On the Job – part 1

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You walk into a split-level house with green, flaking paint and dingy linoleum in the foyer, and you don’t see much, but to your customers, it’s a prized possession they’ve poured their lives into.

Letting you inside those hallowed walls is a big deal to them. You’ve entered a sacred space. It’s a place where your customers may feel comfortable enough to chat your ear off or tell you off. So inside this sacred space, there are guidelines to follow that will help you navigate the special rules that come with working in the field.

Be patient

Yes, sometimes this will seem a complete impossibility. When you’re already a half hour behind schedule and your client wants to tell you about her dog’s bat mitzvah, it can be difficult to stand around and listen. But, assuming you provide quality work, consider how far simply being friendly and courteous can get you with a customer.

Unless the carpet was visibly filthy and you returned it to like-new appearance, they’re probably not going to be referring you based solely (or even mostly) on the quality of your work, but rather, on how you make them feel. Is that fair or fun? No, but it is how customers think.

Having patience with a customer can go a long way toward repeat business and referrals. Try to:

1.   Actively listen: Don’t just nod along; try to add something to the conversation, even if you don’t really care about what they’re talking about.

From the Trenches

“The Mystery Problem”

Customer: Can you clean that area once more, it still looks shadowy?Us: Sure not a problem. (We hit the area once more.) Ma’am, how’s it look to you now?

Customer: Well, it’s still looking shady.

Us: How about now? (Pulls the blinds up that have never been opened.)

She walked away head in hands in disbelief, and never even thought about it again. It was a good laugh for us and the client.

Adam Antolec,
vice president of operations,
J& A Cleaning Services Inc.,
Chicago

“The Friendly Customer”

I got a call to clean carpet at a nudist colony. The lady came to the door and was at least 90 years and butt naked.Gravity is a terrible thing.

She asked me to follow her as she deliberately leaned over and pointed to every spot where her cat had vomited.

It took all I could muster not to vomit myself.

Ken Jordan,
owner,
Accent American Inc.,
Tampa, FL

2.   Make sure your body language shows patience: That means no fidgeting, checking your watch (even when you really want to), etc. In a perfect world, customers would realize you’re in a hurry to do work for them, but customers are illogical, and they likely will feel like you’re being rude.

3.   Read their body language: Some people might want and need an encouraging pat on the shoulder, but others might find this offensive. Learn to read your audience — if they have their arms crossed or aren’t making eye contact, they probably don’t want the level of intimacy (as small as it is) of a pat. This skill is difficult to develop, but especially important for restoration professionals who encounter more emotionally distraught customers.

People also find it comforting when you match their formality, tone and speed. If your customer is talking to you like an old friend, but you’re talking to him like he’s the drill sergeant of a robot army, your customer is probably going to be uncomfortable. Likewise, if you talk very fast, but your customer is speaking at a normal speed, he’s likely to feel like you’re rushing the conversation.

4.   Have some decorum: It may seem too-often stated or common sense, but it’s important to be clean and neat, as well as think about what you say around a client. Even if your customer is swearing, you should think before joining in. You never know when you’re dealing with a “do as I say, not as I do” type of person.

5.   Keep your cool: We all know those customers, the ones who seem to be intentionally trying to get under your skin. But don’t let them. If you pay attention, those customer are often (not always) simply pointing out their concerns. If the customer says, “The last time I had my carpet cleaned, the company double the price after they were done,” she might just be looking for some reassurance she’s chosen better this time.

Try not to take offense to what feels like an insinuation. Try to provide comfort without annoyance with a response like, “We’ve heard about companies like that, but don’t worry. The price we give before we start is the price you’ll pay.” It might not feel like much, but it goes a long way to making a customer feel safe.

6.   Avoid jargon: Your customers don’t know what your counter-rotating scrubbing machine is. They probably don’t even know what a truckmount is, so keep talk of your tools-of-the-trade simple.

Instead of saying, “We have a strong alkaline chemical that will neutralize the acidic soils, and all that grease will be saponified and extracted. Then we can apply a fluorochemical barrier that reduces the surface tension of the fiber,” try saying, “We will completely and thoroughly clean the carpet to your satisfaction and also apply a soil and stain protectant so it stays fresh and clean longer.” This, of course, is an exaggeration, but it is easy to get caught up in what you’re saying and forget you’re talking to a customer and not a coworker.

Despite all of this, it’s important to realize the difference between being patient with customers and letting them hijack your time. In the second half of this article, we’ll look at ways to stay in control of the customer interactions, including how to skillfully and courteously exit a conversation so that you can get to back to work.

Read part two online now

Amanda Hosey is assistant editor for Cleanfax. She has worked in the editing and publishing field for more than five years. Hosey holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and a Master’s in creative writing. She can be reached at (205)408-3784 or [email protected].

Cleanfax Staff

Cleanfax provides cleaning and restoration professionals with information designed to help them manage and grow their businesses.

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