Pretty Girls Don’t Look For Dates

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! The economy is depressed, spending is down, and the elusive “turn around” still seems to be just out of reach. Many companies are taking the downturn in the shorts—many are laying off employees, reducing ad budgets, and just hoping to survive. Grab a helmet; it looks like Chicken Little might be right this time.

Meanwhile, Dan Wolt just logged his best sales month ever. Again.?Wolt, who owns Columbus-based Zen Windows, seems oblivious to the large chunks of falling sky that seem to be pummeling his competitors. It’s 8 AM on a sunny summer morning, and he’s on his way to the first of his two daily sales appointments. Both leads are referrals, and he’s smiling because he knows there’s a 90% chance he’ll close both deals.

Dan should know—he’s got plenty of experience working with referrals. Since he started the company in 2005 his referral business has risen from less than 10% that first year, to 20% in 2006, to 35% in 2007 . . . and clear up to just over 50% in 2008.

That’s over a MILLION dollars a year in sales from referrals. From a 3-year-old company. In a down economy. In Columbus, Ohio. From a man who sells windows at full price, prefers when only one spouse is home (most companies absolutely insist both are there), refuses to run leads after 12 noon, and has no formal referral program in place. Oh by the way, his sales presentation only lasts 5 minutes, instead of the industry-normal 2 ½ HOURS. Please resist the temptation to light yourself on fire.

Before we get too far, I should mention that this article IS NOT about how to get more referrals. It’s about how to achieve total customer satisfaction—and referrals are just a tasty little treat that results from customers who love you. But the fact is, you don’t just wake up one morning and find that your customers are so thrilled that they’re willing to give you a million dollars. It takes some planning and some work.

But it is achievable. And believe it or not, it’s not all that difficult to SHINE in the marketplace, simply because so many customer experiences are either ordinary or horrible. Think about the sum total of all of your experiences as a customer over the last couple of years. Have you had any experiences—with any kind of company—that left you stunned with amazement (in a positive way!)? Has any business performed so well that you felt it necessary to brag to your friends that you found the customer service Holy Grail???I haven’t. I took my wife to a restaurant recently that featured an inattentive waitress, mediocre food, disgusting bathrooms, and a ladies billiards tournament showing on all 7 of its televisions. I’m just saying it’s not all that hard to SHINE if you just put some effort into it.

Step 1: Fix Your Business (Yes, you!)

Did you ever notice that the prettiest girls never really need to try very hard to get dates? Your goal should be to make your business the hottest chick at the party—and then you can sit back and watch the customers line up. The problem is your business probably looks a lot more like Ugly Betty right now than you think it does.

Don’t think so? Then answer this question: does your business do anything to prospects/customers that they absolutely HATE? Most businesses do—and if there are even 1 or 2 things that customers can’t stand, you’ve ruined the experience . . . even if you do everything else right. Would you go back to a restaurant with fantastic food, excellent service, and a fun, lively atmosphere if it had a gas-station-where-you-have-to-ask-to-borrow-the-key-and-there’s-pee-all-over-the-floor-and-grafitti-on-the-stalls bathroom? Of course you wouldn’t. As humans, we’re just wired that way. One booger in the burger and we’re done forever.

So what’s your dirty bathroom? As Dan looked at his industry—replacement windows—here’s what he put on the “Nasty Bathroom” list: long sales presentations (i.e. anything over 30 minutes), high-pressure closes, pricing games (buy now and save!), late/no-show salespeople, cheesy/desperate salespeople, having to have both spouses present for a sales presentation, down payments, high prices, high interest rates, long waits between purchase and install, lack of communication during the entire process, installations that seem to take forever, creepy, parolee-looking installers, unkempt jobsites, ruined landscaping, short warranties, and unexpected, add-on charges.

Notice none of these beefs have anything to do with the actual window itself. They’re service issues. In fact that’s how Dan gets away with 5 minute presentations—he spends 0 to 2 minutes talking to the customer about the glass thingy in the frame. By and large, as long as Dan tells them it’s good, they believe him. Having clean bathrooms gives him that kind of credibility.

I’ve worked with lots of window companies over the years besides just Dan. Most of them have a blend of two reactions to the above booger/burger list: 1) “We already don’t do any of those things,” or 2) “Some of those things are just a necessary part of our business—they can’t be avoided.”

What a crock of doo-doo. They DO do those things. All of them (except Dan, as far as I can tell). Remember I stated earlier that 9 positives out of 10 things isn’t going to cut it—it HAS to be 10 out of 10? Read through the list one more time and tell me which of those nasty bathroom items you’re willing to tolerate next time you plunk down cash for glass. Are you excited to have a salesman that looks like Dwight from “The Office” camp out in your living room for 3 hours while he applies every compliance technique known to man on you until you finally sign the inflated contract just so he’ll freaking leave? Didn’t think so.

Which inevitably leads to the second rebuttal: “Those things are just a necessary part of doing business.” Well, that’s partially true, depending on how you look at it—if you were trying to sell an overpriced window that’s going to ultimately cost your customer over $10,000, you might need to spend a few hours wearing them down. But who needs that kind of beating?

Hear this loud and clear, and think about YOUR business while I’m saying it: just because you might deliver an occasional poo-poo platter as a regular part of your business doesn’t mean that customers don’t hate them! Don’t let your familiarity with your processes desensitize you to the fact that people might not like your process—regardless of how long you’ve been doing it this way. While they may seem normal to you, they’re as obvious and disturbing to your customers as checked-bag fees on the airlines.

Take a closer look at Zen Windows and you’ll find clues how you too can get your customers to give you a million dollars a year. The list of “dirty bathrooms” he’s eliminated is astounding: quotes in 5 minutes, both spouses NOT required in the presentation, set prices on all windows, zero sales pressure, no “buy now” incentives (in fact he offers coupons that specifically state they’re always good), and no money required until the conclusion of the project—and the customer signs off that he’s thrilled with the job. If you’re in the window business, please resist the temptation to find Dan and light him on fire.

If you truly want to thrill your customers, my advice is to eliminate as many of these “dirty bathrooms” as possible. They may require you to overhaul your thinking about how your business works. But if your customers love you, keep coming back, and start referring their friends—I think you’ll find it worthwhile.

Step #2: Setting Proper Expectations

The next step in making your customers love you has to do with a concept called “Cognitive Confirmation Bias,” which means that people have a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms their preconceptions and avoids information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs.

It’s the same principle that allows some mothers to mistakenly believe that their loud-mouthed, alcoholic little teenage demon sons are actually sweet little alter boys. Its human nature—when we really want to believe something is true, we’ll go out of our way to find evidence to support our belief, and we’ll avoid any information that contradicts our belief. So if your son is a terror but you want desperately to believe he’s terrific, you’ll be the first to point out when he holds a door open for an old lady (“See, he’s so sweet!”), and you’ll rationalize it away when he stumbles in at 2 AM smelling like booze and cigarettes. “His car broke down right and he had to go into the nearby bar to find help! He’s such a sweet boy!”

Here’s the best part: in your business, you can set your prospects’ beliefs for them, and then supply them with the evidence to support those beliefs. And you can do this with marketing tools that set the stage for the sale.

There are two major ways to accomplish this—the first is online. The other is an offline marketing tool called a pre-positioning package that’s appropriate for companies who have a sales cycle (as opposed to an impulse buy). It’s simply a package of information that should contain a brochure/report/DVD that documents all the wonderful things you do (now that you’ve cleaned up your dirty bathrooms!). Then the prospect actually knows what to notice and gives full credit for all the great things you do.?Think about it this way. If I spent a lot of time and money making sure my restaurant had clean bathrooms, most people would still go into those restrooms and fail to notice how clean they actually were. After all, unless there’s an obvious problem, people just don’t really pay that close attention to the bathrooms. But what if I put a little sticker on every table in the restaurant that said “We have the cleanest bathrooms of any restaurant you’ve ever been to.” Do you think people would then notice the bathrooms and their state of cleanliness? They would. In fact, they would rate the bathrooms to be FAR CLEANER than if we asked people to rate the same bathrooms without stickers on the table.

Or in another context, it would be like putting together a scrapbook of Johnny Demon featuring photos of him playing with small children, enjoying a barbeque with mom & dad, attending a church retreat, serving meals at the soup kitchen, playing Frisbee with a golden retriever, and wearing a boy scout uniform. Any photos featuring red cups or strip clubs would need to be omitted. Highlight the good. Omit the negative.

The best plan, of course, is to have a bathroom that’s actually clean, stem to stern.

Step 3: Follow Up

If you’ll fix your business to eliminate the stuff your customers hate, and then set proper expectations, you’ll create a real money machine. The final step in creating really satisfied customers—and the referrals that go with them—is to systematically remind them on an ongoing basis how great their experience was.

Here’s why: people forget.

Even if you do everything right, people will forget how thrilled they were when you serviced them so well. The memory will become buried by next week’s—then next month’s, then next year’s—memories. We’re just wired that way as humans. So your job is to continually remind them. Do this and you’ll see repeat business and referrals roll in.??It’s not that hard to do. It just takes a bit of effort. First off, when the sale is completed, send your customers a gift. Yes, a gift. Make it proportional to the value of the transaction; don’t send them a pen with your name on it if they just bought a Lexus from you. Next, send them cards in the mail every quarter thereafter. It could be any kind of card—a birthday card, a 4th of July card (you don’t get many of those, do you!), or a simple postcard. Just make sure you send something that basically communicates this idea: Thank you, we’re thinking of you, and we value you. That’s it.?These cards will snap your customers back into your moment of glory with them just as effectively as Journey’s “Faithfully” will snap you back to a zit-faced dork at the high school dance. Assuming your customers experience with you was pleasant and then some, all it takes is a gentle reminder on a consistent basis to get the good feelings flowing.

So there you have it—a simple three-step method for getting your customers to love you and potentially giving you a million dollars to boot. Like anything else worthwhile, the plan is deceivingly simple. And it will take some time and effort to pull it off. But the rewards are tremendous if you’ll commit. So put down that gasoline can and match and get to it!

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