solid information

2. Options

3. Single source service

4. Superior communication

5. Consulting

6. A seamless relationship

Applying these tips to a contractor who provides fire alarm system installations is very relevant. As a fire alarm system specialist, you must have the latest technical information available regarding types of systems and detection solutions. Your customers expect that you will know the applicable codes and standards and will use that knowledge to develop a cost-effective solution to meeting their fire protection goals. Ask them what they expect the fire alarm system to do. The answers will determine the type of system and the extent of detection you will need to provide to meet their goals and expectations.

In many cases the fire alarm system will be added to an existing building. Customers will want to know what their options will be. Do they need a special kind of detection, such as aspirating-type or spot-type smoke detection? They may have concerns regarding the impact the installation will make architecturally, or there may be concerns for the historical nature of the building.

Providing a single source of service does not mean you will be a dealer or distributor for the fire alarm system equipment you provide. It means you have a close relationship with your fire alarm equipment supplier and that your technicians are trained by that supplier to install, troubleshoot and repair the equipment as well as the supplier’s technicians can. This means customers can make a single call, and you will take responsibility for ensuring the problem is solved without blaming nonperformance on your supplier. In other words, customers find that you are easy to do business with.

When it comes to communicating with the customer, you need to take the lead, meaning use nontechnical and nonindustry descriptions of the fire alarm system and its operation. This way, customers truly understand what they are getting.

Also, ensure you meet your commitments. Meeting your commitments develops a bond with customers who then become comfortable working with someone they can trust.

Customers call you for their fire alarm system needs because you have become their consultant. In their minds, you are the expert. That is why it is so important to understand their needs. Your responses must be on target. It also is why you need to be the expert regarding codes and standards.

We often hear about companies “going the extra mile” for their customers. For an electrical contractor, providing a fire alarm system for a customer is providing life safety for the occupants of that customer’s property or business. Learn more about what your customers do, so you will be able to respond better to their needs.

It also is important that you stay in touch with your customers, informing them of new developments in the fire alarm systems field. By staying in touch, you continue to cement your relationship, becoming more than just another electrical contractor. If you show concern for customers and their operations, they will come to respect and trust you and your judgment. Stick with the basics of providing excellent service with a reputation for being knowledgeable in the field.

Creating loyal customers who become repeat customers is a sure way to continued profits and growth.

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a co-editor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office.