Understanding the Customer Journey: How to Build Customer Relationships that Last

Conventional wisdom says happy customers will keep coming back. While that may apply to restaurants and department stores, sales opportunities in wood flooring come years apart, rather than weeks or months.

That’s why John Shepard, president of Carpet One in Panama City, Florida, keeps in touch with his customers through social media, postcards, newsletters, and advertising. He knows the customer journey starts before the sale and continues long after.

What is the customer journey? It’s the sum of all the experiences customers go through when interacting with your company. Journey mapping is a process by which marketers seek to understand customers’ needs, goals, thoughts, feelings, opinions, expectations, and pain points at every touch point with your company. Armed with this information, marketers can customize their approach at every stage to build long-term customer relationships. For simplicity, we’ll look at three phases—before, during, and after the sale—and what you can do at each phase.

Before The Sale
Early on, prospects will probably visit your website. What do you want them to know? What do they want to know? How do you want them to feel? For retailers, the message might focus on a low-pressure atmosphere, competitive prices, or large selection. But no matter what the message, you’ll want to set the stage before customers are ready to buy.

What to do:

  • Make sure your website accurately reflects who you are and what you have to offer. What do you want your prospects to remember after visiting your site?
  • Know your brand and what makes you unique. What do you do differently or better than the competition? Is this reflected in your advertising?
  • For a consistent brand identity, use the same messages, fonts, colors, imagery, and logos in all communications. Can prospects tell your marketing materials from
    your competitors?
  • Be consistent in how customers are greeted in person and on the phone. Is your staff trained to communicate your key selling points in 20 or 30 seconds?

For a contractor-based business like Flooring Services who does turnkey work for some of the largest new homebuilders in Texas, the message will be different.

Their website focuses on these key benefits:

  • Supervisors who inspect every job before, during, and after installation
  • Consistent inventory to stabilize prices, minimize color variations, reduce lead times, and maintain availability
  • High-quality materials and premium finishes
  • Strong builder-manufacturer relationships
  • Programs to help contractors upsell

Flooring Services Manager Ken Ervin also knows contractors and their customers care about style and color. “Each of our approximately 55,000-square-foot showrooms is actually a design gallery where homeowners can make all the selections for their new home. We also have companies that sell stone, blinds, lighting, stairs, and doors,” explains Ervin. “Each builder has a designer who helps their customers select everything from the brick outside their home to interior plumbing and cabinets.”

During The Sale
During the sale, customers want information. They want to know why one product is better than another or what added value or benefits they will get with a higher-priced product. They may also appreciate design services to help ensure their flooring works with their home’s other design elements. In short, they want to make the right decision.

This is where you can build trust by addressing their concerns and educating them about product quality, installation, climate, sustainability, and pet traffic.

What to do:

  • Offer manufacturer-recommended wood cleaners along with information about proper maintenance.
  • Give a free sample of wood floor cleaner or a complete floor care kit. Explain why it’s important to use manufacturer-approved products.
  • Offer a discount on a future purchase.
  • Provide a financial incentive or free gift for referrals and also for those they refer.

Again, the contractor-based business will have a different approach. For example, Flooring Services’ supervisors monitor each project before, during, and after installation. “We constantly check on each home’s progress. We pre-walk the home to determine the condition of the slab and if the HVAC system is operational. We don’t install until the site is officially ready. After installation, we cover the floors with a protective layer of cardboard-like material, which is removed immediately before closing,” explains Ervin.

After The Sale
The customer journey isn’t over after the floor is installed. Customers still want to know you care about them after the sale. This is also an opportunity to cement the relationship you’ve worked so hard to build.

What to do:

  • Send a hand-written thank you note signed by the salesperson.
  • Send a floor care kit or cleaning product as a thank you gift.
  • Call after delivery or installation to make sure the customer is happy.
  • Immediately address any issues or concerns.
  • Follow up to make sure any issues are resolved to the customer’s satisfaction.
  • Add the customer to your mailing list.
  • Advertise to stay top of mind; remind customers you’re there.
  • Consider a maintenance contract with annual check-ups, cleaning products, cleaning service, stain treatment, minor repairs, HVAC system analysis, or recoating.
  • Ask for a testimonial or review on Angie’s List or Yelp. Post it on your website and social media platforms.

At Flooring Services, the most important relationship is with the contractor. So if the builder calls with a problem, they follow up immediately. But their commitment doesn’t stop there. “I’ve trained all supervisors that, no matter why we’re in the home, we always go over maintenance. We’ll leave copies or email PDFs with information about the proper way to clean their wood floor to help ward off any future problems for our contractor customers and us.”

Keep them coming back
Although it may be years between purchases, building strong customer relationships pays off in the long run. Just ask Carpet One’s Shepard, “I’m surprised at how often people come back. Sometimes every year to three years. Our repeat business is very high. There are no absolutes. When you presume that flooring is a one and done, it actually isn’t. The way to keep them coming back is good service and good quality products.”

Katrina Olson is a freelance writer and principal of Katrina Olson Strategic Communications. Reach her at katrina@katrinaolson.com.

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