Have you ever gone to hotel or to a restaurant that your friends have been raving about and thought it just wasn’t all that? Or had a friend come back from a great local shop that you love, only to have them say it wasn’t the greatest? Or how about when you deliver your same great service to a client, but have them end up unhappy or dissatisfied (or not as psyched about their system as is your norm)?
It’s all about expectations.
I’ve been doing a lot of different things to build my brand and my business over the past several years, but as a result I’ve been spreading myself pretty thin. While job quality and customer service levels never dipped, I have found that some customers weren’t as happy as I’m used to them being. It made me take a long hard look at things, and I was on the cusp of giving up some of these secondary pursuits to improve my customer service and quality. But after talking to several customers, employees, and colleagues I figured it out. I wasn’t spending as much time up front setting expectations—estimates were a little less detailed, cut sheets weren’t always provided, and SOWs (Statements of Work) weren’t always as in-depth. So I renewed my efforts and have seen customer satisfaction shoot back up with way more enthusiasm than we had been having lately.
So I wanted to share what I found to be some of the keys to communication and setting proper expectations.
Provide Lots of Detail
I started just writing up estimates with a list of devices and quick descriptions: “distributed audio, 2 Paradigm CS160 speakers in each of 5 zones,” instead of, “Music in master bedroom, dining room, kitchen, master bath, and living room, with Pandora, Rhapsoy, Spotify and iTunes music available in each, via 2 Paradigm in-ceiling speakers with new ‘bezel-less’ frame for a sleeker look and iPhone/iPad control.”
I thought that offering cutsheets about the products we were installed had become overwhelming to clients, but when I went back and talked to them about it, they said they liked having this level detail. So, I continued providing a cut sheet for every major product I’m offering them, in a single PDF file. It ends up being a large file with dozens of pages, which is why I stopped doing it, but it allows clients to better understand what we were installing and to get a sense of what their system could do.
Spend More Time Discussing the Project
When our business picked up, we also got into a bit of a routine. We’d do the consult, produce the estimate, edit the estimate based on feedback, do the install, and get paid. However, we were missing a crucial step. Upon delivering the first estimate, we weren’t spending extra time with the customer either in person or on the phone to walk them through the estimate so they understood not only the line items, but how the system would perform.
We have to remember is that each customer is a unique interaction. Unlike, say, lawyers, doctors, and accountants that have regular clients day to day, for most of us each client is a single transaction (with maybe some tweaks afterward or follow-up work years later). We get one shot and if expectations aren’t met, we have an unhappy client who might go elsewhere in the future. That’s why it’s critical to set expectations up front and deliver on those expectations every time. It’s the only way to keep your reputation and the reputation of our entire industry.
What do you do to set expectations with your clients at the start of a job?
+Todd Anthony Pumais president of The Source Home Theater Installation in New York City.