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Southwest Part 2 | Cultivating a Loyal Customer Base

Southwest Industrial Electric is an industry-leading electrical solutions provider based in Los Angeles, CA. In this episode, CEO Kristin Larson, and COO Elizabeth Rochefort, share the mindset and strategies that have helped their business cultivate long-lasting customer relationships.

Josh Smith (00:03):

Hello, everyone. Welcome back to the sharpest tool. My name is Josh Smith. I am your host and the vice-president of internet marketing over here at scorpion for the home services division today with me, we're back for round two with the wonderful ladies over at Southwest industrial electric, which is an industry leading electrical solutions provider, and they deliver a comprehensive portfolio of innovative solutions and managed services to today's industrial and commercial markets. They've been around for 40 years and they have become the leading solutions to the electrical problems in the south west region. So welcome back, Kristen Larson, the CEO, the chief executive officer and Elizabeth [inaudible]. Who's the COO and the chief operations officer. So welcome back ladies to the sharpest tool. Thank you.

Kristen Larson (00:47):

Great to be

Josh Smith (00:47):

Here for those of you who are listening right now, and you actually missed episode number one, definitely go back and check it out is specifically on training, training programs and training roadmaps and how they've been implemented and developed for Southwest. It's a great episode. There's a lot of meat in there. So you want to take something away from that, take it back to your business and go implement it so you can see some dramatic changes. And today we're actually going to talk about another really key piece of growth to grow your home services business, or just your business in general, over the course of years. And that is partnerships growth doesn't happen without partnerships. It doesn't happen without great customer relationships. And so without further ado, we're going to dive right in and I'm going to turn the mic over to our wonderful ladies here and ask him this in regards to customer relationships, you're very intentional with who you go after and how you target them. How do you let people know you're looking for something long-term and not just like a one-time call when it comes to the customers you work with?

Kristen Larson (01:46):

Well, this is something that's really just ingrained in our sales team. Usually when customers are first introduced to our company and have interest in our services, we do have some kind of person on the sales team that will go over what we do and what we're all about. And, and that's a big point that we pushed with them is that we are interested in creating a relationship going forward, and we don't want to just do one job and call it a day and find someone else to do another job. And then just keep going. We want these relationships, so we'll do whatever we need to do to make sure our customer experience is so great that they want to continue working with us for years. And so it's really just about communicating that and to continuing to do so. And, and even as things come up, as we're working with them, whether, you know, someone didn't want to spend, you know, a quote, something and it's sort of above their budget and we always make it really clear, you know, we want to work with you. So let us know your feedback. We'll see what we can do. We'll see what we can figure out to try to get closer to your budget because our goal is to make you, you know, be able to service you and make it a good experience and make it what you need. So, yeah, sort of just in every step, we just continue to, to, to tell them that

Josh Smith (02:59):

Yeah, some of your customer relationships have lasted 10, 15, even 20 years long. Um, how do you manage to keep them for so long?

Speaker 3 (03:07):

Well, I think one of the biggest successes that we've had with that, and this is something that I kind of learned as I first kinda got started here, you know, cause obviously you go out, you want to do a good job for your customer. You want to give somebody a good end product that they are happy with and they can use. But the big thing that Southwest really focuses on is that we kind of operate like we're part of the customer's team. Like almost like we are, we're like a branch of you, even if we're a totally different company in a different entity, we operate like we are a branch of your company. If you need something done, we're going to make it happen and you know, whatever needs to happen, we're going to make it happen. And that's kind of the philosophy we've always taken.

Speaker 3 (03:49):

So with these customers, we've had forever, they all know that they can call us at any time. And we're going to, from our scheduling to our electricians, to our invoicing, to everything, we're going to make sure that we are going to service them with what they need and we're going to get the data and make sure that it's what they need. So if they're saying I need somebody out there tomorrow, or I need somebody out there, 2:00 AM tonight, we're going to go, okay, cool. Let's do it. And we make it happen for them. And I think our customers really recognize that as we continue along, um, you know, we try to instill that in that first job we do for them and then just continue it on in that way.

Josh Smith (04:24):

Yeah. That above and beyond. But I wasn't saying doing what others don't. So, so you can be where others won't or something like that, outpacing everybody out there. Are there common mistakes that you see maybe your team make or other businesses make in this area? That's preventing them from being able to achieve this with their customers?

Speaker 3 (04:43):

I think a big thing that we've seen and that we really, really focus on is people not being in good communication, I guess, with the customer, you know, you can even see this on little things, little jobs that, you know, maybe residential type of stuff where, you know, you have somebody come to your house and they are fixing something and then they just leave or they don't tell you if it's done or they don't call you back or whatever. Like we really, really strive to, you know, we always have a receptionist answering the phone. I can always basically get you to the person that you need to talk to. You know, we have policies and everything for electricians that they update the customer at the end of the day, each day with where they're out on the job, our scheduling confirms the job the day before they send out an email, like letting them know that this is the schedule. So that's been a big focus for us that we we've seen kind of mistakes happen and frustrations from customers come up in that regard.

Josh Smith (05:38):

Yeah. That's really good insight. You know, longevity, I think you mentioned that longevity as a choice, you know, this idea that longevity is a choice. So what does that mean to you? That a particular phrase,

Speaker 3 (05:49):

It means, you know, we want to keep this business going and we want to keep it going and not even just keep it going, but we want to keep it expanding. We want to keep growing. Obviously Evan who's, the owner of the company has started it. He started, you know, he's been doing it for 40 years. He's been very successful at it. And I think that's been, because he's thinking of that, he's going, you know, 20 years down the road, where do I want this company to be at? And then, you know, Kristen comes in and as the CEO and she's going cool, 30 years down the road, where do we want to be at? And that kind of gets instilled in all of us where we're all looking at that we're looking at, we all decide that we want to do that. And so how do we do that? And then everything that we are doing as a company is kind of geared towards that. And I think it's more towards expansion because I feel like you can have your company going for a long, long, long, long time, but when you expand and you're moving forward and you're hiring more people and you're getting more projects and it just, the excitement of that, the benefits of that, I think that that's what we definitely focus on in terms of when it comes to like longevity of the company.

Josh Smith (06:56):

Yeah. How do you see this particularly play out with, uh, your in regards to your customers?

Speaker 3 (07:00):

You know, I think we do these different jobs and obviously we've had the customers we've had for a very long time and we've actually developed a recent, you know, big customer relations that we've hoped to have for another 10 to 20 years. And the whole idea of that is obviously, you know, you can get one customer that gives you 90% of your businesses, that one customer. Okay, cool. But we don't want to be dependent on that one customer. And so then we get the next customer that gives us another, you know, doubles our work. Okay, great. And then we kind of add on to that and, you know, so we treat every customer, like they are our customer that we're going to have for 10 to 20 to 30 years and that's going to help us build and expand. And I think because of that, customers recognize that and they keep coming back.

Josh Smith (07:43):

Yeah. Kristen, I'm curious from your perspective. So we deal with a lot of, and work with a lot of electrical contractors, some of which are in the commercial space like yourselves with some of which are in the residential space. And I'm not sure if there's ever been a history with regard to Southwest operating in the residential space versus the commercial space. I'm curious of your thoughts on how this longevity and customer relationships differ potentially from commercial versus residential. Obviously we're dealing with people, so there's the people element here, but, uh, is there any dynamic that you've seen different about dealing with commercial jobs maybe because given the scope and the size of the job versus a residential electrical job?

Kristen Larson (08:26):

Yeah, actually Southwest. I mean, we did a little bit when I started working here, um, every once in a while, but Southwest at one point did do residential. If you look back in our archives, there's a lot of just people in there. But I think the, the main thing on why we don't do it as much and why we chose to do commercial industrial, what sort of, I mean, they are different in terms of the actual, what you're doing in commercial industrial. There's a lot more type running like you're running hard conduit, walls and racks and all that kind of stuff versus houses. You're not doing that so much. So I think Evan, again, he was more interested in that area. It was more fun, I guess, in terms of what you were actually doing. But we also found that, you know, I think for residential, I think certain things still apply.

Kristen Larson (09:18):

You obviously want to create a relationship with a customer. Like I know as someone who has a house and I use contractors for different things that when a contractor is impressive and has good communication and does a great job and keeps the place clean and all of that stuff, they're like filed as we're going to use them for everything in the future. So we just had someone paint our house a while back and you know, this person did a great job and we were so impressed and we're like, good, they're going to paint it. If we ever need anything to paint, they're going to paint it. If we have any friends that need painting and we're going to refer them. So I think you can obviously have repeat business and residential, it does happen, but with businesses and commercial industrial spaces, there's definitely a lot more of that because we do have customers that we have daily service calls for, you know, every day they have machines that have broke down. They have outlets that need to be added. They have, there's constantly things that are needed in that, in that area. That is not as much as you would find in residential where I do feel like residential has to just keep, you know, really pounding it and, and you'll get repeat business and you'll get referrals and that's all going to happen, but we just have such a solid base of repeat business constantly that it really works really well for us. Yeah.

Josh Smith (10:36):

Uh, I'm curious a little bit about your approach with B2B sales. Can we explore a little bit about the quality versus quantity mentality?

Kristen Larson (10:44):

So yeah, we definitely have like our ideal customer named, like we know what, like, if we're going to get a quality like top-notch customer, it would be a customer that is, you know, in the commercial industrial space. And that has multiple locations. We have quite a few of those types of customers where, you know, you start at one location and you really do a great job and you deliver a great experience, a great product. And before, you know, it, they're letting the people know at the other locations. And now we're servicing 30 to 40 locations in California. So that as a business is a great thing. And it's also great because we start to learn everything about them, how they operate, what kind of machinery they have or what, you know, what all their rules are, what procedures we need to follow. And we can then sort of, that just becomes part of us.

Kristen Larson (11:37):

And we form relationships with the people on the team at that company that we love. And usually again, our ideal customer would also include businesses that have a similar mentality as ours in terms of how they treat people, how they operate. So we ended up being friends with these people, and it's just cool. We do feel like we are part of their team and there's a lot of stuff we get to do with them. So that's where the quality gets, you know, in their role will go, gosh, it'd be great to work for this company. And because that is the kind of company we want to work for, and we will strive to get our name out there to them. But at the same time, you know, we do also push quantity and we do want to continue to grow our customer base. And we're always promoting and getting out there. Cause you know, every customer is going to be treated in a way that we want to continue to work with them. We don't want to just do one job and be done. We want to work with them for years and just build more and more relationships like that. Yeah.

Josh Smith (12:33):

You also have a unique approach to in-house PR and kind of curious to dive into that a little bit. I don't think many businesses, especially small businesses probably think about that as much. So tell us a little bit about your in-house approach.

Kristen Larson (12:46):

So one, another sort of goal we have as a company is some people have different views of the contractor world. I know, as I started working for an electrical contractor and I would tell friends or people, I knew what I did there would sort of be a little bit of like, oh, it's sort of not really like, oh, okay. Like I wouldn't think you're doing that. That's interesting. You know, and I just sort of always felt like there was this idea of it. That was just not necessarily good. It wasn't like, oh wow, cool. You do that. Like, it wasn't the same as being an actor or being whatever, you know, being in some fashion designer. I don't know something that people think is really cool. So we also really want to spread the word and get good PR out there for the electrical contracting industry, as well as contractors in general and get more sort of set the example and get more people doing the same thing because we love what we do.

Kristen Larson (13:43):

We think it's super interesting to be able to provide a service that so many people can operate with this service. And we're working for people in the aerospace industry where they're building rocket ships and we're the ones that get to connect their machines for, for these rocket ships to be made. And we're doing projects to expand distribution companies that, you know, service the world. So that's really fun and we consider our installations. Aren't like, they look great. They're awesome. And they work well. And we just want to show that. So we do that through our social media, we do that through our YouTube and we get involved in community events to be able to just sort of be a part of that and help others and just make the whole thing, like something that we can be proud of and that others can see and go, wow, they're doing that. And hopefully other contractors will follow and we'll sort of create a change in terms of what is considered by the majority of people of this industry.

Josh Smith (14:39):

Yeah, that is awesome. It bet you're doing that because I agree. I think that's just in the trades across the trains all around, it's got this perception of what it is or what it's like. And, and that's, I think that's part of the hiring challenge and a lot of businesses are facing right now too, is it's not seen as desirable as another profession potentially, but there's a lot of upside to, is there a special way? I was kind of curious, is there a special way that you utilize testimonials for your PR?

Kristen Larson (15:09):

Yeah, so we basically, we mostly share it through our newsletters, through our social media. We send out, you know, monthly newsletters that sort of do updates on our company and what we're doing. And we share testimonials that way. We also share testimonials internally on a weekly basis with our staff meetings. We really, obviously that's a big part of what everyone is you're doing is we love helping people. And we love to hear that feedback that we're, you know, that we're doing well and that people are happy with our work. And so we like to share with our staff and everyone just loves it. So that's a big one as well.

Josh Smith (15:44):

That's great. And I, I imagine, uh, that the training kind of comes into play here a little bit too. Are there certain steps you take in the course of the training of all the employees that we talked about on the last episode or certain steps you take in this area of building trust and getting customers ultimately to love the people that work at Southwest?

Speaker 3 (16:04):

I mean, I think we, you know, as we continue to move along, like we definitely is, was very instilled early on, like from Kristin and from the company, Evan, like that customers are the number one priority, you know, phone call from a customer, you take that customer's upset, handles, like everything's drops and you take care of that, you know, situation or whatever. And that was very prominent, you know, when I first started. And so we've kind of tried to instill that in the training program, you know, making sure we have different policies and different write-ups on how you treat a customer, the things to look out for to ensure that you have a smooth conversation with the customer, you know, and that's both with our office staff that deal with customers or scheduling salespeople, and then also people guys out in the field, you know, like, let's say something comes up on a job and you have to tell a customer, we need to do a change order because they are adding some stuff like how to, how to have that conversation so that it's not Rocky or bumpy or anything like that. And you know, also obviously running things through, you know, the, the higher ups to make sure, you know, we're appropriately handling the situation based on the customer we're dealing with. And so I think it kind of trickles in all throughout our training program. And as we run into different situations, we also write more things and we'll implement more things, but it's a very prominent aspects to the training that we have. Yeah.

Josh Smith (17:31):

It's interesting. It's one of the things that is so prevalent and prominent just in just day-to-day relationships with your parents, something as simple as that. And I think sometimes we're so scared to broach that with somebody else and actually have a conversation about there's actually a really good way to have a conversation with somebody that foster is really positive relationships, you know? So I, I love that. I love that you take that approach, ladies, you know, as we wrap up this episode, I'm just kind of curious if you have any final thoughts for those who are listening, those who have been thinking about how do we get more partners to come back more customers, to come back for the long haul and want to do more business with me. What's kind of final thoughts, final piece of advice. You might give somebody who's listening right now.

Kristen Larson (18:15):

I would say that I think the number one thing to always sort of put your attention on and to focus on is helping people. I think if that's sort of, what's behind your actions is to try to help your customers or help whoever your, your staff, whatever you're doing is sort of geared towards that. And that's what you focus on. It's going to come through to the people that you're working with. It's going to, it's going to make people see that that's what, you're what you're doing, rather than just trying to get more money out of them or something, you know, you're actually your point is to help people. And if you focus on that, you're, I just think you'll have success because, cause that's what it's all about,

Josh Smith (18:55):

Elizabeth, everything on your side.

Speaker 3 (18:57):

I mean, I think it's, I think what she said of helping people. I think that that's a big point and I feel like as we've grown the company, we focused on that more and more. So I think that that has been a big part of us growing back when we had one or two office staff, like even when I started, there was probably three or four people in the office. Like it wasn't very many people and it was just kind of the day to days type of stuff. But as we've started to really focus on the people we hire, like the office staff more and more, and making sure that they're doing really well, both in, in, in their training, but also in their lives and all of that. And then the same with our electricians, making sure that they have a game that they can continue to expand and build. And the company really focusing on that, focusing on the good things and the, what everybody's doing. Right. And kind of emphasizing that we've found that we've grown way, way more. The more we put attention on that.

Josh Smith (19:54):

Awesome. Well, ladies, I want to thank you so much for your time. Joining me for round two episode number two, to talk about Southwest and everything going on inside the company. So thank you for dedicating your time. I appreciate it.

Kristen Larson (20:06):

Thank you for having

Josh Smith (20:08):

Us and for everybody listening definitely hit the like button and the subscribe button wherever you might be listening at. So you can continue to get more of this awesome content from scorpion and from all of us here at the sharpest tool until next time. Thanks.

Speaker 4 (20:29):

[inaudible].

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