This story is for all solo practitioners who have heard over and over, again, the way to stand out is to ‘differentiate’ yourself, provide value and make ‘clients’ for life who then become evangelists and send you business for the rest of your professional career.
In my tech-ignorance I screwed up my desktop computer. My computer is my life-blood but I was locked out and panicked. (Thank G-d I had a laptop which I have slowly been starting to use more regularly and switched to some web-based programs so I wasn’t completely paralyzed.)
At 11:00 p.m on the evening I thought my life was over I e-mailed a technician who has been to my home before. We had established a nice rapport so, naturally I pulled out his card to contact him. He charged $75.00 per hour to come to my home and work on the computer. The next morning I still received no response. He wasn’t available, apparently and I remained desperate.
Historically, I would go to a store location about 30 miles away (again, a long standing relationship when I lived closer to this computer repair store) which charged a diagnostic of $29.99 and it would have now cost me about 4 gallons of gas for two round trips, one to drop off and the other to pick up. So, we are talking about at least one hour drive time and $47.00 just to bring the computer to the store. The repair would have been an additional cost.
So, naturally, I did a google search for ‘computer repair’ and the surrounding towns. About half way down the first page on a search for computer repair plus the closest town I found a website for in-home computer repair service for home businesses and personal computers. The site says, “we can charge less because we have no overhead and we come to you.” I called. Within minutes I received a return phone call. Rate $25.00 per hour and he would be there at 4:00 when he got out of work. Still no e-mail or phone call from the $75.00 per hour plus-travel-time previous technician.
The gentleman arrives at 4:00, was unsuccessful fixing my computer on the premises but assured me he would fix it and takes the tower with him. He gave me some frightening scenarios but with each scenario explained the resolution so I felt confident I would be satisfied. He is also the main IT guy for five local schools. I felt secure about giving him my computer.
Next morning, still no phone call or e-mail from the technician I had used before. At 9:15 a.m. I get a phone call from the new tech guy. The computer is fixed. He would bring it back to me after work at my convenience, just let him know the time. He returned the tower, explained the problem, hooked everything back up, tweaked a few other issues I had, downloaded Firefox 3, showed me the benefits of the program and charged me a total of $40.00. That’s right, $40.00.
Finally, I get a phone call from the other technician. I told him, “I needed you, you weren’t available, I contacted someone else, they fixed the problem so I don’t need your services anymore.” He said, “OK” and hung up.
#1 Customer Service Lessons:
- When a client needs you, respect their urgency.
- If they contacted you because of a previous relationship, value that relationship above all.
- If you are unavailable for a client, provide a satisfactory alternative or expect to lose business, not just the client who called you but everyone they will talk with in the future;
- Deliver what you promise…and then some;
- Don’t overcharge simply because you can. (The new technician knew what others like him charged and he could have easily charged me the same and I would have paid it gladly….but he didn’t He had positioned himself based upon convenience and lower cost while delivering exceptional customer service and he adhered to his marketing message.)
- Understand who you are targeting as a client and then make sure they don’t want to go anywhere else because you provide the best services at the right price, meet their unspoken needs (my computer contained all my financial data, personal data and more… I needed to trust this individual who was walking off with my tower), and make them feel like a highly valued client;
#2 Marketing Lessons:
- Know your distinctive competencies – Computer repair is the core competency of every computer repair store and technician; the distinctive competency of this technician was ‘house calls’, reasonable rates, quick turnaround times on both phone calls and repairs, peace of mind to the non-tech residential computer owner who panics when something goes wrong;
- Know how your clients will most likely find you or reaffirm your existence and skill sets if you were a referral and devote the proportionate dollars from your marketing budget accordingly;
- Help your clients to become evangelists for your services, not with bribes and gimmicks, but with high quality client care.*
As a solo practitioner, you should be analyzing and developing your distinctive competencies. We will discuss this more in the future. However, when you hear others talk about being distinctive, separating yourself from the pack, it is not about flash and glitz and more advertising where you make louder noise than the next lawyer. It is about presentation with follow-through and building solid relationships and evangelists for your services one client at a time. It is about a clear marketing message you adhere to without deviation. It is about understanding the problems of your clients and presenting the right solutions to the identified client in the manner they seek it out and the way they want to receive it. It is about connection, not force. It is about hitting resonators which takes you out of ‘selling’ mode and puts you comfortably in a position to deal with those clients who are attracted to you precisely for your distinctive competencies. The sale has already been made if your marketing message is on point and your ability to deliver is known.
And when you really get this concept, that your clients will be attracted to you because of your distinctive competencies (which go beyond ‘services’ and blend your personality and how you are uniquely positioned as an individual as well) then you will understand why I always say, ‘there is no competition.’