Friday, December 30, 2016

Pretend You’re Working For Tips

This being my article for the December blog, I thought I would try to tune into our “end of the year” thought process where we take time to reflect on what the past year has offered us as far as our jobs are concerned. You already know how you did financially. That’s a matter of record and it’s now history. Moving forward. The equally important question is, how well did you perform your job and, specifically, how well did you treat your customers? It’s easier to point to how many times you “beat the clock” or locked in on a diagnosis as soon as it hit the lift. That doesn’t give you the whole picture. Last month we spoke about accumulating those “Passing Grades”. If it’s not fresh in your mind, this is a good time for you to go back and review the article (Does Anything Ever Go Wrong?). It might help get you started in even more positive direction for 2017.

I know it’s hard to keep focused on delivering outstanding customer service. It challenges us the minute we walk in the door. You can call it what you like; busy schedule, technical challenges, poorly behaving associates or an upset customer. They are a part of our lives and we have to learn to block them out and put them in the back of our minds before we engage the next customer or bring the next vehicle into the bay. The work you are about to do or the customer you are about to speak to have no idea and should have no bearing on what your “personal” problems might be and it’s wrong for you to inject them into their world. Remember, they really didn’t want to be in your shop to begin with.

So, …. Let me try to offer another approach that might prove useful to you this coming year. I’m going to imagine that a good many of us may have worked at a job sometime in our lives where tips made up an important part of our pay. Even if you didn’t, you have surely been on the tipping end of the equation enough times that this thought process will be significant to you. I know there are people out there that consider tipping an imposition. Fortunately, I believe they are in the minority. Personally, I tend to be a generous tipper because, having worked for tips at an early age, I understand the value they represent to the person providing the service. I remember what my mindset was while I was working at those jobs. The people I was caddying for or waiting on their tables could make or break my day. (By the way, this is all about understanding that YOU have a very personal responsibility in the results of the job you do.) If I wanted a generous tip I had to offer outstanding service. In fact, I had to go above and beyond the accepted (and expected) level of service in order to get that person to think to themselves “Hey, this guy deserves an “extra generous” tip”.

I’m not trying to get you to feel bad for me and I’m not looking for praises. What I’m trying to get you to do is STOP and think for a moment about how folks who depend on tips for a good part of their living approach their day. I will surely not argue with you that there are exceptions to that rule. We have all had people “wait” on us, or try to, that gave us reason to question the necessity to leave a tip at all or even call their lack of service to the attention of their manager. And, that, my friends, is exactly the feeling I want you to remember! …. Gotcha!!! …. I want you to remember how you felt when you were the recipient of that poor service. I know you have many examples and I’m going to tell you that I have many more that I will be sharing with you from time to time as we go on a journey through these blogs.

Here’s just one of those examples from my personal list. If you have ever been on vacation at a resort or on a ship you can guess where I’m going. I’m want to single out a cruise vacation because I know they are very popular right now as many of these huge companies vie for your dollars by building larger and larger ships and dropping fares to near bargain level. How they manage to get people off and on these 4,000 and 5,000 passenger ships along with all that luggage being exchanged and new food and supplies is nothing short of a logistical miracle. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

My purpose here is to address how they get the message across to every one of their international crew on what is expected of them as they interact with the paying passengers.  Probably half of the crew is “behind the scenes” while the other half is tasked with directly serving and interacting with the passengers. If you think this happens by accident, you really haven’t thought about. I’m not going to get into the details now. That will be a subject we’ll address in a future blog.

I have been fortunate to have been on several cruises and I have to tell you that, for the most part, all of them have put me face to face with hundreds (maybe thousands, considering the size of some of the crews) of employees that “had the message”. The wait staff, the cabin stewards and even the maintenance crews all had a smile or a greeting. Those who were in a position to be the recipient of “expected” tips seemed to be “over the top” accommodating. If you’ve been on a cruise you know the “end of cruise” routine where, even if the brochure said “tips included”, you were left printed envelopes on your bed on the last night that were specifically addressed to each of the positions that you were supposed to tip. This came along with the “tip vouchers” that you had to insert in each envelope and hand to the respective people.

Now for the moment of truth. You stand there with the envelopes and vouchers and you consciously insert each voucher in the appropriate envelope. Some go in without a thought and sealed. Others make you pause and think about how a couple of these people really went overboard (yeah, that was on purpose) and you slip some extra dollars into the envelope. Now, why did you do that?

The bottom line is that it takes a tremendous effort to have the vast majority of the paying passengers (translated to: customers in your shop) leave the ship with a positive attitude. You’ll never make everyone happy because someone is always going to find their steak served at the wrong temperature, their drink not strong enough or their cabin too small for their liking.
Some things are just going to be beyond your personal control. BUT …. It IS your job to try to do your best.

I don’t want you to finish reading this blog and feel all the responsibility rests entirely on your shoulders. It does not! To deliver that type of service, the direction needs to come from the very top and it means that everyone in the shop needs to be on board and committed to the same message.  That sounds easier than it really is and doesn’t happen by accident or without effort. We will definitely be talking more about that in later blogs.

I’m sure, some of you are in a position to be on the receiving end of a “gratuity or courtesy tip” in your shops. Most are not and never will be. All I am asking is that when you approach a customer walking into your shop or start on the next job ticket, pretend you are working for tips.

© Bill Rosenberg

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Does Anything Ever Go Wrong?

As much as we hone our technical skills, as much as we study and implement good customer service practices, sometimes things just don’t go as we planned. When you are faced with a situation that you couldn’t have possibly anticipated is when you are put to your most important customer relations test. I need to stress here that the importance of the score you receive on this test is unlike any you have ever taken in your life.  Forget about numerical scores. Forget about A, B, C, D or F. Forget about any bell curve you have ever been measured on. Your score for each and every one of these encounters, and there will be many, will be either PASS or FAIL. Period! There is no middle ground. There is never any middle ground.

Please understand that the success of you as a person or “you” as part of a business will depend on the accumulated scores you have received over an extended period of time. That’s why this is such an important concept for us to grasp. Think about it. Everything that you have done to enhance your career, every effort, every class, every obstacle you have overcome to get to where you are now has, in part, been the cumulative result of all those scores. …. I would ask that you indulge me for a moment and please read this paragraph again. I really want you to get the point.

Anytime you “touch” the customer, you are getting one of these scores. Even if you had no direct contact with them; even if you never saw them, you got a score. The “work” you did filters out to the customer. You may never know it. Your boss or manager may not even be aware of it at the time it happened. Somewhere that score was recorded and, slowly, over time, all those seemingly insignificant instances start to add up for you and/or your business.

Here’s what it looks like. Some “scores” just come up and smack you in the face. You receive an unsolicited compliment from your boss, the service writer, one of your peers or even directly from the customer. At least one of them has recognized your incredible skill-set, speed and accuracy of your work or even the ability to solve a problem that others couldn’t. As a reminder, I just want to point out that you have created an impression on both the “internal” as well as the “external” customer that we spoke about in the first article of this series. Score a PASS for you.

I’m going to bet that all of you are familiar with what a FAIL looks like. These are the scores that most of us have been on the receiving end of because it is just human nature to let someone know when you are unhappy with something or someone. People “expect” good service or a quality product. Frankly, they have every right to. They are less likely to “call out” or call attention to something they already think they are deserving of. It is expected. ….  I can’t change that but I hope I can help you understand that it is just part of being who we are. Here’s a way to get your head around it.

Most of us work very hard for our money. We don’t want to waste it or spend it foolishly. I said this in an earlier article, but when it comes to auto repair, your customer really does not want to, and did not plan to spend their money at your shop today. They surely would have rather used it towards paying the rent, buying groceries or maybe going to the movies. If you can understand that, then you are beginning to understand why delivering nothing less than your best effort and best attempt at outstanding customer service is so important. You are sort of starting out in a valley and need to finish up on top of the mountain in order to turn that customer’s reluctance to being in your shop into satisfaction that, as long as they had to spend their money, they are happy they came to you.

For the purpose of this discussion, my background in sales in the automotive industry came as an outside salesperson for a warehouse distributor who sold to auto parts stores who in turn sold to repair shops. While I was in “outside” sales, you are in “inside” sales where you are dealing directly with the consumer who has called or come into your shop. The basis of either side of the sales line has always been delivering goods or services to the “customer” in a timely and honest manner. Obviously pricing is in the equation as well but many times you will not be able to have a direct influence on that. Let’s deal with what you can affect.

I want to leave you this month with a way to start thinking about all those “touches” you will have with customers and the “grades” you will receive. Here is an admission. No matter what anyone ever tells you or whatever book you have read or seminar you have attended, it is absolutely impossible to achieve a PASS 100% of the time. People are simply people, and you will never be able to please everyone. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be trying. I’m simply saying that sometimes, in spite of your best effort, it’s just not going to happen.

So, let’s look at some numbers.  This thought process came from running sales territories for many years. Whenever I would hit a “dry” spell (several FAILs in a row) it would get me feeling disappointed with my efforts and I couldn’t project that disappointment to my other customers.  I had to figure out a logical approach and here’s what it was (transferring it into “repair “terms).
 You go to work every day and, assuming there is a steady flow of work through the shop, you are going to do “X” number of jobs or have  “X” number of customer contacts for the day. I’m going to pick a round number in order to make this illustration easier (particularly for me). Let’s say that number is 10. Some of you are going to do way more and some way less. That’s why I’m picking the number.

OK. 10 jobs a day. If you work 5 days a week (Calm down. Some of you work more or less. Just go with me.) 10 jobs times 5 days gives you 50 jobs per week. Times 50 weeks a year (Be happy. I just gave you 2 weeks off.) equals 2500 jobs a year. Of those 2500 jobs or “contacts”, so many of them are going to earn you a PASS and so many of them are going to result in a FAIL. I’m going to pick another number. Let’s say that 80% of them are going to be PASS and 20% FAIL. That means that you’ll get 2000 PASSes! Good for you! However 500 of them are going to deliver a FAIL.  Another fact. They are not going to be evenly divided. It’s not going to be 5 PASS and 1 FAIL. You could get 5 FAILs in a row.

Before you let the quality of your next service be negatively affected by your recent string of FAILs think about the numbers. If you were able to string several years of numbers together on a spreadsheet (I did. Guilty.), you will find those numbers are probably about the same each year. So, here’s the way I began to think about it. If I found myself halfway through the year and all of a sudden I was in a FAIL slump, here’s what I said to myself. “Got that one out of the way. 257 down and only 243 more to go!” See, you have to approach each job (touch) with a clear mind and not let “other” events ruin your “new” customer’s experience with you. 

They deserve the best and you deserve a positive outlook.

Here’s to many more PASSing grades.

© Bill Rosenberg
BillR Services, LLC

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Your Customers’ Needs

Our business is a highly technical industry and it is getting more so every day. I come from an era when the introduction of the PCV valve (circa 1961 in California – of course; 1964 for the rest of the country) was met with great skepticism by most working technicians because they felt the valves were somehow limiting performance and no good would come of this “new” idea that was complicating their job. “Hot-rodders” were figuring out ways to bypass them and many rank and file technicians were doing the same. Now look where we are and how far we have come. The necessity for today’s technicians to be highly trained and constantly updating their education cannot be understated. The good news is that many of today’s automotive business have figured out that a trained tech is a valuable tech. You are reading this so you are part of one of those companies. Congratulations!

From here we‘re going to address an often overlooked area of knowledge you need to possess; the customer service area. In my previous “Understanding Customer Service” article I pointed out the need for understanding that you had two types of customers to concern yourself with; the internal and the external. Today I want to address that external customer and what their needs are. You may be surprised to learn that it goes beyond just getting whatever they brought their car in for successfully and timely repaired.

We already know that customer did not want to be in your place today. In fact, there might be an argument that they view being in your shop the same way they would think about going to their dentist’s office. You think that’s too far? Well, outside of a routine oil change, both places are going to cost money the customer was probably not counting on spending today. For the customer, there’s pain involved with both. The one advantage you have over the dentist is that you’re not going to inflict the physical pain.

Now the big question comes. What do I mean when I said that their needs go beyond the actual repair they came in for? Obviously they need to be treated courteously and with the respect due them seeing as how they are really the ones allowing your company to pay your salary. We need to go beyond the obvious. Let’s begin.
Once the customer is in your shop or their car is on the hook, you have a limited range of possibilities to ease their “pain”. What’s broke is broke. What’s worn is worn. What’s dangerous is dangerous. You’re the “doctor” and you can only prescribe the treatment. (We’ll address specific sales techniques in later Customer Service Corner articles.)

I’m going where many of us are out of our comfort zone and it’s going to take a little explanation. First, let me ask you this question. How many of you have had a project to do at home and went off to the hardware store, came home, started the job and were able to complete it without having to go back to the store (or go borrow something from your neighbor)? …. That’s what I thought. Next question. How many of you, after discovering you were missing something, didn’t immediately think some choice words about the person that helped you? Or maybe swore at yourself for not thinking the project through and making a list. Either way, the result is the same.  Your project required extra steps, time, aggravation and probably money. NOW, let’s keep that thought in your mind and get you back on the job.

If you are a Service Writer or the person responsible for the intake of vehicles into your shop, one of your responsibilities is to collect all the information the customer gives you about the reason they are there and communicate them in some manner, hopefully written and detailed, to the techs that will be charged with the repair. If you are the tech receiving the vehicle and work order, you look at it and say “OK, water pump; source the part, “X” hours of bay time, get my tools ready.” You get the job done, sign off on the ticket and hand it back over to the Service Writer. OK. Next job please. We’re busy.

Yes, you’re keeping the work flow going OK, but you’re really not taking care of the customer the way you would have wanted it to be if the shoe were on the other foot. Remember your “home” project? In that case the missing item might have been a paint brush or a plumbing fitting. That situation is fixable with a quick run back to the store (or your neighbor).  In this case there is greater consequence.

Most people drive their cars to and from work, school, pick up the kids or go on vacation. They have placed their very important means of transportation in your hands for a certain amount of time. You have an obligation to take the few moments necessary to take a look around the vehicle on the lift in front of you and see if there are any signs of impending “trouble” that your customer might need to know about. Anything that concerns your well trained eye needs to be reported up the line or directly to the customer if that is your area of responsibility. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the work has to get done today. If you have discovered something that looks like it could pose a serious problem for the customer, when do you think they would want to know about it? Now, or three weeks from now, when they’re halfway home on a one hour commute in bumper to bumper traffic?

I’m going to hope that most shops today have some sort of preventative maintenance program in place. If you’re one of them; Great! The area where I find the process breaks down is the reluctance for the tech to put themselves in a position where they feel they are “selling” something to the customer. We have all had the bad taste of “pushy” salespeople annoying us when we are out shopping and we automatically resist having to be the cause of someone else feeling that way. You need to put that feeling out of your mind. What your training has done is given you the opportunity to alert your customer to something that may cause them some serious inconvenience or injury somewhere in the not too distant future. You are doing them a BIG favor by alerting them to the issue. Wouldn’t you want someone to do that for you?

© Bill Rosenberg

BillR Services, LLC

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Understanding Customer Service

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that if you are reading this you are probably involved in the automotive repair business and the owner, manager or boss of some nature has “suggested” that this should be required reading. How am I doing so far? …. 

OK. That’s what I thought. I’m going to make another prediction and that is that you’re probably already a pretty good tech and you know your stuff. Right about now, you’re probably starting to ask yourself “How does he know all that?” I’m going to give you an answer you might not be expecting.

You’re a pretty valuable person. Not only to yourself and your family but to where you work and that’s what we’re going to address here. Let’s look at it this way. There are two sides to having a job. In its simplest sense, your company has an expectation of receiving value for the dollars they are paying you and you have an expectation of being paid for the time. However, nothing is ever that simple. It is a complicated relationship but I am going to give you the answer that gets us going. The reason I “know” you’re a good tech is because your company has made the decision to help round out your experience which increases your worth, no matter where you go, by enrolling you in classes and “asking” that you read this column.

They wouldn’t do that if they thought you weren’t worth it. They wouldn’t waste their time or money on you if you couldn’t do the job. You are not employed by a charitable institution. They are in business to make a profit for themselves and in order to do that, they need technicians who can earn that profit for them.  If you were not that person, you wouldn’t be there. …. How’s that? …. So read on!  

As we get into the topic of sales and service I would like to create two distinctions in the “sales” category and then illustrate how it flows seamlessly into the “customer service” category.

First sales: Most of us think about sales as taking care of the customer that drives in off the street. For the most part you would be correct. That would be the “external” customer. But there is another customer you need to consider first and that is who I call the “internal” customer.  Not to get too deep here, but briefly, the internal customer is everyone else you work with. Unless you are the sole proprietor of a business, you have internal customers.
Here’s an example. If you are in a large shop with many techs and service writers all working in their own “areas”, you all have to work together as a team. That means that the person handing you the work order or transmitting it to you on a tablet has to get everything right on that form. All the details, all the notes and comments the customer made when they brought in the vehicle need to be there if you’re going to have a chance at doing your job correctly.  Then the person you hand off your finished job to, if it’s the tire guys, the detail people or back to the service writer, they need you to have done your job correctly and completely. You are the “customer” of the person that gives you the job and the person you give it to is your customer. If you are happy with the information on the work order and the person who receives your work to carry on the flow is happy with what they got from you, then everyone is happy, including the “external” customer we weren’t even talking about yet.  …. You may want to read that again.

So now let’s talk about the “external” customer. Here again, nothing is simple. We are all customers when we go out and consume anything. It could be buying gas, clothes, dinner, movies or taking a vacation. We are consuming all the time. What you are going to find the more you read my writings is that in order to understand what is required to take care of that external customer and keep them happy and coming back, you are going to have to rely on your own experiences as a consumer to guide you in delivering that higher level of customer service. In other words, treat the customer like you expect to be treated if the situation was reversed.  

I’m going to ask you to step outside your job and think about how you felt during your last purchase at the …. fill in the blank …. .  Were you happy or were you muttering to yourself?  Go on, you can do it. Was your mind not thinking about what a great person that was who took care of you or how lousy it was when you had to hunt for someone to help you and when you finally found them they gave you the wrong advice? It’s not hard. You get these lessons all the time. NOW, all you have to do is turn your mind back into your business and relate it to how you treat your customers (internal & external). What would their opinion be of their last contact with you or your work? …. I’m just sayin’. 

The one thing I will not accept is making excuses that one particular business is different from another when it comes to customer service. That you can’t relate what went on at the dry cleaners or the doctor’s office to the automotive business. Yes, the nature of the business can definitely be different but I can guaranty that when you break it down to the most basic fundamental, it will all come down to the opinions we form about customer service. It is my contention that there is only one way to pursue it.  I hope you will join me in these monthly articles as we explore proper sales practices and quality customer service.

© Bill Rosenberg

BillR Services, LLC