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Don’t Be Another $99 House Wash!

One of the worst customer experiences of my life left me lost and alone on the streets of Tokyo, Japan at 5:00 in the morning. I went with a guide and a small group of tourists to see the famous Tsukiji fish market auction. We were lucky to get tickets. The tours are on a first come first serve basis, so we had to rush from our hotel to the market at 3:00 am. The experience was amazing, but the auctions ended quickly. We were on our way back to the hotel by 5:00 am. The tour guide was walking so briskly that we had to jog to stay together. As the sun began to spread a dim light though the streets, we passed a Shinto Shrine. When we asked about the shrine, our guide mumbled a brief unenthusiastic description as he kept walking. This six-hundred-year-old shrine was more interesting to me than the thought of returning to my hotel to wait for my friends to wake up. So, I peeled off from the group to take a few snap shots. I had planned to run and catch the group when I finished, but I turned around to find myself completely alone. Our guide was so focused on his goal, that he did not bother to listen to what his customers wanted. He passed that shrine every day and never gave it a second thought. I had no idea where my hotel was, and there was no one around who spoke English. I wandered the streets for about two hours watching the merchants set up their shops before I finally stumbled upon my hotel. Customer service starts with listening.

Every year, I see a new crop of rookies promising to wash any house for just $99! This classic mistake only makes sense to a novice. Be the lowest priced choice, and people might forgive my poor service. Unfortunately, there are two major issues with this ideology. First, a bad experience will stick with you even if the price was low. Second, the “tire-kicker” customers who chose you solely based on price will abandon you as soon as someone with a lower price comes along. Pressure washing is a service industry. Successful businesses separate themselves from their competitors by constantly improving their services to build a loyal customer base.

The most obvious way to learn how you can improve is to ask questions during every interaction. Always start a relationship with, “How may I help you?” The answers you receive to this question can offer some insight into what problems your potential customers are trying to solve when the found you. If you find that several people are asking for services that you cannot offer, you may need to change your advertising strategy, or your marketing materials. Answers to this question could also offer some great ideas for add-on service.

Another great technique is to use questions to avoid saying no. If you are going to wash a pool deck, but you don’t want to move the furniture, you could ask your customer, “Would you like us to move the deck chairs for an additional charge, or will you prefer to move them before we arrive?” This technique only works if you are okay with either outcome.  The added charge should be high enough to cover the potential labor costs if you end up moving the chairs. This technique is better than just saying “no”, because the customer feels empowered. Sure, they must move the chairs, but they are “saving money.” If you find that several people are springing for the add-on chair moving service, you can consider including it in your regular package to help separate yourself from your competition.

Never leave a job without asking if there is anything else you can do to help. This is the best way to avoid the dreaded one-star Facebook rant. Ask questions during the first meeting. Create a service agreement that defines the work to be performed. Then end the service by asking if there is anything else you can do to help. This is a great time to offer an upsell. Let the customer dismiss you.

A survey is a great way to follow up with customer’s after service has been completed. Services such as Survey Monkey make it easy to create professional surveys that your customers can take anonymously, right from their smart phones. Keep them brief with simple questions. Focus on key metrics for service. Use rating systems to gain more insight into the overall quality of your service. A yes or no question will not offer as much detail as a scale. For example, a question such as, “On a scale of one to five please rate the overall quality of our service.” Is better than, “Are you pleased with our service? Check yes or no.” Give them a chance to leave an open-ended reply, but don’t expect an essay. Use the responses from the rating system to grade yourself.

The customer is NOT always right, but this is not an excuse to stop listening. You should never let your customers tell you what you are worth. Instead, determine what you need to perform the service, and show them how you will earn their loyalty. Always ask questions, and listen carefully.

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