The profile of the customer has changed significantly over the last several years. Consumers want an “experience” from technology and service providers that delivers more than parts and pieces. They expect a seamless operation with no hiccups or downtime and the ability to control devices from their smartphones or other IP connections. When they reach out, customers expect a quick response or an instant notification that the message has been read and received.
How do your customers rate you? Do you know how to nurture your customers and grow your business beyond the design-installation phase? The customer experience is a critical part of an electrical contractor’s profitability in low-voltage and security contracting. When executed successfully, it results in a satisfied client likely to stay long-term.
Tapping into experience
Customers aren’t shy about sharing and have become increasingly well-informed when it comes to products, service and pricing. A positive or negative customer experience in any business is a powerful force that reaps definite consequences. According to American Express, happy customers will share positive experiences with 11 or so people, and angry ones will let their negative experience known to about 15. American Express also reported that consumers are willing to spend 17% more at a company with outstanding customer service.
Designing, specifying and installing a top-quality professional security system is where most contractors excel, but many stay hyper-focused on hardware and may be missing the benefits and residual payoffs of excellent customer service, such as a constant flow of upgrades and add-ons, work at multiple locations and a solid reputation at fueling referrals. According to customer research firm Invesp, investing in new customers is between five and 25 times more expensive than retaining existing ones.
Setting the stage
A contractor with a positive reputation for meeting and exceeding customer expectations can expect regular business and less competition, according to Matt Firestone, president of Firestone Consulting Group, Lincoln, Neb. Firestone, who specializes in scaling electrical contracting businesses, said it’s not about being the least expensive but about active listening, asking good questions and discovering the customer’s needs and pain points.
“Business owners are starting to see that the low dollar is not the best value and are looking for contractors who are going to take care of them at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter so much to them about the parts or pieces and all comes down to customer service and relationships,” Firestone said.
Firestone said the little things make a difference—the follow-through and follow-up processes that should include quick surveys for feedback and regular interaction with the customer—to create an opportunity to gain more work.
“What happens is, because of your reputation and ability to solve customer problems and meet expectations, you naturally have less competition. They come to you with all their work, including service. You need to focus on long-term customers rather than simply conducting a business transaction,” Firestone said. “Start building more of those relationships and you’ll find it’s a better business model than competing for the low dollar.”
Firestone said one of the potential missing elements in premier customer service is a top-down approach that permeates through the business.
“Every time you touch the customer is an opportunity to gain more work. Often, it’s the owner of the contracting company or a project manager who has the relationship, but what they forget is that everyone in the organization represents their company, starting with the person answering calls to the electrician in the field facing the customer. Those are the people portraying the company’s image. Every employee needs to demonstrate a genuine willingness to get the client or prospect to the right person to assist or answer questions,” Firestone said.
The consultative approach—becoming a trusted adviser by listening to the client to achieve their goals—is the way to ensure a positive experience for the customer. This mindset is the philosophy of Commonwealth Electric Co., Lincoln, Neb., said Brian Buskirk, low-voltage manager.
“Our approach is up-front, honest and what’s best for the customer. When dealing with security, the customer has to feel supported, and not just over phone calls and emails. You go to their location prepared with an aerial plan and other background and walk the job with them,” Buskirk said. “In the instance of a surveillance project, we ask them what they want to see with cameras and what their plans are moving forward, so they only have to buy once but have the flexibility to upgrade to their vision in the future.”
Buskirk said the security team performs testing and programming at the Omaha facility prior to bringing technologies to the field, which helps ensure a smooth installation process and positive results.
“The goal is to make your customers feel safe and secure with the services you provide. When they do, they’ll keep coming back for add-ons and become a solid source of referrals,” Buskirk said.
Stay front and center
Keeping in touch with the customer reinforces an ongoing relationship and allows the security contractor to offer new services, upgrades or add technologies regularly. It also keeps the customer aware of services the contractor offers.
“Security contractors have historically been focused on customers and making sure they are taken care of, and they are quite good at it,” said Dean Belisle, consultant at Belisle Insights, Shelby Township, Mich. Belisle has decades of experience in security contracting, business development and central station operations.
“Where they fall short is not capitalizing on it by going back to them regularly. When you have a customer for many years but only talk to them four or five times annually, they might not even be aware of all the services you currently offer. Contractors lose clients because customers assume they don’t offer some of the latest technologies they see on television,” Belisle said.
There’s a tendency to take the path of least resistance with the customer by just being good at answering calls and servicing existing systems, Belisle said.
“Every time customers call, make sure there’s follow-up. Ask them if they know of the different services you offer. Point them to a website or send a follow-up email with a link to the website or a video,” he said. “When they call for service, email or text to confirm an appointment. As you start to do all that it becomes a way to ask, ‘Did you know we also do this?’”
One of the biggest mistakes is failing to collect current email addresses.
“Every time you book an appointment or service, collect or verify the email address. Start building your database and you can do inexpensive marketing, like email campaigns, with special offers or new services,” Belisle said.
Technology has changed dramatically, Belisle said, along with customer expectations.
“If the client calls and you don’t respond in three minutes, it’s considered poor service. Get adept at having a process to respond immediately, even if it’s an auto-response. Or, open a chat on the website for customers to communicate,” he said. “The biggest hurdle is recognizing where you come up short and finding the right resources or hiring someone like a customer service specialist, a call-center specialist or inside sales personnel.”
Expectations from customers are higher than ever as they seek out the ultimate experience. Focus on your customers beyond hardware, answer questions and queries quickly and take action by collecting regular feedback. Exceptional customer service makes for happier customers and ones likely to be your client for years to come.