There is no shortage of stories about seemingly ungrateful customers. “I did this or that, didn’t charge him anything (or very little), and the sorry #@!%&!! didn’t even say thank you”. “I’ve been keeping that bucket of bolts of hers running 3 years past the time it was due for its appointment with the bone yard. Now she brings it in here, one more time, for a rescue, and I see an oil change sticker on her window from one of my competitors”. Where’s my appreciation?
The fact is that there is no shortage of stories like that floating around out there and, if you’ve been in this business for any length of time, you probably have enough of your own collection of “experiences” where you could publish your own book. I’m not here to tell you I have the magic elixir to make all that go away. Uh-uh! As long as you are dealing with people, that will never change. But, here’s the problem we face. The longer we work, the more of those stories we collect. The good stories fade into the background. After all, they are what our expectation is of what business should be like. It’s not that we don’t remember the good customers. It just seems we remember the bad ones more easily.
What happens to us is that, after a period of time, we tend to form habits in the way we treat customers that doesn’t always match-up to how we think of ourselves in our own minds. Sure, chances are that our good customers will always get treated well. The caution lies with the new customer or those who, for some legitimate circumstance, do not see you more than once or twice a year. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I am living in south Florida. Many of the residents in my community are “snow-birds” (they are only here for the winter months). Then we have the “snow-flakes” (they are the ones who flit in and out with the storm cycle up north and don’t even spend the equivalent of 2 months during the year). Now, can you think of any reason why you might not see those people as frequently as you would like? The point is that there are lots of reasons, so why would you not consciously treat them as a valued customer? The “unconscious” reason is that you have lumped them into that group of “storied” customers due to the frequency of their visits. We all tend to like the family with 3 or 4 vehicles, only one of which is new. Sure, they see you more often and you may know their personal stories, but there are other kinds of customers that can prove just as valuable.
My strong message here is going to be that you cannot form a “good business” practice based on a few “bad business” people.
You may only see that customer once or twice a year but the impression you leave them with can last for years and have far reaching implications. And, I’m not just talking about the amount of money they personally spend in your place. I’m implying that those customers you interact with, every one of them, has the potential to do you either harm or good. >>>> I want you to take a moment and re-read this paragraph. Spend a minute thinking about the truth of that statement. Think of how you, personally, have done good or harm to a business when you were the customer. Go ahead. I’ll wait. …..
Studies of human nature tell us that people are 10 times more likely to tell friends and acquaintances about a bad experience than they would a good one. That’s not me. It’s just a fact. My point is, knowing that, you need to work 10 times harder to get those good stories circulating. You can’t afford to waste a single opportunity. Is it worth the effort? You bet it is! Here’s what happens to a “good” story.
I know I’ve mentioned my friend Al before. He runs an independent repair shop a few blocks from where I live. My personal interaction with him is limited because I usually lease my cars, I don’t put much mileage on them, and therefore they are always under factory warranty. But, I do everything I can to do business with him, so all my regular service is done at his place. The 2 questions I have for you are: 1) How did I come to use Al? and 2) Besides my personal business, what have I done for Al to promote his business?
The answer to #1 is: I was recommended to him by several people. I am living here 10 years now and when I first moved down I had no idea of where to take my car for service besides the branded dealership. Where could I get my oil changed? Where can I buy tires? Most importantly: Where can I find somebody that was trustworthy? I asked some of my neighbors. Guess what? All fingers pointed to Al. So, I jumped in. You know what I found out? Not only were they right, they had understated his worth.
Without getting into the specifics for the high esteem I hold for Al, I need to ask you this question. Do you suppose that I was the only one my neighbors had told about Al? How many people found out about him through word of mouth? 10? 50? 250? No way of telling. All I can tell you is he is always busy. Even off-season.
The answer to #2 is: Not only have I recommended him every single time I am asked about where to take my car, but, he has been the unsolicited topic at many gatherings when I’m with a group of guys just talking about “stuff”. I’ve gone as far as personally bringing a prospective customer into his shop just to introduce them.
So, here is the answer to where your payoff is. It can come in two days, two months or ten years later. Whenever you take the time to establish a positive relationship with the customer standing in front of you, you have no idea of how long your effort will continue to pay you back. You just have to work your way through the ungrateful ones and not allow them to influence how you set your business practices. All things being equal, your reward will come in the form of full bays.
© Bill Rosenberg
BillR Services, LLC