The ABCs: Make It Easy For Your Customers

Posted by Mike Rogers on August 16, 2011
The ABCs: Make It Easy For Your Customers

"Eighty percent of success is showing up." --Woody Allen

But showing up on time, listening to and responding to your customers’ needs, knocking down obstacles for them, and protecting their homes will get you the rest of the way there.

It happened again recently. I heard from another person in the industry—someone who works on the program and training side but not in homes—about her dismal experience trying to get an energy audit and work done after the audit. I’ll call her Grace. After a series of phone calls just trying to schedule the audit, she had to wait for someone who didn’t show up on time. When he got there, he seemed more interested in proving how smart he was than in listening to her concerns, goals, and budget! After the audit, she again had to play hunter and call repeatedly to get results. Grace literally had to wait a couple of months for a report. And what a report! It gave a laundry list of problems with the home and a set of improvements that would have cost $50,000—on a $5,000 budget. But that was only the audit. Service and attitude didn’t improve with the project, which she almost didn’t go through with because it had turned into a royal pain in the ***.

Grace was probably one of the most motivated customers any one of us would ever have the pleasure of working with. It should have been easy. It should have resulted in a happy customer who was certain to applaud the project and rave about the benefits to her neighbors. Instead, Grace would up shaking her head and wondering about the future of our industry.

Despite the economic turmoil, home energy upgrades are still in an exciting place, and have a potentially rewarding livelihood. It’s important to remember, though, that good ideas and good intentions don’t automatically lead to sustainable success and profit. At its core, home performance is still a business, and to succeed you cannot ignore the critical business elements. At the heart of that is remembering that we’re here to serve our customers.

Make it Easy for Your Customers
You’ll spend much of your energy trying to find customers. And whether you’re a contractor that installs work or a consultant who does audits, your long term success depends on winning your customer over and making the project as easy as possible for them. On the front end, common sense (and experience) tells us the easier we make it for our customers, the more likely they are to do business with us. On the back end, happy customers mean referrals—and that means more business!

Let’s start with what’s so obvious, we often forget to do it, or train our crew to do it:

  • When people call, answer the phone.
  • Return calls when you say you will.
  • Show up on time, in clean clothes.
  • Protect your customers’ home and property.
  • For Heaven’s sake, if you’ve done an audit, get the report back to the customer within days, a week on the outside.

Protect their home. This means don’t leak oil in the driveway, don’t track dirt on the carpet, and don’t let the pets escape. Do keep your customer informed and make sure you clean up after yourself. Doing these simple things will beat out 90 percent of your competition, even if you have to pull out the cheat sheet to figure out how to set up your DG700.

Beyond the obvious are many things you can do to make the diagnosis, sales, and installation process easier.

First and too often ignored is financing. Home performance jobs are complex. They often include multiple combinations of insulation, air-sealing, heating, cooling, windows, doors, lighting and appliances. It’s not uncommon to see work scopes exceeding $10,000 or even $20,000. Most customers can’t—or don’t want to—pay cash for big ticket jobs. If you don’t help them, you’ll either lose them altogether or wind up with a smaller and less complete job. At a minimum, you need to be able to steer customers to financing. Even better, you should facilitate the process and directly connect the customer to the program or lender.

With financing, more attractive rates do help. But they don’t have to be 0 percent - the sweet spot is in the range of 4 percent. At least as important as the rate is the ease of access. The faster and more hassle free the financing, the more likely you are to get uptake. Regardless of the rate, though, have multiple options, even market rate options in your tool belt. If you’re not able or allowed to facilitate the financing, at least be able to direct your customers to the lenders, and let them know what information they’ll need. When you help figure it out and work through it, oddly enough, they’re more likely to figure it out and work through it!

One-stop shop
Money is important, but so is time. A process that requires multiple visits to the home is a recipe for failure—bringing in a variety of different trade contractors, the HVAC guy one day, the air-sealing crew another, the insulation crew the next day means the homeowner has to take off work or otherwise adjust their routines. The harder you make it, the less work you’ll have.

On-the-spot estimate
A related element is the ability to fully spec and price a project on the first visit. To do this, you need to equip your salesperson with an automated system that can provide the estimate on the spot. If a customer is ready to proceed, they don’t want to have to spend time on another day going over the project. We believe it’s very important to be ready to complete an agreement on the first visit if a customer is ready for that.

But even if your model doesn’t have all this under one roof, make it easy. Have lists of contractors in the various trades. Facilitate the connections. Educate your partners on the need for speed, responsiveness, and quality. If they won’t play, find someone who will. The more you take ownership of the customers’ experience, and the more you knock down barriers and eliminate problems, the more likely you are to thrive.

All the above is true in the “real world”. Adding incentive programs to the mix generally adds another layer of complication. Own the complication. To the greatest extent possible, make any program gymnastics your problem, and look at sorting it out as yet another service you provide to your customers. Walk them through program paperwork, providing incentive, tax credit, and rebate information and documentation, and looking for other ways to be helpful.

And that’s really the bottom line in customer service. We want the Grace’s of the world—and every customer—to look at the energy upgrade experience as a positive one. From a satisfaction, call back, marketing, sales, and profitability perspective, you’ll rarely go wrong with a happy customer. And with the busy lives so many people lead, the easier you make their experience, the happier they will be.

Mike Rogers is Senior Vice President of GreenHomes America, a leading home performance contractor with a growing number of locations around the country. This article was originally written for the Building Performance Institute newsletter.

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