Paint Customer Retention: the Trap

| January 16, 2016 | 16 Comments

paint customer retentionWe scratch our heads over paint customer retention.

Customers disappear sometimes – they become unresponsive and fall off the radar. We thought everything went well.

The paint job looked good.

Customer seemed happy and PAID fast.

They even gave a testimonial.

It’s reality, though. Anything can happen. We have to be students of human behavior to understand customers.

Here are the stats on where customers go, according to Ken Dooley at Business Brief Sales and Marketing:

  • 1% pass away (die)
  • 3% move
  • 14% go to a competitor
  • 14% were dissatisfied with product or service
  • 68% leave because of poor attitude or indifference
paint customer retention

Daily accountability by management helps make sure expectations are met.

Those last two reasons mean the same thing – 82% leave because they aren’t happy with the experience they had with the company they chose. You don’t even get a chance to retain a customer that is done in the first round.

Sometimes customers will act happy, pay fast AND give a testimonial just because they are simply glad its over. Like a bad date. They can’t forget your company soon enough.

They aren’t mad, they are just disappointed – which is worse, it causes indifference. They aren’t going to go online and trash you, they just want to forget the experience and move forward.

Now, the above stats are a reflection of businesses in general. Paint customer retention is different. In fact, it is more challenging because it is a service based business, rather than product based.

At worst, we are inside people’s homes for days. At best, we are on the outside of their properties and they can see us through the windows.

[Survey: How do YOU get Customers?]

Either way, customers are experiencing…us.

paint customer retention

Are you asking the right questions and listening to what customers want?

Talk about first hand service and “in your face” customer experience. And, it only takes one bad moment – a painter urinating in the bushes or stomping out smokes in the driveway – to turn a customer sour.

If you have been concerned that maybe you are losing customers because you don’t have the best Customer Retention (CRM) software, maybe step back and look closer to home – what is happening on the job?

Your production IS your service. Your crew out in the field, working on people’s homes, may be the strongest indicator of success or failure in your retention efforts.

How well do you know what is happening on your projects?

There’s more to managing than TELLING employees what you expect and calling that the “system.”

HOW your service is delivered IS your customer experience, after all.

How Much are You Losing when the Customer Forgets You?

In some cases, you may be losing a headache. You may also be losing a lifelong relationship of interior and exterior sales and services.

Let’s look at the numbers…

Depending on the industry you are in, the Harvard Business Review says replacing a customer is anywhere from 5 to 25 times more expensive than keeping the customer you have.

And, retaining just 5% more of your lost customers can impact profits by 25 to 95%. That’s a better return than most forms of marketing that we use in the paint industry.

This certainly creates some urgency and incentive to keep the customers we have, but HOW?

Paint Customer Retention: Make it Personal, because IT IS

“It’s not personal, it’s just business…”

This old piece of advice has always been used to remind business people to not take things personally – to soften the blow of a lost sale or customer.

That mindset can cause contractors to market and sell impersonally, which is a big mistake. Paint contracting companies are small, service oriented businesses. People have higher expectations of us, because we are in their homes. Its not like an Amazon order that just has to show up fast at a good price.

Customers become confused when paint contractors try to market like corporate giants, and that’s not a good way to start a relationship.

At the end of the day, every day, look at what was promised (estimate/sale), what was delivered (quality, production, customer experience) and all the little things that happened in between.

If this post has made you think, our recent video on Customer Communication and Listening drills deeper.

Will you share your thoughts on customer retention with us in the comments below?


Category: Business

About the Author ()

Scott Burt is a paint contractor, writer and paint trainer from Vermont. He writes for American Painting Contractor magazine,, and is a featured blogger at JLCOnline.

Comments (16)

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  1. Chris Haught says:

    Great thoughts Scott. I wonder what the average mix of returning vs new customers is?

    • Scott Burt says:

      I’d guess that it varies from company to company, and most probably don’t even know for sure. But yes, and industry statistic would be interesting. Maybe someone will do a survey…

      • I’ll put our numbers as the first survey response 😀 – 37%previous customer, 30% website/online search, 26% referral, 5% paint store, 2% other. These are customer sources and this article really emphasizes the need to take customer experience seriously which would help the previous customer and referrals go up if you are lacking in the dept.
        Damn those people who move away or die….. 😉

        • Scott Burt says:

          Ha! Awesome answer Mathew, thanks so much for the info and the humor. Yes, we are going to run this survey for a while and see if we can get some accurate data for everyone to access. We always need more castles, right?

  2. Don Goddard says:

    Great article, Scott!

    This is where I’m at right now in my business. Trying to learn how to retain, and attract, previous customers. Our retention seems to be good, but due to the lack of a CRM from the beginning, I don’t know the actual numbers. But we’re working on that now. Here’s to happy customers!

  3. Dan says:

    Great article Scott, I would add another point to your comments on client retention. Every year we grade our clients in our database. A,B,C, and D for do not wanting to work for them anymore. I agree with everything you said about the client experience with a painting co.’s employees, and it works both ways.

  4. Thanks for sharing this article Scott! I’m posting it on GroupMe for my team to internalize. I’m crystal clear that You are your own job security!

  5. Really interesting article!
    We’ll share it around our social media sites – we’re sure it’ll be useful for our contacts too!

    Marketing Assistant
    Holman Specialist Paints (UK)

  6. Mark Watts says:

    Good read Scott.

    I started to look last year into how I could perhaps use Excel to record my customer retention rate. Your article has prompted me to look at it again.

  7. Good article. I have always stressed the importance of professional behaviour on site w my crews. It can be a challenge for some painters to realize this significance but I have learned first hand how it matters. Customers can have strong reactions to seemingly subtle actions by the crew. Daily visits from senior management is essential for delivering on customer expectations. If you have sold the job you know first hand what was most important to the customer.

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