There’s a restaurant chain here in the east called Legal Seafood. They’ve been in business for years, and for good reasons. Their places are clean and attractive. They serve good fresh food at a fair price for the value delivered, and their service is always above average.
When they show you to your table, the first thing you’ll notice is that there’s a paper placemat in front of you and on that placemat is a lot of interesting information. Here’s some of what I learned while I was trying to decide what to order: An oyster is a source of well-balanced nutrition and is surprisingly low in calories, fat and cholesterol. They are also the most naturally concentrated source of zinc, which medical research has shown strengthens the immune system and improves athletic endurance (Hmmm. I glanced up at The Lovely Marianne, who was ignoring me). Oysters also change their sex during their lives, starting as males and ending as females. I didn’t know that. Did you know that?
I also learned from the Legal Seafood placemat that they source oysters only from approved farms, where quality is assured. All the oysters are then quarantined and thoroughly tested by the Legal Seafood in-house lab, and delivered to the restaurant within 24 hours. So I’m not going to get sick from eating raw seafood in this place.
And the placemat went on for a while more. It told me of more oyster glories, and how the folks in the immaculate kitchen will lovingly prepare them for me, while keeping me healthy and vigorous in all my athletic endeavors. I gazed at The Lovely Marianne yet again. No dice.
And then it dawned on me that this successful business was using a simple piece of paper to prepare me for the goods and services they were about to deliver. And it occurred to me that you could do the same, and you should because very few contractors think to tell a potential customer what to expect from them. And, let’s face it, that’s what the customers want to know. What can they expect from you? What rights do they have?
When I got home, I jotted down this Customer Bill of Rights, which you may use, if you’d like. Change any part, or add and subtract whatever you’d like. Make it your own. Include this Bill of Rights with your quote and I’ll bet you get that next job. If you were on the receiving end of something like this, wouldn’t you want to do business with your company?
So here’s the framework, along with some comments.
We’re looking forward to having you as our client, but before we begin, we want you to know that you have certain rights and we promise to respect these.
You have the right to a real human being on the other end of the phone. If your basement is filled with water, if your toilet is in rebellion, if your heating is cooling and your cooling is heating, you will speak to a caring human being, not an answering machine or an answering service when you call us. You’ll be talking to a professional with a phone in one hand and a two-way radio in the other. And isn’t that refreshing?
(Think of how you feel when you get an answering machine. Even if you’re a small company, find someone to answer your phone. If that’s not possible, create a Right that has you returning their call within a certain amount of time. In the age of cell phones, you can do this.)
You have the right to have us there when it’s convenient for you. Ozzie and Harriet went off the air a long time ago. We realize that Mom isn’t sitting home all day waiting for our technicians to show up, so we schedule appointments in a win-win way. We will do our very best to accommodate your busy schedule.
(By mentioning Ozzie and Harriet, or some other old TV show, you’re letting the client know you’ve been around for a while – and that you’re experienced. They’ll like that.)
You have the right to purchase a service agreement, which buys you peace of mind and saves you lots of money. There is nothing like preventive maintenance when it comes to keeping things working as they should. An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of Tylenol.
(If you’re not offering service contracts, then you should consider doing so. It costs a lot of money to get a new customer. Why not do your best to keep in touch with the ones you have as the years go by?)
You have the right to guaranteed performance. When we fix or install something, it’s guaranteed to work as promised. Period.
(If you can’t make this statement then you should give up your business and take a job working for someone who can.)
You also have the right to a fair price. And we’ll give you that price before starting any work. You’ll know exactly where you stand.
(This is, of course, for flat-rate contractors. If you’re a T&M shop, explain how you charge for parts of an hour and only for the materials that you absolutely need to get the job done.)
You have the right to feel safe and secure in your own home. Our employees are drug-free. We’ve researched their backgrounds and we know them like we know our own family members. They’re educated and they’re certified. They’re not going to mess up your property, or walk across your rug with muddy shoes, or sit on your furniture, or any of that. In short, we’re not going to send you a knucklehead.
(This will get the potential client thinking about the folks who work for the other guy. Are they taking drugs? Dopey? Careless?)
You have the right to courteous service. Because we will never send you a knucklehead, you can be sure that the people we do send you will be polite and treat you with the same respect and courtesy they would a member of their own family. By treating people this way, we will remain in business for many years, and that means we’ll be there to serve you in the future, whenever you need us.
(This needs to be said, because not only does it have an effect on your potential customer, it also speaks loudly to your own employees, as do all of the points you’re making in the Bill of Rights. It cuts both ways.)
You have the right to remain noisy! If we make a mistake, we’ll make it right. You won’t have to ask us more than once, but if you enjoy screaming, we’ll be happy to stand there while you do (But you should know that none of our customers has ever had to exercise this right.)
(Say this and they’ll smile, and my guess is that this customer will never scream at you. It’s just human nature.)
When you’re finished with your meal at Legal Seafood, your server will clear your plates and take away that placemat. Then he or she will lay a new placemat in front of you. And this one will begin by stating, “We pledge” in large type. Below that, you’ll read the Legal Seafood promises.
They will always deliver the freshest, highest-quality food. They will always assure you of a clean and comfortable environment. They will promote diversity and respect for all human differences. They will respond in a rapid, sensitive and non-confrontation manner to requests that will enhance your dining experience. They will provide you with an experience that will encourage you to return. And so on.
I like that last point a lot. They will encourage you to return. You want your customers to return, right? You’ve given them a Bill of Rights during the proposal stage, and this has helped you get the job. So take another page from the Legal Seafood playbook and give them a pledge in writing at the end of the job. In it, you can explain how you will always be available to come back and take care of any problem they have in the future. You can let them know that you want them to be totally satisfied with your work, and pledge to do something about it if they’re not. You might even offer them a coupon for future service at this point. Use your imagination. Set your company apart from the others.
It’s not that complicated.