The most powerful marketing force any business can have is a
string of satisfied clients who are willing, even anxious, to refer
others to that business. Yet many kitchen and bath firms have no
formal strategy for assuring that their customers are going to be
This month, we’ll look at several aspects of developing such a
strategy, including client expectations, communication, dealing
with problems when they arise and keeping in touch with previous
It’s absolutely essential that you manage the expectations
clients have about what your company is capable of doing for them.
The greatest danger here is over promising and then under
To avoid that, the first area to look at is your marketing. What
do you say in your advertising and what’s implied on your Web site?
Are these all really accurate portrayals of your business’
capabilities? If not, you need to either adjust the capabilities or
change your marketing.
One of the surest ways to create positive impressions with
clients is to exceed their expectations. It’s a good idea to price
your projects so that you can take care of the little extras and
“favors” that inevitably come up, without getting out your change
Scheduling is another area where you need to manage client
expectations. If you’ve been realistic with your job schedule and
allowed for some contingencies, it will make it easier to meet or
beat the schedule.
One of the most troublesome areas of client expectations is with
the products and workmanship itself. Here, it is your
responsibility, and to your benefit, to make sure the client is
educated as to what to expect and what industry standards are. For
instance, the finish on the customer’s hardwood floor will not be
comparable to that on the person’s baby grand piano. Wood, tile and
other natural products will have variations in texture and markings
and may take stains differently.
With respect to industry standards, this is a term that many of
us use rather loosely when defending our work. There are, in fact,
industry standards published by various trade groups.
One of the most appropriate for our type of work is the
Residential Construction Performance Guidelines provided by the
National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Referencing such a
source for industry standards in your contract can prove extremely
valuable if you ever are involved in a dispute resolution process
with a client.
While we all strive to
avoid any problems with our projects, there are always those
“challenges” on every job. The key to keeping a challenge from
becoming a problem is to make sure that it’s dealt with
If you are aware of a problem, and your client is not, let him
or her know that you are aware of it and that you have a solution
or are working on one. When a client calls your staff with a
concern, make sure you show concern and understand the problem.
Secondly, make sure that your client feels that you have taken over
the solving of whatever problem has been brought to your
One of the most important aspects of customer service is dealing
with voice mail, e-mail or messages. When you receive a message
from a client, particularly if the person seems upset about
something, it’s critical that you respond to the message a quickly
as possible. It’s human nature to stew about a problem until
someone else “takes it over.” Likewise, returning calls from upset
or irate clients is one of the less pleasant parts of any job. But,
experience should tell us that people only get more upset if they
feel they are being ignored.
Finally, it seems that when things start to go wrong on a
project, it often snowballs until nothing is working out. The best
way to prevent this is to immediately give the first problem your
full attention and make sure the project gets back on track.
Keeping in Touch
While the best source of
ongoing business is the referral of satisfied clients,
surprisingly, many of your pervious clients will not be able to
remember even your company name after a couple of years, much less
the designer’s name.
It is important that you set up a strategy to “mine” your
referral base. Some things you should consider implementing are an
annual contact, a newsletter and an “important client list.” All of
these things are fairly easy to manage if you develop a client
database. Most of us probably already have some software in either
our accounting system or e-mail system that can be used for the
maintenance of such a database, allowing you to keep track of all
of the important aspects of a client’s previous job (address,
dates, price, etc).
The power of an annual contact has been driven home to me by a
Twelve years ago, we bought a home through a real estate agent.
Each year on the anniversary of the closing date, we receive a gift
certificate for an ice cream cone at a local ice cream shop. Not
only do we not forget who sold us the home, if we were ever to sell
it, we would certainly return to this agent. In addition, we have
referred friends to her. All of this for the cost of a couple dozen
ice cream cones!
Newsletters also can keep your name in front of your client.
While these are great vehicles for getting your message out and
staying in contact, they can be expensive and time consuming to
A more targeted approach is to maintain a list of important
clients. These are the clients who are most likely to refer future
business to you. Begin the process by having each member of your
staff list five “nominations” for the list based on this criteria.
Then, review the list with your entire staff to finalize it. Post
the list internally (lunch room, etc.) and then develop a plan to
make sure that someone stays in touch with each of these former
In short, make sure potential clients understand realistically
what your capabilities are, meet their expectations and make sure
they are pleased and satisfied with the job you have done.
Then, follow up to maintain the relationship.