How customer service trumps the economy
 
September 2nd, 2007

by Janet Arden, Editor

September-October 2007

Like the classic tale of the shoemaker’s children who go barefoot, my husband and I have been living with three enormously outdated, genuinely unattractive bathrooms at our house for more years than I would like to admit. At least part of the problem has been that I see so many great tiles, choosing a few designs for my own home also meant not choosing dozens of others I also liked. It was just too hard.

Fortunately (or not, depending on your point of view), a plumbing repair forced my hand.

Choosing tiles, I found, was far simpler than dealing with the renovations themselves and therein lies the lesson. It’s much easier to write about tile, talk about tile and even answer questions about tile than it is to be the consumer on the other end of the installation.

This is what I learned: Customer service is everything.

Let me say up front that I love the tile and the installation is even better than I expected. The dealer and the installer get my recommendation. In fact, they saved the day and my sanity when two crews were using jack hammers to dig tile out of cement upstairs and down, when the only working sink was in the kitchen, when I had dueling tradesmen in the same tiny powder room, and when a newly installed plumbing fixture leaked over an entire weekend while we were out of town. And our remodel went well!

Great customer service made the chaos livable. The dealer delivered everything we needed and readily adjusted the quantities when the estimate was “off.” The installers cleaned up a hideous mess daily, called me with status reports, and took the time to suggest and implement solutions to more than one installation quirk.

On the whole I think my remodeling experience was no worse than most and probably better than many, and I credit the professionals on the job for delivering great customer service.

Here’s the challenge: Can your customers say the same about you?

Customer service is hard to quantify, but it can differentiate your company from the competition in a tough marketplace. Lately it would be impossible not to get the message about the housing marketplace. It’s terrible. Housing starts have taken a prolonged dive, the stock of homes for sale continues to build, and then there are the mortgage issues.

One bright spot is the home improvement industry. According to the Leading Indicator for Remodeling Activity (LIRA), which was developed by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, home improvement spending is expected to remain constant through the first quarter and overall growth in this category for 2007 is projected to be 3.0%. Some homeowners who cannot move up now will remodel instead, and many homeowners have substantial equity to finance improvements. How can you position yourself to leverage this and other opportunities?

On page 24 of this issue, our Sales & Marketing column takes a look at how one company’s ability to adapt to a changing marketplace and deliver great customer service is helping them to maintain some impressive growth numbers.

Of course, many of you have already taken steps to adapt to the current economy. TileDealer would love to hear what you are doing to maintain your edge in this marketplace. You can share your thoughts on this topic by emailing info@tiledealer.org. We’ll work them into a future Sales & Marketing column.

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