The worst of the pandemic is behind us. Demand has slowed significantly compared to the past two years. Lead times from fabricators for most products is back down to a handful of weeks. You could say we’re pretty much back to normal.
On that basis, poor customer service, and the excuses they come with, will no longer cut it.
No more hiding behind emails
During the pandemic and the resulting boom that followed in 2020 and 2021 following reopening, much of the industry was rightly given a free pass when it came to customer service.
There were still many limits on our movements and freedoms. Self-isolation was still a legal requirement for those who became infected. Companies were quite often very short-staffed during very high periods of demand. Running a business was bloody hard work for most of the pandemic years.
The situation we’re now in though does not resemble anything like the above. There are no more limits on our freedoms. Demand has dropped off significantly. Lead times on production and installation are falling right back to pre-pandemic levels in many places. Therefore, the ability to service customers, whether that is at B2B or B2C level, should not be impacted.
Yet, fenestration social media continues to be populated by complaints of terrible customer service. Phones not being answered, emails not being replied to, delays on replacement parts etc. Had this been in 2020 or the height of our problems in 2021 then perhaps we could all have been a bit more forgiving.
But the market has changed now. Consumer demand is falling away so there should be far less pressure on suppliers to be able to deliver on basic customer service needs. What I keep getting told though is that people are hiding behind emails, reluctant to speak on phones and just a basic lack of urgency when it comes to solving problems.
Although there should not need to be a reminder, when installers cannot get back to their clients with information on how and when their problems are going to be solved, it is the installers that get it in the neck. Clients don’t care about what suppliers say, the contract is with the installer and therefore to them that is all that matters. Quite rightly.
Expand customer services
Things are about to get a lot harder for our sector in the coming months. Work is dropping off, inflation and the cost of living are starting to bite hard. Sales are not going to come flowing as they have been over the last couple of years.
That means even more of an effort to be better is required as consumers become more conservative about spending their money. At the forefront of all of that is being able to supply good customer service. This matters at all levels of the supply chain. Installers to homeowners. Fabricators to installers. Systems companies to fabricators. Standards need to get better when business is harder to come by.
What does this look like in the real world? It means companies need to expand their customer service. It means the level of service needs to be better. It means answering the phones and not hiding behind emails. It means being available for longer periods of time to make up for the spotty service of the last couple of years. Certainly not reducing it. It means responding on social media and private messages.
I do believe that the pandemic has lulled parts of the sector into numbness on the customer service front. I see companies doing great work. No one is perfect, errors and problems always do occur. It’s how you put those issues right, and there are some out there doing their very best to make sure they’re on top of it all. But there are somewhere the complaints are very vocal and very regular and in these quieter industry circumstances, there should be no excuses.
Good customer service is such a vital part of any business, not just fenestration. It’s not just about winning new customers but tending to your existing ones too. Should existing clients start to feel neglected or ignored, they will vote with their feet and leave, ruining any future business from that customer.
I do think that in some quarters customer service is seen as temporary to secure a sale. But we need to remember that it’s not part of a business, it’s all of a business and at every level. Customer service runs from top to bottom and side to side of all businesses. Whether it’s in sales, remedial work, answering a phone, sending an email, or installers working on site. Good customer service has to be 100% at every stage.
The coming period is going to be hard for many. We’re going to have to learn to sell properly again and get used to servicing customers much more attentively than we have been. Failure to do so could be very damaging for businesses in a big-ticket sector like ours where we need consumer confidence to hold up.
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