Back in the first post of this series, I talked about how important it is to know the cost of running a faux finishing business, and charging enough to be profitable.
In part two, I get into the nitty gritty of building a world class faux finishing sample portfolio.
Part four shows you how to find and leverage promotional work for profit and business growth.
In this post I cover some secrets to fostering long term relationships with customers.
Customer Service for Faux Finishing Business Success
The words Marketing and Advertising are often confused, and confusing. So let’s start with some clarification:
“Advertising is just one component, or subset, of marketing. Public relations, media planning, product pricing and distribution, sales strategy, customer support, market research and community involvement are all parts of comprehensive marketing efforts.” ~MarketingProfs.com
This is helpful for creating categories for organizing your marketing efforts. Though I believe the author missed the most important categorie: Customer service.
This Art is Service
I believe that whether you’re selling tires, donuts, massages, insurance or faux finishes, all business is service. Assuming this is true…
Last week one of my graining students emailed about a technical issue she was having. In the most recent version of the course, I’d already addressed and resolved her problem. Looking in my records at her history with me, I saw that she did not have the most recent version of The Faux Wood Workshop eBook.
I replied with some detailed solutions specific to her project as well as the link she needed to download the newer version of the course.
What’s this got to do with marketing? Patience, Grasshopper… I’m getting to that.
Some details I forgot to mention: She’d bought my course two years ago, and I did not charge her for the course upgrade or the technical support.
I ended my email as follows: “Thanks for getting in touch. Please let me know if you need more clarity on this, or if I can answer any other technical or creative questions.”
A Conscious Decision
When I started PerfectWoodGrain.com I decided to not charge students for course upgrades, and to provide free technical support for life.
The long term positivity generated from this approach results in more meaningful connections with students. Those connections are more valuable than the small profit I might earn by charging for course improvements and technical support.
Another benefit is that when a student sends me a question, I have to consider whether the instruction in my course is clear. Not always, but sometimes a few minutes spent answering a question leads to a significant course improvement that I can share with current and future students.
Has the student I mentioned above recommended my courses to other painters? I have no idea. But I know this; due of my small generosities and willingness to help, she’s much more likely to.
“…in 6th grade when I got a mullet and my mom said I was gorgeous…”
The great marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuk famously spends a lot of time and effort interacting directly with individual fans on social media. When asked why, he explains that deep, personal connection with individuals is infinitely more valuable than broad, impersonal ads.
Gary’s famous and, I believe, brilliant response to a Fortune 500 exec cuts to the heart of the value of one-on-one connection when he asks (caution: adult language-NSFW) “What’s the ROI of your mother?“.
For you naughty language avoiders, I’ll summarize: Throughout my life, I’ve benefited from my mom’s care in ways that cannot be measured. Deep, one-on-one connection with fans and potential customers offers powerful return on investment that traditional advertising can’t.
The message is to not treat people as faceless numbers. In the social media example, when you get a new follower, question or a comment, respond directly to the person who sent it. BTW; at the time of this writing, the most popular social media for the age groups of people who own homes and businesses are Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.
Actionable Examples for Customer Connection
Social Media aside, (a vast topic best left for later posts) how might a faux finisher connect deeply with past, current and future customers?
I’ll offer a somewhat random but non the less valuable list of rarely seen “marketing” maneuvers that you can apply. Each is an example of personal connection vs broad, random (expensive) advertising.
Cost of implementation is free to cheap, but each, if done well, will result in “ROI” too great to measure.
- Grand opening party- Whether you’ve been in business for a while or actually just opening… you can throw a party. Personally invite anyone you’ve done business with including past and current customers, designers, contractors, property and project managers, friends and family, other local business owners… It doesn’t have to cost a lot. Grill some burgers, provide drinks and chips… If you don’t have a big place, location can be at a local park or other public facility, party/business space… Partner with a business that has the space and could use the exposure. Partner with an established designer or paint shop; agree to do the promotion if they buy food… Could even become an annual event. Be sure to have portfolio samples on display. Take time to talk, one-on-one, with everyone who shows.
- Post bid thank you note- No one does this and it can be very powerful. You may be one of many called to bid on a project. Take a minute to write a brief note: “Thanks for the opportunity to provide a bid for your project. I am confident that Acme Painted Decoration is a great fit for the wonderful finishes you’re considering. Please call if I can answer any question about our proposal. Sincerely…”. Send this via snail mail within 24 hours of submitting your bid. You’ll stand out among other bidders as conscientious and thoughtful.
- Post project gift- While on the job, pay attention to your customers interests, hobbies, reading habits, favorite foods… After the project is done and paid up, send a book, bottle of wine or other small gift they may like. You can step it up a bit with a gift certificate to a nice restaurant or other experience. Include a sincere thank you note.
- 90 day check in- At the end of the project, tell the customer that you’ll check back in a few weeks to make sure the finish is all good. They won’t think much of it, until you actually call or drop by; then they’ll be amazed.
“I already offer a warranty on my work so why should I do this?”.
Calling serves many purposes including opening the door for more work (she’s been thinking about calling you to grain the mantel…) and cementing you in their mind for referrals.
NO ONE wants to call the contractor when some aspect of the work fails, or if they just have questions about caring for a finish. When you do call, if there is ANY issue with the finish, even if it’s in their imagination, go fix it. Don’t argue or make excuses… Go to the job and make them happy. Make them feel totally certain that they hired the right finisher in the first place. And while you’re there…
- Ask for referrals- “How does that qualify as customer service?” you’re wondering. Fair question. Some people thrive on helping others. Marketers call them “sneezers”. They LOVE to tell others about the film they saw or the burger joint they love or… the decorative painter who did their kitchen. Sneezers lives are enriched by helping people. Let everyone know that referrals are the life blood of your business and you’ll find out who’s eager to help.
- Share referrals- Did you have an amazing experience buying a new couch? Got a plumber who nails it every time? Work with a designer who’s brilliant, professional and low-drama? Drop these tidbits into your newsletter and ask people to share theirs. Become associated with great service in the minds of your customers.
- Deliver a monthly or quarterly newsletter- (you saw that coming) Keep well organized address, phone and email lists of everyone you work for, provide bids to, work with… anyone even remotely connected to your business should be on your contact lists. Newsletters are real work and if you can’t do it consistently, hire someone to do it for you. The payoff will be huge. When you have a great project to talk about, share it in the newsletter. When you don’t, share the work of a designer or architect or furniture store you work with or like.
- Brainstorm- How do you stay connected to friends and family? What are some powerful experiences you’ve had with businesses that went the extra mile or surprised you in ways that have stuck with you? What solidified your loyalty to your favorite shops and services? Who/what do you “sneeze” about and why, specifically?
I firmly believe that customer connection is powerful enough to eliminate the need for advertising. Well placed ads can be useful to position your service for specific types of work (like big commercial projects), or for establishing your presence in higher end neighborhoods.
But no ad can match the power of great customer service and deep, one-on-one, personal connection with the people who support your business.
- Advertising is on aspect of your overall marketing plan
- The foundation of all great business is customer service
- The ROI or Return on Investment of great customer service, like the love of a parent, is incalculably valuable
- Make personal, one-on-one connections with future, current and past customers and others related to your business for repeat business and powerful, free word of mouth advertising