Are you listening to your remodeling clients?

May 10, 2012

A recent experience got me thinking about how companies all-too-often fall back on financial incentives when dealing with an unhappy customer, yet totally miss the point and fail to solve the problem.

Allow me to explain: I’m a long-time reader of the Chicago Tribune, but a series of delivery problems from the paper never showing up to arriving hours after I left for work lead me to first cancel the daily paper, then, finally, to recently give up the ghost and cancel the Sunday as well.

The phone call that followed was surreal, to say the least. After I explained the problem of the late or never-arriving paper, the customer service rep replied, “But won’t you miss getting your Chicago Tribune?”

“Well, yes, but I already don’t get it most weeks.”

“Would it help if I lowered your price to $1 a week and included the Saturday paper?”

“The price isn’t the issue. It doesn’t matter how much it costs if it never shows up.”

“But the Sunday coupons alone easily pay for the paper.”
“Yes, but I’M NOT GETTING THE PAPER!” (And yes, by this point I was raising my voice.)

Suffice it to say, I finally got the subscription cancelled.

But here’s my point: The customer representative wasn’t listening to the problem. He had his preconceived notions of how to address the issue and whatever I had to say wasn’t going to change that. It’s an extreme (and I swear, true) example, but one that is applicable to any business.

All too often, we don’t listen to what is the real problem. In fact, data from customer satisfaction firm GuildQuality shows that communication, schedule and problem resolution are the three biggest factors in whether or not a remodeling client reports a positive experience. (And really, schedule and problem resolution are a factor of communication more than anything else.)

Wisconsin-based Stebnitz Builders has made “Perfecting the Art of Listening” an important part of their marketing efforts. Employees have been trained on the techniques of active listening, such as eliminating distractions and making eye contact. Stebnitz also trained its employees on notetaking so they could better capture the key points the client makes. The efforts have paid off with more satisfied clients and fewer problems during construction

It’s just one example of how actually paying attention can pay off. The question is, are you listening?

Jonathan Sweet is the editor in chief of Professional Remodeler, an award-winning trade publication for remodelers and home improvement contractors. He started his career covering homes and small businesses at a daily newspaper and has spent more than a decade writing for several construction trade publications including Qualified Remodeler, Construction Pro and Concrete Contractor+Jonathan Sweet