Great Expectations

Four pro tips on how to cope with ever-growing consumer demands and better serve today’s digitally fluent customers

by Diane Walsh

Diane Walsh is Vice President of Market Development and Sales Operations for ShurTech Brands, maker of FrogTape Brand Painter's Tape. Diane also serves as director of the ShurTech Professional Paint Advisory Board, working with leading contractors from across the country to explore industry trends and share innovations for the benefit of the entire trade. Diane was awarded the 2018 PDCA Associate Member of the Year.

You don’t have to be a fan of HGTV’s hit show Fixer Upper to be familiar with hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines. These days, the husband-wife duo has become the face of the American DIY Dream to transform an unsightly space into something chic and beautiful. And while the experienced contractor might understand the projects featured in each 30-minute episode actually take eight weeks or more to complete, home makeover shows make it look fun, easy—and unrealistically quick.

Considering the huge popularity of HGTV and DIY networks, there’s a good chance your customers are familiar with – and have been inspired by – the Gaineses and other home makeover stars.

In addition to HGTV and DIY network, your customers are likely fans of services like Amazon Prime two-day delivery, on-demand ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft, and any number of other apps, websites and virtual services that have conditioned the average American to expect what they want when they want it.

This is the world in which we live and paint. In-person visits to a prospective customer’s house or business to spec out a project are being replaced by a growing number of mobile apps and web services like Paintzen, Houzz and Angie’s List that provide instant access to contractors, reviews, project estimates and design inspiration. This trend presents new challenges for the painting pro, but also new opportunities.

“Any time you can get people interested in what we do, we can add value by providing that service to them,” says Kevin Nolan, President and CEO of Nolan Painting in Havertown, PA. Nolan, who has nearly 40 years in the industry, says customers that look to platforms like Houzz and programs like Fixer Upper for design ideas are likely to have a more adventurous approach to their project and a clearer idea of what they’re after, not to mention a photo or video clip to help share their vision.

Tom VanDerkolk, 25-plus-year industry veteran and owner of VanDerkolk + Kooi Painting in Grand Rapids, MI, agrees, specifically citing how communication technology advancements have made his team more efficient. “Most projects are going to have questions, concerns or misunderstandings. We work to plan around those as much as possible, but simply knowing if our customer prefers a text, call or email allows us to solve an issue quickly.”

Here are four takeaways to help you stay relevant in the digital era and manage ever-growing customer expectations.

Get Social

If your business doesn’t have a Facebook or Instagram page, start there. Both platforms offer a free and easy way to showcase your handiwork. There’s a good chance your customers will share those project photos with their networks, which could lead to additional business. Or, you could pay to boost one or more of your posts to reach a larger network of potential customers. Both Facebook and Instagram allow you to choose your budget and target your posts to specific geographic regions and user interests; for even as little as $20, you can increase the probability of getting your craftsmanship in front of people most likely to need your services.

If you specialize in commercial work, sharing with photos, videos or behind-the-scenes tidbits about your work processes on LinkedIn might help you catch the eye of other local businesses.

Many of your prospective customers look to Pinterest for inspiration specifically for home painting projects. Having a Pinterest presence will show your customers that you are up to date with current trends and can be useful in helping your customer pinpoint the paint color or design scheme they are after.

Learn to Use a New Tool: Technology

While there are plenty of ways you can spend money to get noticed online, there are also a variety of free tools. For example, VanDerkolk says his team often uses Google Maps’ Streetview and Google Earth imagery to view a new job site – a simple practice that helps them prepare for the job. You can also review your business’ Facebook page insights (they’re free) to get a better understanding of your audience’s age, gender and location demographics – information that can be of use when designing a seasonal sales push, tailoring the tone of your social media content or deciding where to target an advertising campaign. And storing frequently used sales and marketing materials on cloud storage services like Google Drive or Dropbox allows for quick and easy access out in the field. Some painting contractors take their use of technology one step further — Google AdWords campaigns (an inexpensive form of online advertising) can help generate new leads, for example.

Own Your Reviews

Nolan and VanDerkolk’s combined 67 years of experience hasn’t yielded a sure-fire way to avoid negative customer feedback, but it sure has taught them a thing or two in how best to deal with it. Both owners recommend taking the time to respond to any negative reviews that show up on Google, Facebook, and Yelp, an effort that at minimum demonstrates to anyone who may encounter the negative review that you are genuinely concerned about your customers’ satisfaction, and in the best-case scenario may even result in the dissatisfied customer amending the negative review (or removing it altogether) or giving you another shot at the business. Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask your satisfied customers to leave a positive review of your business online – having a high volume of good reviews on Google, for example, will help your business show up in search results.

Maintain Your Humanity

No amount of technology will replace the value of a human connection with your customer. So while some homeowners may opt for the ease of a website or app to get a project estimate, the reality is that many more will seek your business out because of your reputation or as the result of a recommendation from a friend or family member. VanDerkolk recommends going the extra mile with customers whenever possible; he’s been known to surprise families who are without use of their kitchen for a few days due to a renovation project with a gift card to a local restaurant or tickets to a sporting event. Similarly, Nolan recommends finding ways to give back to the community around you. Whether you are sponsoring a community event or doing pro bono work for a community organization, you are demonstrating your business’s character and culture in a way that no digital service can ever replace.

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