If you run your own plumbing, fencing, carpentry or other trade business, you’re probably familiar with the mantra of customer first - the customer is always right. The customers call the shots and if they’re not happy you’re not happy.
While this is often true, many tradespeople misunderstand what their customers are after and can struggle to realise what it takes to keep a customer happy.
Pleasing your customers isn’t about saying yes to everything and accommodating every demand, in fact, often saying no or providing a more manageable alternative is a better way to go.
The most important thing when it comes to effective customer service is good communication. But what does good communication look like and how can it help you better serve your customers and even win you more business?
Let’s find out
If you’re a tradesperson running your own business, the key to good communication is to understand your customers. This means not assuming anything.
Don’t take it for granted that your customers understand what a Vaillant combi boiler is and why it’s worth more than a Keston heat-only boiler. It’s important to focus on the benefits the product provides. But equally, don’t assume that the customer is stupid either.
Your customers want to be able to make informed choices, and as the specialist, it is your job to communicate the value of the product or service you offer. This means avoiding using jargon or highly technical terminology when discussing a certain product with the customer. Instead, focus on the value of the product.
If you run a plumbing business for example, rather than telling your customer that the boiler you recommend is X% more efficient or can heat however much water in so much time, tell them how their home will be hotter for less money. Translating how the value of that product directly affects them is key.
This usually involves focusing on the financial or physical benefits your product or service will have for that customer. By painting the picture of how your service can deliver the desirable outcome, you will get your message across more clearly.
With communication in mind, let's get into some top tips on how to manage your customers so you win more jobs.
If you’re a proud tradie, this might not be an easy thing to do, but a big part of managing your customers is about building a positive relationship. This means trying to become more relatable to your customers.
Some customers have a certain level of pride or an inflated opinion of themselves that makes it difficult for them to accept their own limitations.
We hate to stereotype, but it is not uncommon to find male customers who struggle to accept that they are unable to change a socket or fit a new pipe. These customers may feel disappointed that they haven’t succeeded and can struggle when you arrive to complete the job.
For these customers, a compliment can go a long way, helping them to get over their egos.
It’s also worth noting that these customers don’t like to appear ignorant, so try to indulge them by addressing them as if they know what they’re talking about - without actually telling them anything they’d struggle to understand.
These customers can be really quite annoying at first (we wrote a whole blog about customers like this if you're interested), but once they know you, they often become very loyal and pay well, so it’s worth putting in the effort.
Studies have shown, time and time again, that customers are more likely to trust people whom they perceive to be similar to themselves. This is why businesses value customer reviews so highly (something you should be using too by the way), as positive reviews are considered trustworthy.
In the same way, your customers are more likely to respond to you if you appear relatable and understanding. You can see this in the way some customers might change the way they act or speak when around you in an attempt to try and better relate with you.
If you understand what the customer is doing - essentially trying to create rapport between you, it becomes easier for you to spot this behaviour and respond to it.
A good way to deal with this customer behaviour and use it to your advantage is to present yourself in a professional manner.
Small things like wearing a company uniform (we wrote a blog looking at some of the many benefits of a uniform if you want to find out more about this) can help, but also finding opportunities to relate with your customers through any common interest or even common experiences such as having visited the same shops in the area, will help put the customer at ease and make them more likely to listen to you.
This may sound like an obvious thing to say, but it is important to understand that there are things you may be doing, or not doing, that can cause a customer to become stressed or put them on edge.
If your customer feels overwhelmed they will struggle to take on the information they need so that you can make the sale.
As mentioned earlier, a big part of this process is about communicating clearly with your customer by avoiding using technical jargon. If the customer becomes confused then they are more likely to become closed off and are less likely to give you the job.
To avoid this problem make the customer feel comfortable by giving them exit options.
This might sound counterintuitive but by creating the sense that the customer is not backed into a corner or forced into a commitment, they’re going to be more inclined to go with you, as they will feel like they’re making an informed choice not one under duress.
To achieve this, don’t rush them into making a decision, and try and offer a few different options where relevant and most importantly provide them with relevant information so they understand the choices available when considering your service.
If you don’t manage your customer’s expectations then you are setting yourself up to fail.
An important part of customer communication for any business is not promising unrealistic or overly ambitious results.
It is always better to underpromise and overdeliver than to overpromise and underdeliver.
What this means is, if you’re pricing a job, set it on the slightly higher side of your expected budget, or if you think the job will be finished in three weeks to a month, tell them a month.
While you may worry that high prices and long project times might put customers off, failing to deliver to budget or to a timeframe will always cause more damage.
If you have successfully communicated the value of the product or service to your customer then in most cases they will be happy to pay for the service or wait for the result.
These principles apply to all your customer communications - if they understand the expectations then both the customer and you will find working together easier and less stressful and ultimately it will allow you to win more work.
One of the biggest mistakes tradespeople make when trying to win a job, is not communicating how you calculate the value of your prices.
If you’re pricing a job and you hit your customer with a great big number, then their first reaction is going to be surprise and then suspicion. “Are you trying to rip me off?” they will wander, “Could I get a better price elsewhere?” These are not questions you want them to ask.
This is of course only something that will happen if you haven’t broken down your prices. These issues can easily be avoided if you communicate the value of your service or product clearly to your customer.
When first pricing a job, break it down.
Outline how much each material costs, how much your time costs, and what expenses you need to account for. If your customer has a greater understanding of the component parts that make up the bill, they will be more accepting of the price.
Combine this approach with a clear breakdown of the value. Explain to your customer why the service or product is valuable and how this value translates to their experience. As mentioned earlier, if the customer can see how the benefits improve their experience they will be more prepared to pay for it.
To further add to the previous point, think about adding some customer choice to your proposals, so the customer has some say on the final bill and what they’re paying for.
If the customer is able to choose some of the component parts of the service or product, that agency they’re given will make them more accepting of the final bill as they become a part of the pricing process.
Furthermore, it’s a great opportunity to upsell by offering premium or additional products to your quotes, that customers can easily select.
With the right software, this is easy to do. You can give your customers a selection of different products within the quote, meaning they can choose between a cheaper or more premium option.
Psychological studies have shown that if you provide a lower, middle and upper-priced option customers are much more likely to be accepting of the middle price as it appears more valuable.
You can achieve this in your quotes.
The best software to help you with this is provided by Payaca. They offer the ability to add custom images and full specs to your quotes so that your customer can easily see and choose between the options available.
Give the free trial a go and try it for yourself.
If your customer tells you that another tradesperson has priced the job for cheaper, or they claim they’ve seen your service or product at a lower price, it’s tempting to respond defensively or to dismiss your competitors and claim that they offer poor quality.
Don’t do this.
Being dismissive of your competitors will only further play on the customer's concerns. The best way to approach this problem is to understand why the customer is raising these worries with you: it comes back to them wanting to understand the value of what you offer.
As mentioned earlier, don’t back the customer into a corner, explain that the alternatives they mention are valid and they should consider all options to make an informed decision. The key is emphasising the need for an informed decision.
If you offer a high-quality service then you can be confident that what you offer is at least as good as your competitors. The fact the customer is already in a dialogue with you shows that you’re already ahead in winning that work.
By not being dismissive of your competitors and respecting your customer's concerns, you show that you are confident in the quality of your service and that you are listening to the customer.
Once again it’s important to make sure the customer understands the value of the service you are offering. If you have communicated this clearly then 9 times out of 10 they will still choose you. And if the customer goes with someone else then that means that the customer wasn’t right for you.
Don’t devalue your service by trying to accommodate every customer. The customer will be grateful for you being honest and upfront with them and they are more likely to come back to you for a different project if you've handled things well.
The customer will respect and value that you have been straight with them and will have a good impression of you due to the positive interaction.
Hopefully, those seven top tips have helped to clarify how you can better communicate with your customers.
It’s really important to be able to see things from a customer's perspective. If you are able to understand their point of view, it becomes much easier to manage that customer’s needs and expectations.
One of the biggest mistakes tradie's make when working with customers is not understanding the importance of effective communication. A big part of the job is about managing people and knowing how to build positive relationships.
At the end of the day, the difference between you winning the work or losing out to a competitor comes down to how you communicate with that potential customer. Nine times out of ten you will win the job if you’ve made the effort to make the customer feel comfortable and happy.
As with all things, the more you practise and work on your customer interactions the better you will get. It’s just like learning your trade, it’s all a part of the job.