Building a new company is tough, but sometimes, acquiring an already existing organization, especially one that hasn't been doing well, is even more challenging. Success often requires a clear strategy to turn a failing business into a successful one.
This was a reality that entrepreneur Stephen Bienko faced when he acquired the third location for Cleveland junk removal company College Hunks Hauling Junk last year and immediately realized that a lack of employee commitment and poor customer experience levels needed to be addressed if the company was to succeed.
According to Bienko, the Cleveland location of College Hunks was suffering from a bad case of improper management and a lack of training among employees. "There was no inquiry into customer needs and expectations," Bienko notes. Other problems revolved around lack of teamwork or commitment. "It was simply a place where people went to earn some money," he notes.
These problems contributed to a negative experience for several clients. In fact, when Bienko implemented customer listening tool Systino, he that only 5 percent of customers were happy with their experience. "The other 95 percent of customers had a negative response," he notes.
While this feedback was worrisome, Bienko says since the location had a small footprint, he was confident that negative word of mouth among customers who used the service wouldn't be detrimental to the organization's reputation and he could turn it around before the problems escalated.
The first step was to read reviews to uncover customers' main pain points. "Complaints revolved around breakages, wrong estimates, and haulers who arrived late or didn't turn up," he notes. While Bienko's first reaction was to terminate the whole team and start hiring from scratch, a closer look at customer feedback indicated that the problems could be addressed with comprehensive training focused on delivering optimal customer service.
Since the company was retaining the previous owner on staff as a sales representative, Bienko asked him to nominate the employee who had the most potential and who would be retained. "It was immediately clear that we needed to make changes to the staff," he notes. However, the previous owner identified four employees out of 13, insisting they all had potential, and Bienko next spent time with the team to gain deeper insight into the issues affecting customers. "I realized that they were good workers but poorly trained," he notes. "Although they wanted to do a good job, they had no idea how to do it."
One of Bienko's first changes was to make sure that employees were, as he puts it, "dressed for success." Recognizing the importance of first impressions, the organization provided new uniforms and encouraged employees to get a haircut and make sure they show up for work clean-shaven. "We wanted them to feel good about themselves and the job they were doing," he says. Trucks were cleaned and any missing equipment ordered to make sure the workers had the necessary tools for the job.
Additionally, the employees were given proper training into customer expectations, allowing them to carry out their duties without alienating clients. For example, arriving late for an appointment can be extremely frustrating for customers who might have taken time off from work to work for the crew. Further, employees were trained to do their job as efficiently and effectively as possible.
One major pain point that customers had complained about was wrong estimates. Bienko needed to ensure the location's sales rep, a job given to the previous owner, was calculating pricing estimates with accuracy so that customers knew what they were signing up for. Bienko brought over an expert who sat with the sales rep and devised a plan to provide better estimates. Although when Bienko took over at the beginning of November the schedule for upcoming jobs was empty, the newly trained sales rep started returning calls and providing accurate estimates, leading to a full schedule within a few days.
The improvements to the business have led to a number of successes. Bienko notes that the company has grown five-fold in just over two months and had to double its employees.
Further, the company has seen vast improvements in customer satisfaction rates since last November's takeover. "Besides increased revenue, we're seeing that 99 percent of our customers say they are satisfied with the experience," he notes.
Apart from emailing a survey at the end of every job, the company is committed to getting more information from customers and regularly makes calls to ask them whether they were happy with the experience. The strategy, Bienko explains, is to contact each person who doesn't give a good rating to better understand what the company could have done better to satisfy that customer. Further, customers who take time answering the survey and indicate that they don't mind being called are also contacted and thanked for their time, which also provides an opportunity for College Hunks to get additional feedback that the client didn't include in the survey, for example whether they have any suggestions for improvement.