April 1, 2020
To put it frankly, service businesses have it tough. The customer decision-making process for service businesses is much more difficult than it is for businesses that sell products.
When someone is considering purchasing a product from one of two companies that have similar offerings, they can easily compare the different products. They can see the product, touch it, smell it, sample it, they can test drive it, and they can even take it home and try it risk-free for 100 nights with a full money-back guarantee! If a business's product is better than its competitors, customers can see that, because products are physical objects.
None of the above is true about a service. If you are selling a service, you are primarily just selling a promise. A promise that you, the service business, will do your work, and the customer will end up with the thing that looks, feels, smells, operates, and lasts the way they want it too. There are no certainties like there are with products, which makes the transaction inherently riskier for the customer. And that risk means the customer is on high alert throughout the entire decision-making process.
Think about it like this. You are considering buying a pair of shoes. You don't trust the person trying to sell you the shoes. However, you have the shoes in your hands. You can see they are the style you want, they are in good condition and the correct size. It is safe to say you might still buy them even though you don't trust the person selling them. Now consider that the same person is offering to make you a pair of shoes. Would you take that deal? That is the difference between selling a product and a service. When you are selling a service, the customer needs to trust you.
The absence of a tangible product means potential customers of a service business base their purchase decision off of other factors. Many different conditions can influence the customer's opinion. Information on the internet, views of peers, advertisements, phone/text/email conversation with the business, appearance/demeanor/professionalism of representatives of the company, documents you give the customer, and ultimately the price. All of these elements affect how a customer sees your business. Every interaction with your business is factored into whether or not the customer believes your business is the one to trust.
Companies drive themselves crazy, attempting to ensure they have the right formula to win over even the most cautious consumers. However, some customers' decisions defy logic. For example, "The price is so much lower than everyone else, they must have to keep their price low because they are no good" and "The representative didn't seem to care at all, these guys must be great!".
Little do business know they don't need to worry about all the noise. Companies only need to focus on one thing. If they beat their competitors in that one category, they can get any job they want. If a business has a strong past performance, they can write their quotes on a napkin, and they will still get jobs.
You often hear that word of mouth is the best form of advertising, and that's because it is, but why? What is happening when a person says to their friend, "Ya, we had them do our pool, they were great." That person is building trust in their friend that the business will deliver on its promises. And the reason word of mouth is the best advertising is because it creates this trust more effectively than anything else.
That being said, there are other ways of selling your company based on past performance besides just counting on happy customers to refer you.
One of those ways is with reviews. Reviews are the online equivalent of word of mouth advertising, with one big difference. A recommendation between friends only reaches one person. A review on the internet reaches everyone that is investigating the trustworthiness of that business. Luckily, you can have your cake and eat it too. A customer that leaves a review may also still recommend you in person one day. So, make sure you ask every customer for a review.
And while you are at it, get pictures of the work you do for customers. Images are another way of proving a strong past performance. A photo is the closest a potential customer of a service business will ever get to holding a product in their hands before they buy it. If your company can prove you have done something similar before, it improves the likelihood you will do it again this time.
Things are a little different for new businesses. They can't rely solely on reviews, in person or online, as their primary source of new customers. They haven't built up a large pool of past customers to count on for this yet. At the start, growing businesses need to pull out all the stops to win jobs and build up their reputation. So get a website, respond to customers promptly, and use a company letterhead.
However, always keep one thing in mind if you want your schedule to be booked up months in advance. Your number one goal with those hard-fought initial customers and any that follow is to turn them into lifelong advocates for your business.