10 New Year's Resolutions to Keep the Customers Coming
As the clock counts down to 2014, you might be thinking about ways to generate more business in the new year. The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners have learned that word of mouth is one of the strongest communication channels to drive demand for energy efficiency upgrades. If you’re interested in upgrading your marketing approach, you might want to consider a new year’s resolution or two related to customer service. A positive contractor-customer relationship can make the difference between a homeowner making a call-back complaint or referring you to their neighbors.
Here are 10 tips we’ve learned that will keep both you and your customers happy in 2014:
- Keep it simple. While most technical terms are commonplace to contractors and energy auditors, industry jargon and excessive detail can overwhelm homeowners. Explain the results of the energy assessment and your recommended improvements in uncomplicated, everyday language. As a rule of thumb, imagine you are describing your work to an acquaintance at a party. Using metaphors can also make complex issues more relatable (e.g., a well-insulated roof is like a hat that keeps you warm by preventing heat loss).
- Open up. Building good relationships with homeowners will help you to better assess their energy efficiency needs, as well as prevent complaints after the project is complete. Keep customers informed, and ensure the lines of communication go both ways by encouraging and answering their questions without making them feel as if they are bothering you.
- Don’t just say it—show it. Use technology to engage homeowners in improving their homes’ performance. For example, use the blower door test to demonstrate heat loss in person; take photos of their homes with an infrared camera to illustrate areas for improvement; or snap pictures that show the before-and-after impacts of upgrades on typical energy-wasting spaces that are difficult for homeowners to see (e.g., inside air ducts).
- Take two. While it is important to engage customers through communication and technology where possible, avoid letting stories or remarks cross the two-minute mark. Customers might lose interest and divert their attention elsewhere.
- Stay positive. People want to feel reassured about the state of their homes, not afraid for it. If you discover a problem, emphasize solutions and how you’ll help restore the room to its original state, with the added benefit of increased comfort and reduced energy costs. Likewise, avoid telling horror stories about other homes you’ve worked on or trying to frighten customers into making upgrades.
- Know your surroundings. If it is a hot summer day, discussing insulation for the winter months won’t make the sale. Instead, explain how energy improvements can help homeowners achieve a comfortable indoor temperature year-round.
- Be professional. Showing homeowners that you take your job seriously will increase their confidence in the end result. Come to the job dressed professionally and prepared to work, and remain focused solely on their project while working in their home.
- Take care. While you are working on a home, treat it with the same care and respect you would show your own home. Wear covers over work boots while inside customers’ homes, and at the end of the work day, clean up your work space and ensure that the mess didn’t extend to other parts of the home.
- Identify boundaries. As you work to make their homes more comfortable, make sure that your customers are just as comfortable with your presence. Talk to homeowners about any areas of their homes you will require access to so that your project does not feel invasive. Some areas might be off limits, so ask permission before helping yourself to bathrooms and sinks.
- Lessen the stress. The energy upgrade process can be a stressful one for homeowners. By making it a pleasant experience for your customers, you can help alleviate their anxieties. Make sure to answer and return phone calls promptly, arrive on time, and return results within the first few days following an energy assessment.
Good customer service has a way of multiplying. Don’t be surprised if you see more business in 2014!
Note: Many of these tips come from Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partner Energy Impact Illinois (EI2)’s “house party” program in Chicago. During these parties, EI2 field staff and contractors demonstrated energy-efficient concepts and conducted free assessments in host families’ homes, which led to many contractor leads. EI2 provides a cheat sheet and customer service tips to contractors involved in the house parties. This emphasis on customer service has paid off; more than 900 house party participants completed energy upgrades through EI2, and an additional 540 attendees signed up to host house parties of their own.
Danielle Sass Byrnett is the supervisor of the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program. DOE is transitioning the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program to a voluntary, national residential energy efficiency membership network. Learn more about joining the Better Buildings Residential Network.
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