How important is customer service in growing and sustaining your business? For Michelle Williams of @home Property Management Solutions, it’s everything. However, she was disappointed when instead she recently learned many business owners are looking for a ‘quick fix’ solution to rent roll growth.
Recently I was asked to be part of a round table discussion forum where each speaker had a different topic around business growth; everything from business development strategies and listing presentations to marketing and customer service. I was so excited to be asked to speak on customer service, because I had so much to share around our experience with service excellence and how it influenced the rapid growth of our business.
When the room started to fill with delegates, predominately business owners, I noticed that they were instantly drawn to the tables labelled Business Development, Listing and Marketing Strategies. The trend continued during the session and it became glaringly obvious that people were looking for a ‘quick fix’ solution to building their businesses. I believe it was the topic itself, customer service, that failed to appeal to some business owners – well, I hope it was; otherwise it was me!
I believe that if my table subject was labelled Business Growth rather than Customer Service, the tables would have literally turned. I found it concerning that so many business owners have not worked out that sustainable growth has no quick fix.
No amount of marketing or listing presentation skill will outweigh word of mouth around service, particularly with the various social media platforms available today.
SUCCESS BY DESIGN
I believe that success can only be achieved by design. We started out with a comprehensive business plan for the first five years, and this has been the driver of everything in our business: our core values, our mission, our growth strategy, our service promise, our management criteria, culture, recruitment stages, job designs, mentors, advisors and so much more.
In summary, @home Property came with instructions, a ‘user manual’ and we refer to this constantly to keep us on track.
I apologise if you get to the end of this article feeling overwhelmed. Trust me, I feel this way most days! But it needs to be said: there are no short cuts to sustainable and consistent growth. I have witnessed too many small business owners start without a plan. The first six months are exciting and there is an initial buzz. The next six months become more challenging as the owner starts to understand the complexities of running a business, and after a year it all starts to fall apart.
Why is that? I believe it is because consumers like ‘new things’ when they are new; they are shiny, untarnished and full of promise to deliver amazing things. Promises are easily made; maintaining the promise, however, takes planning. To retain the business and continue the consistent growth is the challenging part.
Why is it that eight out of 10 businesses fail within the first 18 months? I believe it is usually because the business has no idea why consumers should choose them over the competition. The business is not in touch with what the client or customer needs from their product or service.
If you don’t know why, how can you communicate the value in your service? This is generally when discounting comes into play. The leader of the business must have a clear vision and the entire team need to know why they are the best choice.
GOOD SERVICE IS NO LONGER GOOD ENOUGH
Another interesting point that came from the customer service session was when I asked the question, ‘Do you believe you provide great customer service?’ One hundred per cent of the delegates said yes, quite proudly. But when I asked them to demonstrate how, many stumbled.
Why would a new client believe you when you say you provide great customer service? They have heard the same thing from three of your competitors; it’s almost a yawn moment. I personally cringe when I hear people say they give great service. It’s like when a job applicant says ‘I’m a hard worker’, then you call the referees and they think otherwise.
Here’s the key: they need to hear it from someone else first, someone they trust. Better still if they hear it from several people they trust.
HOW TO CREATE RAVING FANS
So how do you make this happen? Forget about marketing to the masses, spending thousands on marketing strategies to attract people who don’t know you and don’t trust you. Focus on the people you already know, the people who can spread the word about how extraordinary your service is.
If someone were to ask me the question ‘Does @home provide great service?’ I can proudly respond, ‘Yes we do; let me demonstrate how. Take a look at what our clients and customers say about us, and these are a number of national awards @home has received based on our service and results.’
The thing is good service is no longer good enough. If you want people to rave about your service, give them something to rave about! Good service is expected. Where are the raving fan moments in your service?
Every single process in our office has a raving fan moment. Our team compete around these moments and we celebrate our new raving fans. The good news is the best moments cost the least.
To give you just one example, recently one of our new property managers decided that before each routine inspection she would find out a little about the tenants, how many children, ages, pets’ names, and so on. On this occasion, she left a handwritten note to an eight-year-old boy: “Dear Jamie, thanks for keeping your room so nice. I love your Star Wars theme – I am a big fan too.” She also left a bag of jelly beans on the kitchen counter with another note saying, “Thank you for keeping your home so lovely, we appreciate it. Kind regards, Catie”. The next day I had a call from Mum Debbie, who could not believe the personal touch. From such a small gesture, another raving fan was born.
To maintain strong growth you must have a reputation for being extraordinary. There is no secret to our success. It takes a good plan, strong systems, commitment, consistency and a collaborative team of like-minded individuals with a focus on client and customer care. Our competitors are confused by our growth because we do it without big brand marketing campaigns, without print media and without discounting our management fee – ever.