In today’s financially sensitive, construction-starved, credit-tight environment, it is essential you do one thing above all else: Listen to your customer!

The hard fact is…good customers are so hard to get and so easy to lose. The old adage, “Your best customers are your competitor’s best prospects,” is amplified even more in today’s fragile economy.

Everyone is trying to get a bigger piece of an ever-shrinking pie. You work so hard, and spend so much time and money to get a good customer. You finally get a nice order and then either you ship the wrong item, damage the product in transit, miss the promised delivery date, make it defective or (worst-case)… you simply can’t deliver. You aren’t just messing up an order – you risk losing the customer!

This seems to be a recurring nightmare in the building products field, now more than ever. And flooring material is no exception. The service factor is not what is used to be. Sad but true!

We are in the greatest buyer’s market in history. Buyers are stingy with their money and always insist on a better deal. Giving in to their demands doesn’t guarantee repeat business, customer referrals or true customer satisfaction. That’s where service becomes paramount. So what can you do about it? Listen to your customer!

It is so important to know the way your customer feels toward you and your company. In today’s financially sensitive, construction-starved, credit-tight environment you have to show how much you care more than ever. So it is imperative that you go the extra mile when it comes to customer service, or what’s more commonly called today…customer care.

Customers want more than just a good product, superior quality and value pricing. When it comes to customer satisfaction they expect the best, and won’t settle for less. Do you make it a daily priority to really listen to your customer? Do you honestly care about meeting or exceeding their expectations, or are you just satisfied with getting the order out the door and hoping for the best?

Here are some suggestions and ideas for helping you to treat your customers the way they want to be treated.

Communication –The biggest cause of customer concern usually stems from either a lack of information, misinformation or both.  As busy as you are fighting the daily grind, priority number one should always be to keep your customers updated on what’s going on inside your industry and what’s new or different with your company. Keep them informed on lead times, personnel changes, new products, new equipment acquisitions, supplier changes, product improvements, industry raw material issues, price changes, impactful economic factors and more. Tell them what’s in stock, and what’s not. Put your company in the best position to under-promise and over-deliver!

Really Listen –Make an extra effort to understand what your customer is saying and ask questions to clear up any ambiguities and clarify any misconceptions. Sometimes they are unfamiliar with terminology, nomenclature, quantities per box or skid, etc. So what you think they mean could very well be totally different than what they really mean. It sounds so simple, but being a good listener can magically turn a problem into a plus.

Be True To Your Word –Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you know the production schedule is running behind, don’t accept the order on the front end and allow the customer to expect two-week shipment when you know it will take longer. Tell them the truth upfront and allow yourself some leeway to beat their expectation.

Be Patient and Understanding –Empathy goes a long way. Customers want to vent their frustration when something is not right. So let them vent, don’t be defensive and don’t lose your patience. Customers want solutions, not excuses. They want to know that you will do everything in your power to make it right.

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes –Put yourself in their situation and look at it from their view point. If you treat your customers the way you would like to be treated, they will remain satisfied customers and tell others how well you listened and solved their problem. That’s advertising that money can’t buy!

Face Time –Spend more time with your best customers and probe deeply into the state of their business. Ask them what you can do to help them be successful, and also find out what they rely on most from you. More specifically, get firsthand input on what they think of your order entry system, your customer care department, your phone system, your truck driver, your product offering and more. Many times you will learn a lot. But more importantly, in each encounter your customer will appreciate that you asked for his or her opinion. This is certainly a win-win situation for you and your best customers.

Update Your Website –How long has it been since you developed or updated your website? Do you have a comment mechanism on your website to allow for customer feedback? If not, you should. And you must respond in a timely manner when you get feedback. Also provide newsworthy information on your website specifically for the benefit of your customers.

Customers want to feel their business is important to you. When you don’t effectively listen to them you most likely have no idea they could be disgruntled. Typically they won’t make an effort to tell you they were upset with your service. They will simply buy flooring elsewhere. And in most cases they will tell others about their displeasure in doing business with you. So be proactive.

Follow up after every order to make sure your customers were satisfied with the entire process, from entering the order through shipment. Keep your eye on the ball and do whatever it takes to keep your customers happy.