A Simple Recipe Part Four – (Of A Four Part Series)
By Bobby Parks
In the past when a potential customer asked for a list of references, you provided names of past clients that you knew would say good things about us. For most contractors, this request occurred later in the sales process after you had established rapport with the prospect and at a point that you were seriously being considered for the job. It was often the last test you had to pass before contracting. Because you provided a select list of satisfied customers, you had control and an ability to manage what the new prospect would hear. Today the reference check has been moved up in the process sequence and occurs before any rapport has occurred. In fact, this test is being given before you even know you are being considered and you can fail without ever knowing an exam was given.
In today’s market, most customers do their due diligence online. They’re not only searching for contractors in their area, but also trying to determine which ones are reputable and trustworthy and to what degree their past customers are happy or unhappy. In large part, this determination is made by reading past customer reviews. You no longer have that same degree of reference control as online reviews are our modern-day references. And instead of being the last test you had to pass; it is now a first step and being viewed before a potential customer even contacts you.
I have met contractors who not only do not have reviews, but also consider themselves too busy to worry about it. They have invested years of building a reputation and leave a long list of satisfied customers but do not push to get the positive reviews. But the problem and risks are that at some point, you will cross paths with an unreasonable customer, or you will stumble and get a bad review. So even if 99% of your past customers are satisfied with your work, if your only review is a negative one and you have no “Stars” lit up, you’re going to look TOXIC as a contractor. If this is the case how many potential customers will want to hire you?
Building a foundation of good reviews creates an insurance policy to protect the damage that a bad one can create. The more good reviews you have the better you will be able to absorb a negative post. Good reviews do not make the bad one go away, but it lessens the impact. Your 5-star rating may drop to 4.5 or 4.75, but it won’t sink your ship. Most potential prospects understand that no one’s perfect, and when they see twenty good reviews along with one or two bad ones, you are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt. Even better, follow up and address the bad review in an unemotional and professional manner, which will likely negate the bad review altogether. You may be upset with what you believe to be an unfair post, but it’s not important that the negative reviewer know what you really think; what is important is that future prospects see that an issue has been addressed. Most can read between the lines. Look at it this way:
Think about it this way: If you’re out of town and Googling for a restaurant “near me” and some have reviews with 4-5 stars with good comments while others have one or two stars and negative comments, where are you going to have dinner? If survey results for something as inexpensive as a meal are a factor in your decision, it certainly makes sense that survey results are going to be a factor in a $20,000+ deck or remodeling investment.
Delivering quality projects with a quality experience is a given requirement to obtain good reviews and succeed in our business. Having a good process, communications, and follow-up systems must be in place. For me, once the project was completed it was a basic process of sending all customers our company’s warranty and a simple “In House” survey that included five sections for the customer to rate us on a 1-5 scale. At the bottom of this survey, we included a section for comments. Often, we took these comments and transferred them to our website in the “Customer Reviews” section. But more importantly we sent them a request asking them to go to one of three review sites that were relevant when I was contracting and do a review. We did not impose on the customer to do reviews on all sites and varied the request to assure we built up a solid foundation on all relevant ones.
I also made it a point to follow up with a personal email thanking them for the opportunity to work with them. In my email, I included Before & After photos of their project to remind them of the changes to their home we created, and to hopefully inspire them to post a good review. It is at this point immediately after project completion that our clients are likely to be as happy as they are ever going to be. Everything is new and excitement is at a peak. To wait months could make the difference of a 4 to 5 Star score.
According to some statistics, 68% of consumers are willing to spend up to 15% more for the same product or service if they are assured they will have a better experience. A consumer is making a substantial investment when choosing a deck builder or remodeler, and who they select to do the work reflects on their appetite for risk. We know they have heard contractor horror stories, and there have always been sub-par contractors out there, creating uncertainty about what their experience will be and how a job will be delivered. So, faced with spending a substantial amount of money anyway, many risk-averse customers will decide to spend a little more on an established contractor with a history of satisfied customers and strong reviews.
I know from experience that it can be challenging to get even the most satisfied customers to go through the hassle of going online, creating an ID and password, and posting a review. And unfortunately, unhappy people just seem to be more motivated to do this than satisfied ones. So, how do you convince those happy customers to let others know how awesome you are?
A lot comes down to your relationship and communication with your customer, which should occur throughout the project, not just at the start or when you want a progress payment. Make sure they understand that you are committed to making them happy, and that you are going to ask them to take the time to help you by doing a review. Acknowledge that it may take a few minutes to set up an ID and password but leverage off your established relationship and ask a second and third time if that is what it takes. I made a commitment on the day that I contracted that we were going to satisfy them and served notice that I was going to ask for a review once the job was completed.
Online customer reviews also impact how Google ranks you in SEO searches. Google algorithms are ever changing, but the fresh content aspects are part of the current SEO recipe and can impact rankings by as much as 10%. So, this should be added motivation for securing those reviews from your clients. People only know what they read, hear, and see and perception is everything.
In this four-part series I have shared a simple, but effective approach that not only allows for a successful business but provides an opportunity to stand out and have added profitability. Having a sound building philosophy, effective messaging, good referrals, a website that wreaks credibility, maintaining a social media presence, and leveraging of photos, will make a significant difference in how your career as a business owner functions. These elements shape what people read, hear, and see, creating a perception of you and your company. The statistic mentioned earlier regarding reviews that states that some customers will pay 15% more for contractors that they have full confidence in was true for my business. But I look at this ability to increase profits as being possible because of the full recipe I operated by. It required all ingredients in the recipe discussed in this four-part series. For me, this approach did allow for a smoother more stable operation and ability to increase profits by 10-15%.