Win by being agile and customer-centric

A case study based on my personal experience

Despite a current difficult economy, business services are still needed. Customers are under strain and are more discerning when it comes to choosing a service provider. Sometimes it’s a grudge spend following an unplanned emergency. It’s bad enough being forced to spend money when survival and priorities must be carefully considered, so to have bad service on top of that, is just too unpleasant. Customers still have choices, and they choose who gets the business.

It’s not always just about the best price, it’s also about the response – in terms of turnaround, being heard and feeling empowered to be part of their own customised solution.

Here is my recent experience as a case study:
My wall collapsed. Before that I knew it was going to happen and that I would need to take action. I didn’t know exactly how much time I had, but I could see the wall was leaning and looked at it daily with anxiety, playing an unknown time game between when my finances would improve and allow me to fix it vs when the wall would say ‘I’m going down, now.’

It happened one morning while I was in the shower. I heard the neighbour’s dog bark unusually persistently and my own dog joined in. Later I walked past the window and looked out – and saw a much bigger view! There was a hole in my front wall, and fallen bricks piled clumsily. My phone started ringing. As my neighbours were leaving to go to work and saw the wall, they were asking: ‘Was it an intruder?’; ‘What happened?’; ‘Do you know your wall is broken?’; ‘Are you OK?’.

3 days before
Because I knew I needed to fix the wall, and hoped to get it fixed before it collapsed, three days before I had asked a handyman who did previous work for me to come and quote me. It was a phone call and my brief was very clear. I said: ‘I’m not looking for an improvement or enhancement. I don’t care if the bricks are different colours. I’m open to hearing suggestions of possible different solutions, it doesn’t need to look the same as now – if palisade or fence combinations are cheaper and quicker, let me know. Give me some proposed options and quotes. But I want a solution that will be affordable, and a project that is completed quickly. Because it’s the front wall, I don’t want this to take a week or more. I want my perimeter secured without ongoing inconvenience.’
After three days, still no quote from him, but the wall wasn’t waiting. It collapsed. Now the project was escalated from something I needed to do soon – to an emergency I needed fixed right now.

The test
Being my front wall and also connected to my gate, I wanted it fixed without delay. I didn’t know if the gate would also collapse without the adjoining support. It was a Friday morning. My brief was the same, with one extra requirement – that it be started as soon as possible.

I went into action mode. First I called the handyman whom I’d requested the quote from and given a heads-up of what I needed. He didn’t answer the call. Later he sent an SMS saying he would call me back by 9:00, but that didn’t happen.

I had kept aside an issue of Homemakers – because I had wanted to ask for a quote when I was thinking it was a future project. I called a company I had highlighted, because they advertised that they repair walls and are available 24 hours. That seemed like a good bet, right? Wrong. The person who answered the phone seemed to lack enthusiasm and interest and said they were too far, and told me to try someone closer to me. He game me a company name. I looked them up and when I called, they said they could only come and quote on Monday.

Someone suggested precast walling, because it goes up quickly. I called a company who said they would only be able to help the following week.

My neighbour referred a handyman who came and looked. Their quote and turnaround was acceptable. They emailed me a quote within a few hours. In the end they didn’t get the business just because I went with the next person. It was close, and I have kept their details in case I need anything in future.

Who got the business?
My friends also recommended someone. And this is the one who got the business. This is why:
He heard what I was saying and understood my sense of urgency. He came out and had a look promptly. He gave me a verbal quote right there and then. He offered suggestions and worked with me – balancing what I wanted with explaining some technical reasons for slightly different outcomes. He was flexible. He offered to secure the perimeter within two hours after getting supplies, starting the work the next day and committing to being finished the same day, with some final adjustments the day after. But most important of all, I felt respected as a customer. Many businesses in male-dominated industries tend to talk down to female customers, treating them like someone who doesn’t understand and therefore can be manipulated into paying more for extras not needed or wanted.

Yes – building walls is not my area of expertise. I don’t know the technical aspects of electric fences. But I understand explanations. I can negotiate workarounds that accommodate most of my needs while still maintaining expert best practice.

The irony
What about the handyman who had the heads-up three days before and the advantage of being asked to quote first? He finally called back and said that he wanted to come past and give me my quote, but saw that other people were already doing the work! A classic case of ‘You snooze, you lose!’

before and after
before and after the wall collapse

The message
I’m the customer spending my money. I know what I want and when I need it. I may have an emergency, but I don’t need to add to that a disappointing business experience. When I hear businesses complain about the economy, I wonder if they are willing to be agile enough and customer-centric enough to be the ones who get the business.

This is where SMEs and self-employed businesses have an opportunity. They are able to be agile and customer-centric because they are not hindered by red tape and inflexible time-wasting internal processes which frustrate customers. They are owner-managed, and they value every enquiry and opportunity. They respond because they need the business to survive.

In contrast, big companies are losing business because the people who are the first line of call for customers, are often unwilling and resentful employees who have a sense of entitlement to their salary, whether they perform or not. They don’t care about being responsive, or they are restricted by outdated time-wasting workflows, which don’t serve the customer’s needs. In my case study, the person who got the business didn’t hesitate to work on a Sunday. It wasn’t a company with an employee who said: ‘It’s not in my job description. It’s outside my working hours. I don’t work weekends.’

Well guess what? My emergencies don’t care about office hours. And neither do my EFTs when I pay the person who deserves my business.