Post-Sale Priorities

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Your client has just purchased a brand-new, eight-person hot tub. So it's time to turn them over to the delivery department because the sale is over — you're done. Right. Wrong. Good service should start when customers walk though the door, but it doesn't end when they leave.

"There certainly are dealers out there who don't do much follow-up," says John Bratten, a sales representative for Great Atlantic in Virginia Beach, Va. "In fact, most of the ones in our area here don't and it really makes a difference — you're much more successful when you follow up."

What, then, is good follow-up. AQUA spoke with a few dealers who shared with us what they do after the sale in order to cultivate referrals and happy, loyal customers.

Immediately Post-Sale

The first opportunity to show customers how much you appreciate their business is just after they've signed on the dotted line. Chris Irvine, sales manager at Aqualand Pool, Spa & Patio in Bowling Green, Ky., says Aqualand sends off each new hot tub owner with a folder containing an owner's manual, water care instructions and warranty information. "Customers are happier when you organize things for them. And they're more likely to use them that way, too."

Max West, vice president of Eastgate Pools in Cincinnati, also hands everyone who buys a hot tub some useful information before they leave the store. "We give them our own spa owner's manual on CDROM. It explains water chemistry and other things they might not understand step by step, like how to take your filter out and clean it."

Giving customers this information after the sale helps them get familiar with their new purchase before it arrives. The other thing customers need to do at this point is prepare their site for delivery, and it's the dealer's job to tell homeowners what they need to do so this process goes smoothly.

"First, we tell customers it's their responsibility to ensure they have a level pad," says Mark Lewis, sales and marketing manager for Paradise Valley Spas in San Mateo, Calif. If customers need assistance, Paradise Valley gives them a list of contractors, including electricians and fence installers, who can help them. "And that's really important," adds Lewis, "because a lot of customers don't have a clue about where to go, and if they know the spa company they're potentially buying a spa from is able to help them through this process, it makes the process easier for them."

Lewis advises customers to have a licensed electrician present at delivery, if possible, "because that's the day you want the electrician to hook it up." In addition, Lewis tells customers they need to clear a wide path for the delivery crew, which sometimes means homeowners have to temporarily transplant flowers or otherwise protect a garden or landscaping.

All this may seem like a lot of prep work, but when customers clearly understand how their new hot tub is going to get from a warehouse to their chosen spot in the backyard, it can alleviate many headaches for you and them.

Delivery Day

Some dealerships do a lengthy orientation upon delivery, and others do not. But one thing is clear: a curbside drop-off does not cut it.

"At Great Atlantic we bring the spa to the site, put it where the customer wants it, and then install any accessories," says Bratten. "If they bought a cover lifter, we'll install that. If they bought an ozonator, we'll put that in."

Bratten says that even though his delivery crews do not fill the spas, they do instruct customers how to do that, and they also encourage them to bring a water sample into the showroom for free water testing. "That's also a way we can get customers back in to talk about water chemistry if they have any questions."

Another method for responding to customer's questions and concerns is a follow-up visit to the customer's home — what Bratten calls a turnover.

"When our salespeople do turnovers, they go to the house and talk to the customers about chemicals and maintenance and how to use the spa. A lot of salespeople actually do turnovers on their own time — after hours or on a day off. So the customer feels like the salesperson really cares about them individually, rather than just making a commission."

Paradise Valley also runs through a brief orientation at the time of delivery. "We have our guys go through what's called a spa installation checklist," says Lewis. "The customer is instructed on proper filling and water level and how to drain the spa. The crews also instruct the customer on the proper use of diverter valves if applicable, controls and operation of the spa. They give them their chemical start-up kit, and they give them written instructions on proper water chemistry."

If customers have any questions after reading the water chemistry instructions, they're asked to call their salesperson, though the salesperson may call them first with a post-delivery courtesy call. Says Lewis: "They ask how the delivery went. They remind customers that we carry all their necessary spa products, like chemicals and accessories. And they ask to find out if the customers have any interest in the maintenance or clean-out services we offer."

West says his delivery crews at Eastgate not only run through an orientation, they also hook up the hot tub. "We fill their spa and go over the system," says West. "Our technicians are trained to not just deliver the spa and hook it up, but also to go through the water chemistry and spa operation. My crew leaders that go on these deliveries, they understand not just how the spa is put together, but how it works, what the controls do, and all things chemical-related. We also give customers a water test bottle and ask them to fill it and bring it back in so we can run it through our computer.

"What we're trying to do is really develop a relationship with the customer after the sale that guarantees they will come back in."

Lifetime Customers

Lewis also says his company's efforts post-sale are rooted in building positive relationships with customers, especially in the first several months after a sale since that's when the owners will be inviting people over to see it and use it. "And of course they always ask, 'Where'd you buy it?'"

One thing Paradise does is send an assortment of cookies and a thank-you note to hot tub buyers because "it supports that relationship you're trying to build with the clients. Gifts should be built into the cost of doing business."

"We give everyone who buys a spa a gift package, and it's nothing elaborate," says West. "But customers are just very happy when they get something they're not expecting. And it's kind of nice to get your company towels out there, too, for when the neighbors come over and see the new spa, so they'll see you got it at Eastgate."

Irvine says Aqualand sends thank-you cards and Christmas cards to clients who've purchased big-ticket items, and this year they're also going to have a customer appreciation day. "We'll send invites in the mail, and have refreshments and offer discounts."

Again, these efforts are based on building good customer relations "because the lifetime value of a customer is thousands and thousands of dollars beyond their original purchase," says Irvine. "You want them coming back to buy chemicals and more big-ticket items. Also, you're more likely to generate referrals from somebody if you follow up after the sale."

Bratten agrees: "I can't tell you how many times I've sold a product in a different category than a hot tub to a previous hot tub customer. We often get people who bought a spa from us and were so pleased with our service and our organization that they came back and bought a tanning bed or their next grill, because they know they're going to get the same kind of service no matter what product they're buying from us."

To encourage customer retention, West says his company started a Frequent Buyer Program. "After a customer buys a spa from us, we sign them up for the program and send them what looks like a credit card," says West. "And we load it up with 200 points for purchasing the spa. When they reach 250 points, they earn a $20 gift certificate, and each dollar spent in our store is worth one point on their card.

"The program is designed to be an incentive for them to come back, but it's a nice little bonus, too, because the first time they come back in to buy chemicals, they're basically going to get them for free because they're going to earn enough points to qualify for their first gift certificate. And we probably send out about $100 to $180 in certificates every week right now."

West says the program is giving Eastgate good customer retention and it's helping generate new clients, which they know because they track customers in a database. "It's all about bringing the customer back into the store and making us a habit for them," says West.

Bratten also follows up years down the road. "We go to our database and find our customers from three years ago and send out literature or a post card about purchasing a new spa cover. We can anticipate needs and try to get them back in the store for an additional sale that way."

Repeat customers are certainly a good source of income, but you also want to "convey that you really do care," says Lewis. When customers think of you, Lewis says you want them to remember your integrity — that your company delivered all it promised.

Hot Tub Dos And Don'ts

Whether these tips are given to customers just after they purchase a hot tub or upon installation, the following dos and don'ts make a good checklist for you to share with your clients.

Dos

1. Do keep up with weekly maintenance.

2. Do test water chemistry frequently.

"We recommend that they have water tested weekly at the store," says Jon Capstick, of Performance Pool & Spa in Woodbury, Minn. And then, do add chemicals as necessary.

Max West of Eastgate Pools in Cincinnati tells clients: "Let us double-check a couple of things that the home tests don't give you a very accurate read on, so maybe we can head off any problems."

3. Do clean your filter at least every six weeks. Take it out, hose it off and put it back in.

4. Do drain and fill your hot tub every four months, or as needed. "This really varies depending on the water source and how many people are using it," says West. "And a lot of people think it's a difficult thing and it takes a lot of time, but it really doesn't."

5. Do lock down the cover and the control panel when the hot tub is not in use to keep out children, unwanted neighbors, etc.

6. Do use weatherproofing on covers.

7. Do follow codes when installing a hot tub. "There may be codes about disconnect boxes and where they have to be," says West. "Generally, the disconnect box is supposed to be readily accessible, but no closer than 5 feet to a spa. Never put it closer than that."

8. Do use steps. "It just makes it easier and then fewer people slip," says Capstick.

Don'ts

1. Don't ever leave children alone in a spa.

2. Don't go over the tub capacity. If it's rated for six people, don't squeeze in eight.

3. Don't let the hot tub get shut off and ignored in the winter — it could freeze, and then you've got a big mess on your hands.

4. Don't take the cover off halfway — take it off completely. A strong wind could flip the cover over and potentially trap someone in the hot tub.

5. Don't ever modify a hot tub. "Don't try to add extra jets," says West. "Also, occasionally you get some fine debris, hair, lint, etc., over the covers on the intakes down in the deep well — never take those off without the power turned off if you're going to clean those. And always put them back on."

6. Don't allow horseplay in the tub, "especially when kids are in," says Capstick.

— K.E.

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