And so the holidays are past, many of us now settling in for our few months of winter. It’s always nice to begin a new year with a clean slate, fresh plans, renewed expectations, some resolutions, perhaps, and the promise of new beginnings. I personally am embarking on a new adventure this year with a move to a new city and the significant personal challenge of building a home. Half of my holiday break was spent packing and moving my entire household into a temporary abode while finalizing the new house plans with my builder.
I have bought and sold homes in many different cities and moved my entire household several times, so I consider myself an expert in the real estate and moving fields. Because of this experience, my customer satisfaction expectations throughout the staging, listing, selling and moving processes have become quite high. I actually rarely expect my high standards to be met, and even more rarely exceeded.
If you’ve ever bought, sold or moved a home, you know there are multiple people and companies involved: real estate agents, home inspectors, contractors, lawyers, movers, home owner associations, counties, title agencies, banks, insurance companies and more. There are many horror stories about real estate transfers and moves gone badly due to the negligence or complete lack of ethics in one or several of these people or companies.
So each time I’ve bought or sold a home, I brace for the unexpected malady.
However, this time, almost every aspect of selling my home pleasantly surprised me. Like I mentioned, I have exceedingly high expectations, but rarely are these even met, much less surpassed. But time and time again throughout this recent process, I was able to genuinely say “thank you” and feel confident about writing a praising review for the companies and people with whom I worked. These are not large companies, mind you – most are independent small businesses. Several times throughout the process, either the business owner or the people doing the work told me: “We are here to make this easy on you.” Or “We want you to be highly satisfied.” And they delivered. Now, of course, I did my homework. I make it a point to interview or get a quote from at least three companies before making any major decision about my home, since these are generally big-ticket items. However, this does not completely safeguard against mishaps – intentional or otherwise.
What does this have to do with retail, you ask? It’s the attention and commitment to customer satisfaction that are ingrained in the mentality and every action of these small businesses that larger companies should learn from. The three movers who came to do the “heavy lifting” were incredibly polite and genuinely cared about my belongings. They made a distinct effort to wrap the items that were to be stored in a special manner that would protect them from damage and dust. They communicated with me constantly throughout the move so that I was never left wondering about any detail. The contractors who did work on the home inspection punch list pointed out some potential issues that I may not have noticed – and one of them even took care of a problem with no extra charge. They called to confirm their scheduled dates and times, showed up as promised and charged reasonable sums with no hidden or unexpected charges. My real estate agent delivered on her promise of calling me back and answering my questions promptly, understanding the importance of high quality, professional photos of my home, and aggressively marketing my home in all the key channels. Would I call these people back for any future work or recommend them to my friends? Without a doubt, yes. These small businesses understand that my satisfaction translates into their success and longevity.
So how can this small business devotion to extraordinary customer satisfaction translate to larger companies? This new year retailers need to plan out and make solid and genuine commitments to embrace customer satisfaction as a value proposition throughout every point in their customer interactions. These mandates need to be engrained into each role and across every channel within the company. Customer satisfaction benchmarks are exceedingly high, especially with the challenge and expectation of channel integration. The mentality should no longer only be focused on sales, traffic and conversion metrics, but must now incorporate customer satisfaction as a key driver of success. Retailers must learn from small businesses – of all types – and make exceeding customer expectations a primary objective for 2014 and beyond.