Are you one of those rental operators who are so busy you do not have time to have meaningful conversations with customers? If so, you are not alone. One person I recently spoke with said their entire day, every day, was completely filled with handling new incoming orders, cleaning equipment and making deliveries.
He said he was literally unable to slow down and talk to customers about anything other than today’s order. He openly acknowledged that while business was booming again, there was a daily concern about the negative long-term effects of losing the real connections they had previously built with their customers.
How did we get here? On May 13, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that they were no longer recommending that fully vaccinated people needed to wear masks. This recommendation held true whether you were inside or outside.
After more than a year of escalating postponements and cancellations of events due to government-mandated lockdowns, an unprecedented flood of live events started happening again all over the country. Almost overnight, demand for rental equipment skyrocketed in many markets.
Most of the event rental inquiries have been for social gatherings, which was fine with business owners who were just happy to hear the phones ringing again. Corporate clients continued to take a cautious “wait and see” approach, but there has been no slow down to the requests for rentals for weddings and other social events.
This demand has not slowed down for some rental operators for eight straight months, creating what has felt like an endless busy season. Add to this a hiring shortage and everyone is stretched to their capacity limits.
“The last six or seven months, and directly due to staff shortages, our main focus has been just getting orders out the door to our customers. We had too much on our plate to handle anything other than the day-to-day operations,” says Sara Blood, vice president, Blood’s Catering & Party Rentals, White River Junction, Vt.
“Our singular focus on processing orders has weakened in some instances our long-time relationships with clients and potentially lost us some business,” Blood says.
Jared Medaris, CERP, president, Expo Events, Fresno, Calif., has experienced similar challenges. “Because the demand for our services has been so high, we haven’t devoted as much time to marketing or client retention as we had in the past to sustain long-term relationships. Due to this we have had multiple instances where our lack of bandwidth has limited our ability to follow up and communicate with our customers. This has created challenges and missed opportunities,” Medaris says.
“As an organization we recognized quickly that regardless of the flow of incoming orders, we had to find the time to regularly connect with our existing customers as we had previously,” he says.
Safeguarding customer relationships. As we enter January, it finally feels like there will be a brief lull in the influx of new business allowing operators to potentially catch up. So, what should you do to protect the valuable business relationships you have spent many years building, but might have neglected over the past eight months due to lack of time? Here are a few ideas:
Make time to do a “Hello Call” campaign with your team. Pull a list of your top 100 customers by annual revenue and assign each person on your leadership and sales team five customers to call each day. Once they have completed those five, assign five more. Why are you calling? To say hello. It’s that simple. Your customers also are worried about their relationships with you. Call them and ask how they are doing during these unique times. Don’t wait until it is too late, and they have gone to a competitor for their rental needs. No matter how busy you are, you can attempt to contact one to five key customers a day to say “Hello” and “Happy New Year.” Medaris and the Expo Events team also plan to make a big push in the first quarter of 2022. “We have a plan in place to reconnect with all of our existing customers and focus on the optimal ways to improve regular communication with each of them. We also will be looking at which past pre-pandemic clients haven’t reached out to us in a while and make calls to reintroduce ourselves and remind them about the services we offer,” Medaris says.
Visit your key customers and poll them on new equipment options you are considering as additions to your inventory. Get everyone involved by sending out your sales team on a local road show. Load up the vehicles and take the samples to your top customers and let them vote on their favorites. Record their feedback on each option to share with your internal team. Don’t forget to take pictures at each stop and post each on social media. Have fun and remember to tag the customers and your business. Include your key customers like venues, caterers and event planners in the buying and selection process to gain buy-in and assure future rental orders. “Starting in the new year we will be kicking off a campaign to connect with all of our key customers to renew relationships, check in with them, and gain a better understanding about the new rental products they are looking for and that we can provide,” Blood says.
Schedule business reviews with your top 10 or 20 customers. A business review is a quarterly or biannual meeting with your key customers. It is an opportunity for you to review the status of the current business relationship with your customer. More importantly, the review should focus on how you can work together moving forward to the benefit of both companies. The goal is to reinforce the relationship and be less of a “vendor” and more of a “partner.” This will build trust and strengthen your relationship with the customer. Plan to take these key customers out to lunch in the first quarter and have a business review with them. You can obtain valuable intelligence about the direction your customers are taking for the coming year and how you can be a larger part of their plans.
Always remember that your customers are ultimately yours to lose. Safeguarding these relationships should be a priority for everyone on your team for the business to continue to thrive and grow.