In our lifetimes, the world has become a much smaller place. Modes of transportation available to us, access to media from throughout the world and use of social media all allow us to visit, understand and communicate with people thousands of miles away as if they were next door. However, while we are all “closer” than ever before, our sense of community has never been more out of reach.
Traditionally, when we thought of communities, we thought of our neighborhoods, our churches and even our extended families. These communities were places we turned to each other, looked out for each other and trusted each other.
Communities also provided a training ground and support structure for both how to work and how to maintain a family. As an example, before the broad reduction in manufacturing in our country, entire neighborhoods grew around a few nearby companies. Generations of workers were brought up learning to be on time, every day, to care about their work and to fear the scorn of their co-workers if they failed to carry their weight. These virtues were reinforced in the communities, teaching rising generations to be better workers, better partners in a relationship and better parents. We trusted those in our community because we shared a common set of values.
Today, much of the traditional sense of community has been replaced by an electronic community which allows people from broader distances to form relationships. These relationships can be based on shared specific interests, broad social ideals or just hanging out. But, the rise of the electronic community also directly corresponds with a generation that identifies as having many fewer friends than those in the past, and a surprisingly large number of people identify themselves as “lonely.”
Word of mouth has been replaced by the Google search and the advice once offered by a trusted friend has been replaced with the search for a 5-star review.
Word of mouth has been replaced by the Google search and the advice or guidance once offered to us by a trusted friend has been replaced with the search for a 5-star review. Restoring a sense of community can be beneficial to us both internally in building a better business and in allowing us to establish longer term customer relationships that are built on trust versus short-term, transactional relationships.
When you started your business, you had a vision shaped by your attitude and values. As you hire people and grow you must focus first on people who share your values and attitude toward service and quality. Making this your first priority allows you to rest easy knowing that they can be trusted to represent your brand. It will be harder to find people like this, so once you find them, you have to nurture those traits. Community can be something you grow within your business.
The operational training that you provide to your staff is essential, but so is the effort you put into growing the sense of community amongst your team.
Here are just a few ideas.
As a company, volunteer your time and talents with an organization in your community. There are many forms that this can take but giving your team ownership is important. Ask them to identify causes or charities important to them. Then, choose a couple and reach out to ask how you can help. Once you’ve found a fit for your team, plan a weekend day and invite your team members to bring their families. End your day with a shared meal to celebrate the good you’ve brought to your community and the teamwork you’ve shown.
At your next staff meeting, ask your team members to share what their families enjoyed most about the day.
Here’s something even easier from a logistics point of view, but equally powerful in building community in your office …
Make it known to your team that you want to hear about the little victories in their lives or those of their family members. These can be a spouse getting a new job, a child making their First Communion or even doing great on test that worried them. With their permission, celebrate these achievements with the whole company in your weekly meeting. Let your team members know how much each of their successes mean to the rest of the team.
Showing yourself as an agent of the values you’ve instilled in your business can go a long way toward earning the trust your customers need to feel for you.
Residential service contractors are in a unique position compared to other businesses. You are out in the community and invited into the homes of your customers, interacting with them as well as their families. Your customers come to you at moments when they are at their most vulnerable. Showing yourself as an agent of the values you’ve instilled in your business can go a long way toward earning the trust your customers need to feel for you.
You can laugh all you want about “today’s generation” that can’t fix a thing for themselves, but what better way to empower them than by helping them understand and become a bit more comfortable with the home they just bought?
Talk to a local realtor about offering a class to review the basics of understanding your heating and cooling system — how to properly maintain it and why. Have a friend in the plumbing trade? Electrical? Do the class together with each. You’ll give these overwhelmed first-time owners some peace of mind. You may want to provide an item with your company name and number, should a repair become necessary.
This concept is a simple way to use your expertise to benefit members of your community while creating an opportunity for the trust you’ve earned to lead to future work.
With the help of your team identify a charity or cause in your community. Think local — a women’s shelter, the food bank, a local veteran’s organization. Set aside a small part of each invoice to be donated to that organization. It doesn’t have to be a big amount, maybe $5. Put a notice at the top of your invoice that $5 from each sale benefits the charity you have chosen.
You can even add a line to the invoice for the customer to offer a small contribution, as well. Make this part of your messaging to your customers in your advertising and on your trucks. Show that you are trying to make a difference in your local community.
Expressing the values of your company doesn’t have to just come through giving time or money. There’s always …
Dogs (OK, other pets, too) are a huge part of a family. In addition to showing your company cares about your team members and the community, how about showing you can have a little fun, as well?
Consider using social media in a way that goes beyond straightforward marketing. Some of you may be aware of the “UPS Dogs” Facebook page. It has over 1.3 million followers waiting for UPS drivers to post pictures of the dogs on their route. The Twitter account WeRateDogs has over 8 million followers anxiously giving “14 out of 10” star ratings to the cute pictures posted on the feed.
This could be a really fun way to drive traffic to your Facebook page. Ask permission of the homeowners you service to let your technician take a picture with their pet. Let them know you will be sharing no information about them (i.e., their name or address) but would like to share the picture of the tech and their dog on your company Facebook page. Most will LOVE the idea of their pet making it to the internet and most of THEM will go to your page and share that post with their friends. What a great way to get people clicking on your page and show you are a company that values family and isn’t afraid to have a little fun.
There are so many other things you can do to make your company a means for growing community. Find ways to make this a part of your office life and do all you can to make yourself known as an agent of trust and community amongst your neighbors.
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