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Raising the Customer Service Bar

From "Remodeling" Magazine
November, 2004
By: Stacey Freed

The good news is there are a thousand options. The bad news is there are a thousand options," is what Tricia Sinn tells her clients in regard to product selection. That bit of news, from the customers' perspective, might be enough to send them over the edge. Luckily, for Sinn Construction and Development clients, Sinn can handle the fallout. As a "selection specialist." she helps clients find what they're looking for while working within budget parameters.

While it sounds simple, the job entails more than just spending a few hours shopping. "My relationship with clients starts when they are signing the design agreement," says Amie Riggs, a former selection specialist and now a sales manager with Riggs Construction in St. Louis.

Both Sinn, who is also located in St. Louis, and Riggs agree that a selection specialist must have a close working relationship with clients, with whom they'll spend many weeks, even months. They learn their clients' likes, dislikes, and habits and steer them in the right direction so they'll be satisfied with a product's function as well as its price. "I try to help them control the process because there are so many options," Sinn says. In this way they help keep the budget on task.

They also need to know product lines. "I have to be comfortable with the product first, in order for my client to be comfortable." says Riggs, who developed the selection specialist position in her father's company when she saw all parties become frustrated with the traditional method of giving clients a list and sending them shopping. Clients would bring back products without all their parts, or they wouldn't know to ask for a price up front, she says. But is it worth making a commitment to creating a full-time position? "I'm hearing a lot more people looking at this as such a benefit," says Victoria Downing, of Remodelers Advantage. Or, she adds, "they're bringing interior designers in-house," who may also fill a sales spot to sell other products or design work.

"The downside," Downing says, "is trying to find the right person for the job and figuring out how to pay the person. It's definitely an additional investment."

Despite this. Downing thinks it's worth it. "It's one more person to manage, but having someone in charge of [helping clients choose products], working on deadlines, and pushing the process forward can be huge."

At Riggs, the selection specialist is a full-time salaried position that also includes product sales and assisting in the sales process. The selection specialist's time is included in or as part of the design agreement contract and the construction contract. "This service is provided as part of the whole package." Riggs says. Sinn says her company charges tot the service by the hour, and they've found value in that. "When people know they're paying by the hour or a flat fee, they value the opinions they're given. They value the time, as well, and don't waste it."

Downing suggests building the selection specialist job into your estimate, planning it as a job cost, and marking it up just like any other job cost. "It's not a huge investment, and it helps push the company to a new level of customer service. It's a wonderful resource for clients."




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