Going beyond “great customer service” — Can you use automated technology to achieve it?

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martelexperienceI’ve enjoyed observing some technologically astute builders who appreciate that “great customer service” can be built into their organization’s communications and administrative technologies. IT “systems” may seem to be far away from really providing the ideal service environment, a Globe and Mail article describes how New Brunswick-based Martell Home Builders Inc. has differentiated itself by recognizing that social media tools and technology “that can bring a company down can also be used to powerful advantage.”

His firm stays on top of shifting consumer sentiment with focus groups recruited through Facebook and Twitter. Each Martell home buyer can track every step of the project from start to finish, through a personalized interactive website. “The collaborative platform ensures that everyone involved – client, lawyers, vendors and skilled trades – has 24/7 access to the same information,” the Business Development Bank of Canada said in naming Mr. Martell a young entrepreneur of the year in 2011.

“It’s so transparent these days with social media that businesses have to be focused on the customer service experience. … You absolutely have to, it’s do or die,” Mr. Martell said in an interview from Moncton.

The system includes built-in reminders, for example, to ensure the purchaser makes trim decisions on schedule — and it flags delays at the client end so that someone from the company can follow up and check in with the customer. As well, if there are discrepancies or extra costs, the customer can see these right away and possibly substitute or change things to bring the project back on budget.

Technology of course won’t replace the human decisions. Then Globe and Mail story reports:

Mr. Martell said that, ultimately, it’s the quality of the managers and sub-trades that defines the quality of the Martell customer experience – and he recruits those people carefully.

But in construction, challenges always arise. The technology allows Mr. Martell to stay on top of developments and head off any emerging problems. His company has built almost 400 homes, on budget and on schedule, in and around Moncton, Miramichi, Fredericton, Saint John and Sussex.

“I have excellent managers in each location, so I don’t actually have to spend a whole lot of time on the road. With our online system, I can have true visibility on every job site 24/7. So, for instance, at 11 o’clock at night, I can just log in, I can see all the communication, I can feel the tone of the build, I can see what’s going on.”

I’ve seen similar technology-driven models at a few other highly successful contracting, building and renovation businesses. Here, the key is to keep connected — and allow the client to be informed real time of progress and pitfalls — to create that “great customer service” experience.

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