If you follow me on Instagram, you may know that Mr. Little and I are doing some remodeling. We’re making over our master bathroom, which has meant that I’ve been on the customer/purchasing side of things over the last few weeks, rather than the business or service provider side.
From interviewing contractors to purchasing plumbing fittings and finishing materials, I’ve dealt with a lot of different companies, selling a lot of different things. Some of which have been easy and delightful, others—not quite so much.
All of which got me thinking about how every interaction you have with your customers is like a line item on your brand’s scorecard. It’s like the report cards you used to get in school where the teacher would grade you on a number of different items, which would all factor into your overall grade.
Similarly, every time your customer interacts with your brand, whether it’s to purchase a product (then use that product), visit your website, call your office, like your Facebook page … all are potentially graded line items on your scorecard.
Your brand is not your logo. It’s an experience.
Often times, the overall grade is the sum of all things good and bad, which balance each other out in the end. However, sometimes a single interaction or touchpoint may affect a customer so negatively, there’s simply no coming back from it. The result? A lost customer, lost revenue, and potentially, bad word of mouth (which we all know can spread like wildfire).
Through this renovation, the one specialty we didn’t hire was an interior designer. I enjoy experimenting with space planning, layout and design, and picking out finishing and furniture. However, I’ve never done a project of this size before, and quickly found myself overwhelmed with the number of choices I had and decisions that needed to be made.
Many of these decisions were the result of scoring the various brands I was working with. Which brings me to my first point about how to ensure your marks are high…
Don’t assume your customer knows what you’re talking about.
Often times, we assume that if a customer is coming to us for what we do, they know something about it. Not true. In reality, many customers have no idea what it is you really do. They have an idea of what they think it is, but it is not often an accurate one.
It’s our job to educate them in a way they understand.
I’ve had numerous conversations with contractors that typically start with presenting the new layout of the bathroom and where all the new plumbing locations are moving. Great, easy. Then it quickly turns to questions of where I want things mounted and how far apart things have to be for code requirements, all of which I know NOTHING about.
Perhaps my doing so much pre-planning (I’ve drawn scaled floor plans), have given them the impression that I am aware of all those things and informed as to what’s required by law. I own my part because there are always two sides to a story.
However, when all those questions came up and I would stare doe-eyed at them, I would have preferred they paused and walked me through what I needed to know and plan for, rather than speeding through all the fine print and scoffing at my lack of knowledge (yes, one person actually made that gutteral scoffing noise at me).
Which brings me to my next point…
Give your customer what they ask for. And if you don’t, explain why.
When we started our project, we had grandiose ideas about all sorts of things we wanted to do to our house. Knock down walls here, add them there, put in windows, refinish floors, reconfigure layouts, change entrances; the list goes on. We wanted to understand the scope of what we had envisioned so that we could prioritize what came first and what needed to get cut altogether due to budget.
As I said above, as a customer, I had no idea what construction projects cost. They don’t teach you that on HGTV.
We very clearly explained our ideas to each of the three different contractors we interviewed, all of whom promised detailed estimates.
Contractor 1 disappeared and was never heard from again.
Contractor 2 provided an estimate within a couple of weeks, after repeated text messages, emails, phone calls, and an unannounced visit to our home. The estimate was only for one room, a small fraction of all we had originally discussed.
Contractor 3 also provided an estimate, in about a month’s time, also after several clarifying phone calls. Their estimate was also incomplete, however, it omitted only a few items, some of which they communicated were beyond the scope of what they could do.
In my own business, I often provide something other than what customers initially ask for. However, I always inform them of why I’m making the recommendation I am and why I feel it’s a better solution for their needs.
None of the contractors we interviewed provided what we asked for. And only one of them disclosed that what they omitted was beyond their scope of expertise.
No one can be good at everything. People will respect you more if you’re honest about knowing the limits of your skill and expertise.
I don’t want to hire a contractor who’s going to muddle their way through construction on my house, winging it just to give me what I ask for. I’d rather they say they can’t do it, and either refer me to someone who can, or bring that person into the job. I didn’t get either.
All of which only highlights another crucial item for how to ensure high marks for your brand:
No one likes to wait for things, especially Type-A me. Your customers are no different.
If you say you’re going to do something—whether that’s research something, email someone, provide an estimate, etc.—do it; and do it in a timely manner.
I see this happen a lot with independent freelancers and small business owners. They have a full client load and are crazy busy and rather frantic. They have no room to take on new clients but they also can’t say no. So things get even more frantic, everything takes longer, and when you realize you forgot things or are running behind, you feel terrible and go dark, halting communication altogether.
Customers hate this. If you’ve committed to something, follow through. You are much better off sending a brief message to say, “I recognize I’m running behind. I haven’t forgotten and want you to know you are a priority. I will be in touch soon when it’s complete.” People would much rather here this than nothing at all.
Depending on what your business is and how you operate it, there are likely numerous more line items that could be scored than what I’m talking about here. The last one I want to highlight though is this:
Consider what your customers want; and more importantly, what they need.
Just yesterday I went to a store to order floor tile and had an experience so poor, it will cause me to never shop from the company again.
Early on in the planning stages, I went to a tile showroom. I found a tile I liked, but decided I’d focus on the shower tile and come back to the floor once I’d made some other selections.
Now it’s time for the floor again. I decided to go back for the original tile I’d found, but this time went to their sister location. Immediately upon arrival, I’d wished we’d gone to this store originally. The place was HUGE—it had a closeout section and a slab yard out back to boot. Tile mecca, basically.
As I paced the aisles desperately trying to locate my floor tile, my agitation increased. The store was nearly empty of both customers and sales reps. There were a total of three; one on the floor helping another couple, and two behind a desk, also with customers. Not a one of whom made eye contact to acknowledge us.
I planted my husband in front of the desk while I continued to scour the aisles. I finally located it, high on the wall, too far for me to reach, and directly under a blinding light. Unable to pull it down, finding a sales rep was now a necessity.
Back at the desk, one customer left and the sales girl helping him quickly hopped on the phone, again without making eye contact or acknowledging us. We waited a full 10 minutes before the other rep, still with a customer, smiled and said she’d be with us soon.
Another five minutes passed and the first rep asked if we needed help. Please note that she asked this from a seated position, without looking up, behind a desk that was easily four feet tall. Given we weren’t standing directly in front of her, she had to ask 3 times before we realized she was speaking to us.
I tell her what I want, that I can’t reach it, and would like to see it at floor level. She offers a sample, which I happily accept. She steps away then quickly returns saying she has no sample and I’ll have to hold my other tile up (even though I just did this and explained to her that it’s not what I wanted).
She escorts us over to the tile and she and my husband ease the tile off the wall and onto the floor. She seems to lighten up and even laughs a little.
Everything matches so we head back to the desk to wrap up the order and pay. After she’s run our credit card, she asks very nonchalantly, again without looking up, “So when do you want to pick up your tile?”
“You don’t deliver?” I ask.
“No,” she responds, without hesitation or follow up information. Nor does she offer an apology.
I’m utterly confused. How exactly would I, a homeowner, who’s barely taller than the desk she’s sitting behind, be able to “pick up” over 1,000 pounds of tile? And how is it that she doesn’t think it’s odd that they don’t offer delivery?
She then goes onto say that they use “this guy named Mike” (her words, not mine) for delivery and that he’s pretty reasonably priced, but I need to call and coordinate with him myself. All I can think to myself at this point is WTF. I simply cannot comprehend why a tile store, who sells to the public, doesn’t deliver.
Irritated and baffled, I get Mike’s number on a post-it note, collect it with my receipt and head out the door. In the car, I pull up my phone to find a delivery service on the internet, preferably one that it a little more reputable.
Instead, for some reason I search for the tile I just purchased and find it offered from another store, at $1 less per sq. ft.
So what do I do?
I called the store I had just left, canceled the order, and purchased it from the internet, of course.
Was it an extra step? Yes.
Did I spend more time than I wanted? Yes.
Did I save money? No (the delivery charge made it equal to what I had paid in the store. However, it was going to be brought right to my door).
Did I get what I wanted? Yes, eventually.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. The overall experience far outweighs the singular product in my mind.
From where I stand, this tile retailer completely failed. I can’t imagine I’m the only homeowner to be disappointed by the lack of delivery service and the added inconvenience to source and coordinate my own.
As a business and a brand, I feel like they sorely neglect a very clear customer need and by doing so, show that they are not deeply service oriented.
My experience with this brand was a complete let down. One that will ensure I do not shop from them ever again. A customer lost, revenue missed.
What grade does your brand receive? What deficiencies does your scorecard reveal?
Being a customer once in a while is good practice to evaluate your own brand and way of doing business. It’s helps you see what sort of things are important to people and how you like to be treated.
Take stock of your own brand touchpoints, how you run your business, and at what points you interact with your customers.
» Are you giving them what they want?
» What they need?
» What they ask for?
» Are you communicating what you know as well as what you don’t?
» Where can you improve?
» What can you do better?
As I’ve said a hundred times before, running your own show is not an exact science. You may receive low marks here and there once in a while. Which is why it’s so important to focus on elements other than your logo or your website.
In the grand scheme of things, they’re only a small fraction of the experience you create for your customers. The other stuff can leave a much more lasting and critical impression.