Repairing the Repairman: Transforming the Service Experience Where Least Expected
As the technical differences between competitors flatten out, it is becoming increasingly important to deliver a stand-out customer experience that builds loyalty and word-of-mouth. But there is a wide gulf between saying the customer experience is important and actually delivering an exceptional customer experience.
This is especially true of industries once maligned for their poor customer experience. For example, our industry, appliance repair, does not have a sterling reputation for customer experience, with its 3-hour service windows, backordered parts, and gruff repairmen. As an exclusive service partner of luxury appliance brands Sub-Zero and Wolf though, our customers demand better, and we must deliver to keep our partner happy.
What has worked for us to change the culture of appliance repair to be as customer-first as possible, can work for many other industries.
1. Train All Employees in Soft Skills
Soft skills are fast becoming the most essential skill in any job, because of the importance of both the customer experience and company culture. Investing in soft skills training is one of the easiest decisions a company can make, as it improves employee productivity and morale, customer satisfaction, and retention of both employees and customers. And nearly everyone can stand to have their soft skills re-honed from time to time.
The specific soft skills needed in your industry may be different than in another though. For instance, the three most important soft skills for repairmen are:
· Respect of time and special requests
· Respect of environment / property
· Communicate expertise to establish peace-of-mind
Those same skills may not be as important in other industries, so take a hard look at where and how your company interacts with customers to identify the skills that will transform those customer interactions for the better.
All that said, soft skills training can only hone the character that’s already there. You can’t train an employee who isn’t a good communicator, who doesn’t empathize with customers, and who doesn’t take pride in their job. We hire for character first. In fact, only 3 of our 9 techs began their career here with previous appliance repair experience. The rest possessed great character, and we trained them for the job with great success.
2. Empower Employees to Manage the Customer Experience
Our mission is to provide the best customer experience through genuine and personal relationships, so we train our employees to treat each customer as a close friend. The more genuine the technician acts, and the more open and personable, the more relaxed and trusting the customer is, which is essential since we are entering their home.
To achieve this, it is vital that our technicians not work from scripts, ever. The second a visit becomes scripted is the second that technician’s personality becomes squashed and the personal relationship is lost. That includes not establishing restrictive rules or policies — e.g. ‘You must ask x’ or ‘You cannot do y.’
For instance, we give our techs the freedom to handle issues often left to customer service reps, like appeasing unhappy customers, without manager approval. There’s no reason to add bureaucracy to customer service; every roadblock and obstacle dings the overall experience, and no penny saved is ever worth the resulting loss in brand love and loyalty.
It requires trust to give technicians this latitude in the home, letting them be themselves and handle any issues that arise, but if you hire the right people and train them in soft skills, they’ll reward that trust.
3. Always Add More Value to the Service
Don’t ever let restrictive industry expectations limit what you do for customers. Just because you’re in the business of x, doesn’t mean you can’t provide y free of charge. For instance, our technicians are not only trained to repair the luxury appliances they work on, but are trained in the use and care of the appliances as well. Why?
Well, just because a customer has invested in a Sub-Zero and Wolf appliance, whether based on appearance and reputation, or because of a conversation with their architect or designer, doesn’t mean they’ll remember everything they learned at the showroom or in the brochures. When our techs come to their home, it may be the first interaction in a long time with a member of the Sub-Zero and Wolf community. We like to take the opportunity to answer any questions they may have been collecting over the years — “Why do my cakes keep burning? How often should I change water filters? etc.”
Everyone wins when you add value, and it helps build the genuine, personal relationships discussed above.
4. Live the Culture Yourself
Perhaps most important of all is to set an example your employees can emulate. If you stress that the customer experience is important, but ultimately fight more for your business’ profit and reputation than for the customer, the message to your employees is loud and clear. Not living up to your own declaration of priorities also creates a climate of fear, in which an employee is unwilling to help a customer for fear of reprisal from a supposedly supportive management. We hold ourselves as accountable as our techs and go further than any of them to ensure customers are happy and stay loyal.
When employees move beyond their job — whether fixing appliances or something else — to provide great customer experiences, they elevate the brands they represent, increase the value of products and services provided, and strengthen brand loyalty. Over time, as you establish a name for yourself as a customer-first enterprise, the money you bring in will grow and grow.