Customer service is important
COVID-19 provided the home improvement industry with a boom time during 2020 and 2021, however the weak supply chain and fast rising costs meant margins were eroded and even worse, customer service levels dipped. These were unique years that we are unlikely to see again for a very long time. Demand was so high in 2020-21 that nothing else really mattered other than getting stock almost any price. KJM were tripping over sales, demand and lead-times doubled over the pre-COVID era. We were sending in window and doors orders to our suppliers who couldn’t order enough from their systems companies. Niceties and frills ‘went out of the window’ (pardon the pun) as it was all about doing as much as you could handle at the time. Advertising spending dropped dramatically as we literally could not cope with the number of orders coming in.
With the events of Ukraine, inflation, supply chain issues, strikes and dare I mention the outgoing blonde Prime Minister, demand is cooling significantly and the economic outlook looks as though it could be very tough for the next 18 months or even longer. So customer service is roaring back into the picture and may well be the single most important USP to any business in the fenestration industry.
Customer service has always been important – but now we have to reach new levels
Winning new business is going to be a lot harder against a backdrop of spiralling living costs, high inflation and the probable impending recession. So as a glazing company we going to need to re-learn how to sell the difference and how to make the very most of our USPs. At KJM as we approach our 40th year believe we have many.
One of the most important USPs we have is customer service. During the height of demand in the pandemic years, I felt as though the issue of customer service almost became secondary as the need to deliver windows, doors and conservatories was an absolute priority. The pressure further up the supply chain to just produce enough raw material was a crisis in itself. Deliveries from suppliers became delayed, sometimes by many months, niche products were dropped so manufacturers could concentrate on delivering core-products. Staffing issues affected us and our suppliers, customers were contacting us daily to postpone appointments due to COVID, the results of this were a daily ‘fire-fighting’ exercise on operating the business. Product received from some suppliers was poor at best as they were suffering just like us. If I’m honest despite the demand I never seen in my 40 years in the industry, times were particularly tough and not that pleasant.
KJM are no longer in this position, so we must now once again put customer service front and centre. The economic outlook, looking forward means we have to return to the very top of our game.
We have always had a no-pressure approach to sales as the sales team are all fully employed and salaried. I’ve never wanted typical double-glazing sales people working at KJM. We will never be a company that quotes a price and then offers a 50% discount. We rarely price in the home, so will always follow up with a full written quotation. I firmly believe in the ethos that you get what you pay for and that very much includes high levels of customer service.
I also very much believe that we need to maintain our existing client base (regular customers like builders, architects and landlords). How you deal with and approach all of your clients matters now more than ever. With more choice than ever before, and loyalty expendable, clients who are not happy with their current contractor can quite easily look to other installers to find what they need.
That said the vast majority of our business is not B2B it is mainly with what I describe as ‘domestic customers’, home-owners who are looking for new windows, doors, possibly a conservatory or a roof change on an older less energy efficient conservatory. Although you may think that they won’t provide a steady stream of work after installing fenestration for them, they are an absolute priority with regards service levels. KJM have been in business for 40 years, during that time we have worked for 3 generations of the same family. According to the data, Brits are likely to stay in their homes for only an average of 12 years, with this number rising to 17 years within London. This means they can be repeat customers of a 40-year-old business, at least three times! Many have used our services in each new home and I hope will continue to do so.
Word of mouth – recommendations
This is why you have to do a good job. If you do a decent installation with good products, look after your customers, leave the house clean and tidy and then finally follow-up with any after-sales or warranty work, then customers will recommend you and/or leave online reviews for you.
This year I’ve started providing KJM’s surveyor with a questionnaire on why customers chose KJM for their window, door or conservatory business. Almost all the customers have been happy to fill in the brief form.
It asks the following questions:
- Have you used KJM before?
- Did you get any other quotations?
- If yes to the above how did we compare price-wise
- Please could you tell us why you decided to make your purchase from KJM?
The results have surprised me somewhat
Over about three month’s worth of surveys, this equates to about net of VAT sales of about £1,200,000, I’ve found the following: –
- Around 70% of customers placing their business with KJM did NOT get another quote. The main reason cited was due diligence was done before asking for us for a quotation.
- Other key reasons mentioned for why they were buying from us were reputation, customer service, price, online reviews, nice sales-person, niche products like triple glazing, recommendation and finally you’ve worked for us before.
The above is why us doing a good job for a current customer is far more important than how much we spend on newspaper or online advertising. Do a great job and they become your “free advert”. Customer retention is cheaper than customer acquisition. Another way to look at this is excellent customer service gives you a competitive advantage over your rivals. Finally niche products like high insulation triple glazing give a competitive edge as they are a top priority as energy costs continue to rise at an alarming rate. Theses are some of the reasons why we continue to succeed.
Sometimes the art of good customer service is just being there when you are needed. If I am thinking with my Managing Directors cap on, good customer service from my suppliers to KJM are when they are on hand to solve a problem when one occurs, or being there if I have a product question, I don’t know the answer to. This means lines of communication, something I'm really keen on at KJM.
Some customers expect perfection, it is something we strive for, but we all live in the real world and in the real world, there are sometimes problems. Sometimes a frame will come with damage, glass scratched or broken and some items might be missing or delayed. But the art of good customer service is not always in achieving perfection, but in how a problem is dealt with. Bury your head in the sand and you will sink!
If an issue is ignored or not given the attention the customer believes it warrants, then it begins to tarnish the relationship. However, if we jump on to whatever the problem is right away, and seek a positive resolution as swiftly as possible, then in many cases that can actually strengthen the relationship. We have two installations managers to pick up any problems with installations for this very reason.
At KJM we try and make sure emails are answered. We will pick up the phone when needed. We will try and be regular and clear in your communications with you. We are human-beings and sometimes we will fail you if I’m honest, but we will always try and make things right, it is our ethos
Call or email us today to discuss your window needs, we will always try to do our best with you.