Write On Target

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Good verbal communication with your customers is a must in sales, production and service, but there is no substitute for committing important information to paper. Whether you build pools or sell spas, aboveground pools, products or services, you can be more effective and avoid potential problems when you "put it in writing."

Think of all the written materials you provide to clients prior to their selection of a pool. And all of us are familiar with advertisements and their effectiveness in bringing the customer to us in the first place. We can also make effective use of a well-designed Web site for promoting our companies and making people aware of our brand. It is useful to have an attractive brochure with lots of detailed pictures and well-written copy describing your company, as well.

But what about providing a tool that enables customers to actually compare companies in a checklist form? I designed just such a form with relevant categories and points of comparison for customers. We hand out this form, already filled in for our company, and we suggest customers have every company they are considering also fill it out. We give them as many blank copies as they want in order to do this. This then gives customers something objective they can use to "grade" the pool companies they are considering. It gives us a way to sell the company first and makes it obvious to customers why they should trade with us. It also eliminates companies who refuse to fill it out or fill it out incompletely and puts the competition on the defensive from the beginning! Effective use of a tool such as this matrix can put your company out front from the get-go.

Next, think of the written materials you might provide customers during construction of a pool or installation of a spa or above-ground pool. It's helpful to give the customer a pre-construction letter describing exactly what will take place. In pool installation and construction, the same questions come up with customers over and over again. Why not tell them up front what will happen and provide them with that security and reassurance as the job progresses? Putting it in writing will save you time and complaints! Also vital at this stage is the written change order if there are any changes or additions during construction. You will save yourself a world of hurt if you absolutely refuse to make a change to the original contract without a written change order signed by the customer. Be specific as changes arise and do not rely on verbal agreements to add, for example, extra deck at extra cost. Make sure to pin down exactly what the changes will be, how much they will cost, and get it signed prior to doing the work.

As a pool or spa is completed, there will be a turnover period and the need to communicate effectively with the customer about the proper care and feeding of their new "baby." A customized guide for their particular pool or spa — including the manufacturers' owner's manuals for their equipment — will demonstrate to the customer your company's superior service and help reduce call backs. These contribute to the customer's perceived value of the product they've purchased.

At this stage, another new tool would be useful. Provide your customer with a good pool-care book. In my retail store, I received requests over and over for such a product. A good pool-care book can serve as a permanent reference for your clients and can also save you time by answering frequently asked questions. You can also use it as part of customer pool-care schools. An educated customer is a happy customer! A poolcare book is also a good item to sell in the retail store, to use to train employees in all aspects of the business, and, if you sell pools, it is an excellent item to give to the customer at turnover. Offering professional information on pool care in a well-written format sets you apart as a company that cares about customers and their enjoyment and proper care of their pools.

Follow up your sale and installation with a thank-you note and questionnaire soliciting feedback. This can be done in many ways, but whatever method you choose, it will give you valuable feedback so you can continue to work on problems, reinforce strengths and improve your company. Putting it in writing is the best way to demonstrate and document your company, and it will pay off in sales success!

In addition to putting it in writing for your customer, it is also important to put it in writing for your employees. Have clear and detailed policies covering every aspect of your operation and write an employee handbook that is used to thoroughly train your staff in every area. A good handbook and policy guideline should begin with a clear mission statement that sets forth in broad terms your company's business philosophy. Then create detailed guidelines to achieve those goals. The mission statement is the "what" you are about, the handbook is the "how to" part of the equation. Both are vital for a successful company. It's also useful to periodically put goals in writing for each department, and to evaluate progress — in writing, of course. Regular company meetings with a clear, written agenda can help facilitate reaching goals. Written recognition is also important when employees meet or exceed goals.

It is very important also to document an employee's performance in writing with regular reviews, and to keep a file on each person's progress. If it does become necessary to terminate an individual who is not performing, has excessive absences and tardiness, etc., having the record properly documented in writing can save you problems if the employee files unemployment or makes claims against the company after termination. Having an employment history in writing and asking the employee to sign and acknowledge formal review records protects the company and encourages proper work habits.

Finally, use the written word to blow your own horn! When your company or an employee accomplishes something special, be sure to write an article for your local paper, take an appropriate picture and take advantage of the free positive publicity that you will receive. Do not be shy in letting the world know how good your company is — but put it in writing! Merry Wise, vice-president of Wise Pools near Houston, is the author of Cruising Through Pool Care the Wise Way.

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