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Crash course.

A broken vase puts Handy-Solutions on the training path

As our year-long series goes into the final stretch, our editors and board of advisers have taken some time to add up the pros and cons of all of the expert advice given to our fictitious company throughout the year.

Despite the varying opinions on what's right -- and what's wrong -- with the company, we all agree on one main point: HandySolutions LLC's story is like most small business start-up tales.

This month's scenario: After an unfortunate incident at a customer's home was seriously mishandled, company owner Joe Chambers went into survival mode. Accordingly, he decided to make an investment in his workers in the form of sales and customer service training.

We've asked Dennis Guzik, the regional manager for Door Training International in Troy, a division of Raytheon Professional Services, to help HandySolutions develop an experiential and interactive training program for its subcontractors. But first, he agreed to help Joe resolve his current challenge.

What happened: After a HandySolutions contractor finished putting new molding on a living room ceiling, his miter box slipped, knocking over the customer's brand-new crystal vase. As the vase shattered into a thousand pieces on the parquet floor, the customer ran into the living room and burst into tears.

The flustered contractor apologized profusely and swept up the crystal, but beat a hasty retreat without discussing options with the customer. Shocked and angered, the woman immediately called the HandySolutions dispatcher. Although the dispatcher was pleasant, he was unprepared for the call and told the woman she needed to speak with someone else. He didn't even tell her he would pass along the message. Then, to make matters even worse, he gave the wrong message to Joe Chambers, telling him the woman wanted money off of her next service when the customer actually made no such suggestion.

Frantic, Joe immediately called the contractor, who told him what had happened. Joe then wrote a letter of apology and popped it in the mail along with a $20 coupon for future services. But the damage was already done. Before the woman received his letter, she had already contacted five of her friends, telling them all about the crystal vase and its untimely demise.

How did this incident impact the business?

Of the five friends, three had already contacted HandySolutions for specific jobs at their homes. After the call from their friend, each contacted the dispatcher to cancel her appointment. If each of these potential customers tells five more people about the incident, HandySolutions' reputation could be ruined.

How should this situation have been handled?

According to Guzik, the company experienced a series of critical communications gaps that could have been avoided had the handyman been trained in customer service.

"Saying 'I'm sorry' was a good start," Guzik agrees. But it was only a start. The contractor should have been empowered to tell the customer the company would take care of the problem, and that the company wants her to be happy.

The handyman should have immediately offered her free service and reimbursement for the vase. Next, he should have sent to her a personal note and a voucher for at least 10 percent off future services.

"The customer still might not come back, but at least this would prevent her from spreading negative stories about HandySolutions. If she told this story, the company's reputation remains intact," says Guzik.

What can Joe do to overcome the negative publicity?

Guzik fears it may be too late for Joe in this case, but he can make one last-ditch effort by calling the customer immediately, apologizing, offering money for the vase as well as a free service of any kind with another handyman. In addition, he should call the three women who canceled appointments and offer them a special rate to lure them back to his company.

All this negative publicity could have been avoided, Guzik says, had the company trained its contractors in customer service. Before he loses time -- and more business -- Joe needs to implement a training session for handymen contractors to help instill key values that ultimately can help employees produce more, treat customers with more respect and increase the value of a company.

For HandySolutions, Guzik recommends a practical, active training session that incorporates experiential and interactive programs that build self-discovery through assessments, energizers and role-plays. In this type of session, Guzik would blend theory with real-world business practices.

The session would be friendly and open, with handymen participating in various scripted role-play situations, like the regrettable incident with the vase.

"In the role-play exercises, we would work on many things, including finding common ground with a homeowner," Guzik says. "It can be as simple as walking into a house and telling the homeowner that you really like the color of her wall or a painting on the mantle."

Once the customer-service piece is complete, Guzik recommends teaching the handymen skills to go out and sell additional services to existing customers. For example, the role-play scenarios would include teaching the group how to ask probing questions without being invasive.

"They need to be observant when they are in people's homes," Guzik says. "If you are there putting trim molding on the ceiling, check out the condition of the floor molding. Also look closely at the window trim, the outside door and the house's exterior. Someone who pays to have trim molding added to a home is willing to pay for other non-necessity items related to a home's appearance. The handyman needs to be able to distinguish this type of customer from one who has an emergency repair job, like a broken window or a plugged drain."

The bottom line is learning how to impress the customer (see box).

"In sales, it is so much easier to get additional business from current customers than cultivating new ones, Guzik adds. "As you can see, there is nothing quite as strong as word of mouth, and you need that word of mouth to be positive."

10 ways to impress a customer

* Reference other jobs you've done in the neighborhood or nearby.

* Be on time.

* Go above and beyond the call of duty - clean up your mess.

* If an emergency arises, and you are running late or must cancel, call the customer.

* Be courteous.

* Make sure you are well-groomed.

* Leave behind a refrigerator magnet with your name and phone number.

* Stay true to your quoted price. Give quotes in writing.

* When a customer calls for an appointments ask what time is convenient for the customer.

* Follow up after service call to make sure customer was happy.

Source: Door Training International
COPYRIGHT 2001 Detroit Regional Chamber
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Lifton, Kimberly
Date:Oct 1, 2001
Previous Article:Pacesetters: The 2001 Future 50 of Greater Detroit.
Next Article:Reconnecting the system.

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