I recently became the owner of a 100-year-old house. It's too bad you can't date a house before you marry it, because the first few weeks have been rocky: two basement floods, burst kitchen pipe, electricity overload, etc. Not the honeymoon I was expecting. However, like most life events, buying a house has made me an appealing customer since the house needs a lot of service and I have very little time (yes, something I should have considered before buying an old house).
I should also add that - embarrassingly - my knowledge of how a house works is very limited. I basically know how to turn the lights on and off and that's more than my spouse knows (yes, again, something I should have considered before buying an old house). As a result, I rely on a lot of outside help, including many local small businesses.
One of the things that the house needed was a replacement of an electric panel that had been recalled a decade ago. I got a referral from the inspector and called a local electrical contracting company. They came out, looked at the panel, and said they would call. I waited a week then called them. After agreeing to their price, I had to plead with them to come out the following week to do the work. On the scheduled day, they were late, stayed an extra two hours, and then asked if I could pay in cash (sure, I always keep a few thousand sitting around in cash - in an empty house).
The next day we moved into the house. Since it was 98 degrees out, my first stop was to turn on the two new air conditioners. Unfortunately, this simple act killed all our electricity. When I called the electricians to ask them what they thought the problem was they ran through a laundry list of issues including not having enough circuits and amps. They then told me that I should have upgraded the system to accommodate the needs of my family and in order for them to do it now they would have to replace the panel again for at least the same price. I asked them why they didn't make these recommendations to me originally and they responded, "But you didn't ask." You would think that the fact that I didn't even know where the panel box was located would have been the first cue that I was clueless to needing a 200 amp breaker box instead of a 100 one.
I've since read up and now have a new electrician, but the lesson is an important one. Our customers are relying on our expertise. It's our job to ask the right questions, understand what their short- and long-term goals are, and direct them appropriately. We should definitely be prepared to give them what they ask for, but we need to go beyond that. They don't know what they don't know. And what we don't tell them may make all the difference in the long run. Remember, anyone can do the job, but few people will win their trust.
Furthermore, we should also focus on the details of customer service that make a huge impact: arrive and end on time, return calls, set expectations, and make sure your client feels valued. You should be doing the hard work, not the other way around.
I've also met a few good people in the past few weeks as a homeowner. I've had a handyman who has waited at our house (unfortunately, way more times than I'd like) for a plumber so that I can get to work. Not having to reengineer my work day is a huge benefit. I've had a fence company advise me that the fence I wanted installed was more than I needed for keeping my kids secured in the backyard. They ended up selling me a fence for half of what I was thinking. Yes, they may have lost money on that fence, but a few weeks later we called them to install a rail and based on our recommendation our neighbors called them as well.
Going above and beyond is going to win the hearts and minds of your clients and set you apart from the rest. Being in a service position (and we're all servicing someone) means playing detective and psychologist. You need to think within and beyond what is being asked for you. And, ultimately, doing the right thing and making someone else succeed will be the lasting impression you make.
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Based in New York, Anna Papadopoulos has held several digital media positions and has worked across many sectors including automotive, financial, pharmaceutical, and CPG.
An advocate for creative media thinking and an early digital pioneer, Anna has been a part of several industry firsts, including the first fully integrated campaign and podcast for Volvo and has been a ClickZ contributor since 2005. She began her career as a media negotiator for TBS Media Management, where she bought for media clients such as CVS and RadioShack. Anna earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from St. John's University in New York.
Anna's ideas and columns represent only her own opinion and not her company's.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT