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