My wife, Sally, and I are in the middle of a bathroom remodel right now. I probably shouldn't share this, but we only got one bid for the project.
It never occurred to us to call any company besides Ideal Plumbing, Heating, Air, and Electrical. The company has successfully done two previous remodeling projects at our home, installed a new HVAC system, repaired a slab leak, and made countless repairs.
It's a company we trust, so why take a risk with someone else?
And if you're a small business owner, you probably want to earn that same type of reputation. Here's how you can do it.
Service business owners have a reputation for not being responsive. Calls, texts, and emails go unreturned. Appointments are missed.
You can stand out just by mastering this one basic step.
Sally and I hired recently hired Artisan Landscape Management to help maintain our yard. We were frustrated by a previous gardener who didn't show up when promised and didn't respond quickly to contacts.
Pete Pena, Artisan's owner, is always responsive.
He and his crew arrive on time. Pena promptly returns calls, emails, and texts. He's even proactive about notifying us about important updates, such as a recent text prompting me to change the amount of time I ran my lawn sprinklers.
Pena and his team do great work, but it's his responsiveness that really sets him apart from other landscapers we've worked with.
Things don't always go as planned. Sometimes you underbid a job or promise a delivery time and your truck breaks down.
Customers still expect you to keep your promises.
Sally and I tried to book a room at a small inn for an upcoming vacation. The inn's website advertised an off-season special, "Stay one night, get the second night free," but we were charged for two nights when we tried to make a reservation.
The inn's manager was unsympathetic when I called. "That's an old promotion," she told me, and she refused to honor it. The offer magically disappeared from the hotel's website during our conversation.
Needless to say, we booked a room somewhere else.
Small business owners undoubtedly face pressure to watch expenses. A small issue like forgetting to remove an old two-for-one promotion from your website can cost the business money in the short run.
However, keeping your promises will payoff over the long-term.
We recently hired Peek Brothers Painting to paint our home. Like Ideal, we've relied on Peek Brothers for many years and often hire them without seeking other bids.
This project included painting our front door. When it came time to do the job, the foreman realized the door needed several more coats of paint than our contract called for. Unlike the inn, Peek Brothers kept its promise and painted the door without trying to charge us for the unanticipated extra time.
It may have cost the company a little more in the short run, but it's this type of service that's caused us to re-hire and refer Peek Brothers many times.
There are times when your customer is in a bind. An unscrupulous small business owner will take advantage of that situation. A customer-focused business will do right by the customer.
A HVAC technician once came out to fix the heater at The Overlook, a vacation rental cabin we own in Idyllwild, California. He knew we had guests scheduled to arrive later that evening and were eager to get our heater repaired.
Unfortunately, the technician did not get the heater working that afternoon. He recommended we replace the motor, a repair that would cost several hundred dollars. It would also take several days for the new motor to arrive.
Martha Sanchez owns Idyllwild Vacation Cabins, the property management company we use for The Overlook. She went out to the cabin with her maintenance technician to see what they could do to keep the cabin warm over the weekend. They discovered the real problem with the heater was a loose wire and they quickly got the heater working again.
The local HVAC business had tried to take advantage of our situation and cheat us!
I was in a similar situation a couple of years ago. My car broke down while I was in Woodland Hills on a business trip. Not knowing the area, I took a gamble and had it towed to Automotive Instincts, a nearby mechanic with good Yelp ratings.
The shop manager knew I was stranded and he could have taken advantage of my situation, but he was fair and honest.
My car needed a new clutch slave and a master cylinder. It was a major repair because the entire transmission needed to come out to install the new parts, but the shop charged me less than half of what my local dealership would have charged.
Even better, the car was towed in mid-afternoon, and the shop ordered and installed the parts by lunchtime the next day.
Make Your Small Business Stand Out
I realize these three techniques are far from revolutionary:
- Be responsive
- Keep promises
- Be honest
My challenge to you is to review your business to see if this is really happening. How quickly do you respond to customers? Do you keep your promises? And what do you do when your customer is in a vulnerable position?
In my experience, the vast majority of small businesses do not do these three things on a regular basis. This helps those that do really stand out.