The entire customer experience has got to impress

The other day, I told you about my first experience with a neighborhood lawn care company.

There’s a little more to the story.

The national franchises that returned my calls the first day also gave me instant pricing. They told me exactly what it would cost for the number of treatments my lawn would get.

They were able to price it quickly because they both had access to a satellite photo of my property. I guess, from looking at the photo, they could estimate the size of my yard.

Measuring Wheel.  Too bad it can't measure the value of a customer experience.

Measuring Wheel.
Too bad it can’t measure the value of a customer experience.

It doesn’t really matter exactly how they did it. All I know is that they answered my questions satisfactorily: Can you kill the weeds? Can you make my lawn green? How many treatments? What’s the price?

On the other hand, when I finally reached the local guy by phone, I was told that someone would stop by “sometime next week” – which I initially accepted.

But after reaching the franchises, and getting immediate response, I called the local guy again. After I explained the situation (on Friday), I was told that they would try to get someone to stop by on Monday.

So, a guy did get to my house on Monday morning. He pulled out a measuring wheel from his truck and walked the yard. He then went back to his truck and calculated square footage and pricing. When he emerged, the price he quoted was a lot more than one of the franchises.

So, not only did I have to wait four extra days for a quote, when I finally got it, it was significantly higher.

To say the least, pricing is an important part of the overall customer experience.

After all that, the decision wasn’t difficult. Every vendor promised to rid my lawn of (most of) the weeds and all of the grubs. All three will make my grass beautifully green.

But to justify a considerably higher price, the neighborhood company really had to impress me in some other way. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

(By the way, the experiences with the national programs weren’t perfect. For example, neither would email their quotes).

Now, you know I love small business. I know how hard small business owners work. But there’s a better way. You can be more efficient and responsive. The technology is available to help you manage your time. (You can see satellite photos, too, can’t you?)

How many other jobs have you lost because you haven’t responded well? What’s the dollar value of the loss – not only this year, but for a lifetime?

When someone submits a contact form, please respond

If you’ve got a contact form on your website, please respond when someone (like me) makes contact.

Here’s my story:

One of my weeds

One of the weeds that has invaded my yard.

Our lawn is in real bad shape. It’s gotten away from me. It needs help. It’s embarrassing.

We decided to do something about it.

So, upon the recommendation of a neighbor, I looked at a local lawn care outfit.

I first checked their website, where I found a link to a contact form on the home page, right where it belongs. That’s the good news.

After surveying the site, I clicked “Free Estimate & Information Request Form” and filled in all the details – name, email, phone number – with a note about my problem. And hit “Submit.”

Then I waited – and waited – and waited. In fact, I waited almost 24 hours and never got a response. Never. Nothing.

No email. No phone call.

I finally had to call them to make an appointment. And I was told someone would stop by “sometime next week.”

Another weed.

Another weed.

In the mean time, I submitted online forms to a couple of national franchises. One got back to me by phone within an hour. The other called the same day, within 8 hours.

To say the least, I was disappointed in my local lawn care company.

The opportunity was there to knock my socks off with an extraordinary customer experience– to attend to me like there’s no one else.

And, with today’s technology, it’s possible.

Instead, they left me wondering.

Maybe they’re just overwhelmed with a lot of late requests (it is the beginning of June, after all). I get that. I understand. Small businesses have to juggle a lot of stuff.

But whatever their bind, there’s no excuse for not responding.

A third weed (you can see why I need help!)

A third weed (you can see why I need help!)

The fact is, I need to make a decision, Now! Before we get to far into the season!

I think most customers are like me in this day and age. We expect instant gratification. We don’t like to wait. We can’t always wait. There’s no real reason to wait.

At the very least, my local guys could/should set up an instant email reply. Autoresponders do what the name implies: they respond automatically. Compose it once and you’re done.

So, how about a quick email: “Thanks for submitting your request. Someone will call you within 24 hours. We value your interest.”

You might even put an appointment scheduler on your home page.

It’s as simple as that.

Please, don’t leave prospective customers wondering.

And, please, don’t minimize or dismiss my critique. This is big.

Like I said: If you’ve got a contact form on your website, make sure you respond quickly when someone (like me) makes contact.

If you want to compete, you must respond!

Otherwise, don’t include a form. Just give me your phone number.

Customer Experience grade: 1 (out of 10, on first impression).

There’s more to this story.

Create Your Own Alter-Ego Super Hero to Promote Your Business

Fresh small business marketing ideas are tough to come by.

Here’s a new one you should think about: Craftsman Tools and DC Entertainment partnered to publish a custom comic book to promote a new power tool system. It’s called “Craftsman Bolt-On System Saves the Justice League.” It tells the story of how a handyman saved the day by stopping the evil villain, The Key, from stealing records from the Justice League headquarters (read the comic here).

That got me thinking.

Super heroes have super powers. They’re protectors. They’re idolized. They’re depended upon.

To many of the people you serve, you’re a super hero.

Why not have some fun and promote your small business at the same time?

Create your own alter-ego super hero

Partner with a local writer or cartoonist to create a short story or comic about your business and products. If you can’t find a local writer, find one on elance.com.

Base the plot on real-life situations that you’ve experienced. Tell the story of how you helped someone solve a tough problem and saved the day in your community. Demonstrate the value of working with you.

Be sure to have fun with it. Make it a mystery or a thriller or a love story. No boring stuff allowed.

But here’s the key: Be honest. Don’t exaggerate the power of what you do.

Save the work as a PDF and make it available for online download. You should also print a few hard copies. Then promote the story with a press release. Have a “meet the author” party.

The story will get people talking about your business. It will be passed around town.

Get creative. Tell true stories that showcase the problems you’ve solved. Show that you’ve got a sense of humor.

You can bet that your competitors aren’t super heroes.