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Home Tradesman Insights Five customer focused steps to get ahead of the competition

Five customer focused steps to get ahead of the competition

Whether you’re a sole trader or run a small business, competing for customers can be challenging.

There’s a lot of competition out there, and gaining an edge over your rivals is key to success. Read on to find out how taking care of your existing customers can bring in more business.

1. After sales

The job’s complete. Payment’s been settled. Nothing is left outstanding. At this stage most businesses will move on, but this shouldn’t be the end of the journey.

How do your customers feel? Are they happy with your work? Have they found issues or are they unsure how to contact you?

When money has passed hands, send an email to thank the customer and confirm payment has been received. Make sure they know about guarantees, warranties and other important information. And you need to be available to answer the phone.

It’s frustrating having a problem with something you’ve paid for, and there’s no one to help. For this reason, your phone number and email address should be stated clearly on your website and marketing. This doesn’t mean a member of staff will be taking calls all day.

If you’re part of a small team, set up voicemail and ask your customers to leave a message. Explain that it may take a few days for you get back to them with an answer to their question. Better still, confirm a time and date for the callback and they won’t mind waiting. On the other hand, if customers are left hanging or kept out of the loop, they will burn bridges with your business.

You should also encourage customers to rate your business and service. Send out emails with a feedback form attached, or direct them to a rating site. What customers say works wonders for marketing and gives your business more credibility.

Collecting feedback from customers is a great way to understand how they see your business.

Follow-up emails are also a great way to keep communicating with your clients. Use a follow-up as an opportunity to remind your customers about who you are. Once a job has been complete, wait a week or two and send a ‘can we help with…’ email or message.

Follow-up emails keep you in touch with clients who have purchased from you already.

You can also offer referral discounts for customers to pass on to family or friends. This keeps your business in your customer’s mind. If you remind clients about what you do, when they need services in your sector, they will think of you first.

2. Invoices

When a customer sends you money for a product or service, they deserve proof of payment. And the sooner you do this the better. Even if you don’t have an accountant, invoices are a must. And they have an added benefit for you, too.

Invoices create a sense of trust. It could be several weeks between the customer sending you a deposit and the work being carried out. An invoice acts as an ‘agreement’, and gives the customer peace of mind.

Invoices also help you keep track of your finances. If you’re an sole trader or subcontractor, you’ll need evidence when you file taxes each year. Invoices keep a record of payments received, and if you email them to customers, you’ll have a backup in your outbox.

This means if your computer crashes or breaks down, a copy of your records is stored online, ready to download.

3. Complaints

Mistakes are unavoidable. We all make them, and over time mistakes are forgiven or forgotten. However, if your business is listed on a review site, (like TrustPilot or Trustatrader) the complaint will stick out like a sore thumb for the world to see. And they will see it.

Customers are picky about who they hire, and if your online rating is flagging behind the competition, they will run a mile.

The best way to deal with complaints is to address them head on. If a customer posts a one star review about your business, reply to the complaint and offer to solve the issue.

This takes care of the problem and shows potential customers that you manage complaints seriously. Customers respond positively to mistakes when hands are held up high and every effort is made to fix them. Be proactive, and that one star review might turn into a five star review.

4. Estimates & Quotes

Let’s imagine you run a scaffolding business and you agree a quote with your customer. A week before the work is due to start, one of your colleagues is injured and you have to hire a subcontractor or temp employee to complete the job. The help you have found charges a higher rate and this eats into your profits. The price of the quote increases £50. It’s not a lot, so you don’t tell the customer.

Estimates are hit or miss. Customers know this. When they are told a service will cost a certain amount, they know this might change. An estimate might go down, but it’s more likely to go up. Either way, changes to costs must be made clear. If possible, tell your client before work begins.

Prices have gone up since Brexit, and stock and production shortages has pushed up the cost of goods. Nothing can be done about it.

What you can do, though, is keep your clients up-to-date so they don’t get a nasty surprise when they receive their final bill. 

5. Enjoy what you do

Take pleasure in the work you do. If you work face-to-face with customers talk about your job, but remember to keep it positive. Customers will be turned off with stories about your lazy colleague, or how bad the coffee tastes.

People want to know what other people have done, and how it has improved their lives. They pay for the service, but invest in the people.

Build rapport with clients and you’ll form long-lasting relationships and attract repeat business. If your customers feel valued and receive a service worth talking about, they will do.

Word of mouth is still the most powerful way to advertise your business. If you offer an exclusive service that can’t be found anywhere else, your customers will boast about it.

Give it a go. Work out what makes your staff and your business special. You’ll be surprised how positive clients will be when they talk to someone who’s passionate about their job.

The above suggestions take time and effort to do right. If you’re a sole trader or a small business owner, resources may be stretched already. So be creative. Set up some systems and templates that are easy to use when you need them. And when it comes to finding new business, take care of the customers you already have, and they will do the heavy lifting for you.

Mark McPherson

Mark McPherson has an MA in Creative Writing and has been crafting content for over a decade. He writes for a range of niches, including the construction industry and insurance sector. Mark has worked internationally as a content writer and teacher.

All articles by Mark McPherson

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