Whenever we interact
with a customer, even if it is the very first time you have ever seen them,
chances are that your reputation has preceded you. During the course of our
busy day we deal with a variety of situations and interactions. If you have
been a good practitioner of excellent customer service, then your repeat
customers know that. They approach you with their problem and a high degree of trust
in your integrity and ability to offer them your best advice for a solution. They may not want to hear it because their
“simple” problem is not so simple and it could mean spending more money than
they anticipated. But, they know your
reputation and can make a comfortable decision based on that fact.
Reputation is what
serves and speaks for your business when you are not around. You could be fast
asleep or halfway around the world on a vacation. It doesn’t matter. Your
reputation is hard at work. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.
Last night we had a
couple of friends over for a barbeque. The ladies were inside sharing their
interests and us guys were outside sharing some adult beverages and fine
cigars. We’re talking about all the “important” topics of the day (and some not
so important). At one point the conversation turns to a typical consumer topic.
Someone bought something at a major national chain, had a problem (real or
imagined) and returned it. A couple of examples seemed a little outside the box
to me and I would have thought they would have had a problem but it turns out
they didn’t. Even when there was no receipt or original packaging, all they had
to do was remember what credit card they put it on and the store eagerly did
the research, found the transaction and credited back the card for the full
What followed was
everyone chiming in with their own stories. No need to repeat them here but
there were many. And, not all from the same chain or even type of business. (Note: I’m purposely being vague here and
not naming names. We all know them and I wouldn’t want to call them out on a
bad story either.) The point is that all of us were very supportive of
these businesses with our own similar stories. What particularly struck me was
the degree of confidence we expressed in these businesses. That’s REPUTATION!
While these places all advertise and promote their businesses to get you in,
they go a step (or steps) further and back up their hype. That’s a very big
difference and it’s one your customers appreciate.
When it comes to pros
and cons, every one of these businesses we spoke about had their share of cons
as well. You can’t be all things to all people. It is nearly impossible. But,
their cons were manageable. They were insignificant compared to the overall
Now, here’s one you can
relate to. It’s from our business and it happened to me this
week. For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, I’ll tell you that
it will wind up on the steps of my friend Al’s station.
I was out for dinner
last Saturday with a group of 12 friends. I hate to admit this, but it was on
the early side. Please, no old guy jokes.
It just happened that we were all attending a show at our community that night
that started at eight o’clock. Dinner completed, we pile into our cars and head
back for the show. Shortly after I pulled out of the restaurant parking lot I
think I hear something that sounds like a window is open so I check all the
controls. All good but the sound is still there. There’s a traffic light a
block away and I’m not going fast. My wife tells me that there’s a police car
on her side that’s signaling for me to lower a window. He tells me that the
driver’s side rear tire is going flat. Fortunately there is a gas & go
station at the light and I pull off the road into a parking spot.
Being a gas only place,
there’s no one there to help us. I open the hatch and start getting out the
tools and realize that it has been several decades since I had to change
a flat. No full size spare. No donut. What I lower from its storage place is a
cross between the two. Have you seen what they give you for a jack these days?
I suppose there are no more bumpers. Fortunately, a “younger” guy pulls in for
gas and offers to help.
Sunday morning I go
over to one of the big chains to see if they could repair the tire. Not
possible. Rode on the flat a little too long, sidewall’s shot and they don’t
have a tire in stock. Oh well. I can take it to Al’s Monday morning. Not that I
have anything against this “chain”. I just have confidence in whatever Al will
tell me. It’s a leased car and it’s going back in 9 months. I don’t want to put
on an expensive tire.
His recommendation is
to put on the exact same tire with the exact same tread. All the other tires
are in good shape. He says it’s safer and that the dealership will probably
notice a different tire when I turn it in and give me some feedback. Safety was
the issue for me. I wasn’t happy having to spend the extra dollars BUT, I trust
Al and have confidence that he is giving me the best advice. This comes after
he has sent me back to the dealer on more than one occasion because it “should
be covered”. He has jump started my car. He has put it on the rack to check for
a leak so I can tell the Dealership exactly what was wrong. He has done all
this and presented me with no bill.
I’m not going to tell
you that you should do those things in your own place or not. Some of you may
work for large national companies with strict guidelines or have certain
policies in place. By all means, you need to follow the directives from above.
All I can do is relate to you the things that drive me back to the places I do
business with. I am only one person with one opinion. …. Or am I?
Last month I got
started on the importance of establishing and maintaining a relationship with
your customers. I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine
yesterday and it really brought the point home. It reminded me of a personal
experience I had years ago, which I will share with you a few paragraphs down. I
think you’re going to be amazed by the end of this article at how long and far
reaching the importance of getting this right really is. Let’s get started.
Consider that there are
many ways you can classify a customer. One is whether or not they will tell you
about a problem, perceived or otherwise. There are those whose nature it is
that will tell you about it and may do so in a manner that can sometimes be less
than civil. Then there are those who will endure whatever it is they think you
did wrong and never say a word about it. Let me ask you a question. Which one
do you hope for? The one that makes your life easy or the one that might get in
your face about it?
The temptation is to go
for the easier solution but, in your heart, you know you would rather have the
customer “complain”. At least if they complain you have an opportunity to
correct things and make them right. If they walk away, you might not have any
aggravation (and who needs more of that?) but you just might not have a
customer left. And the sad part is, for those that walk away, you’ll probably
never know about it. Whatever it is they think you did to them, you might be
doing to other customers. It might not appear to be a big deal in your mind,
but it could weigh heavily from the side of your customer.
I’m going to offer up a
few examples. First, let’s talk about something totally outside our industry
but is something we have all been through. Eating out. Everyone’s done that. It
doesn’t have to be fancy. It could be fast food or fine dining.
Here’s me: You serve me something that is a
little over or undercooked. Maybe there is a little too much spice or not
enough. The bread tray is put on the table and the bread is a little stale. The
butter in the little plastic packs is totally melted. Maybe the food service
took a little longer than it should have. Maybe they brought my appetizer out
at the same time as the main course. Maybe the server never refilled my water
glass. This list could get longer but I’m just trying to make the point that
every business has its own “laundry list” of things that could go wrong at each
customer encounter. Ours is no exception.
Here’s my solution: As long as you haven’t served me
absolutely ice cold, overcooked, over spiced, foul tasting swill, I’ll probably
eat it or make an attempt to. I’ll pay the bill, leave an appropriate tip and
leave the restaurant. And now, I’ll exercise my freedom of expression and
reaction to the meal I’ve just had. I’ll never go back again. And I mean
never! More on never shortly.
Here’s my wife: You do any of the above to her and,
(Here’s her solution) you will know about it immediately, and with no
holds barred. For your sake and that of your business, you better pray that you
have customers like my wife. I mean it. At least you will have a chance to
correct the error and keep the customer.
Here’s one of my
personal stories. For those of you who don’t know, I spent most of my life in
the automotive aftermarket. There was a time, before technology took over, that
I could repair just about anything on a car as long as I had the time to do it.
At one point, as I started working as an outside salesman for a warehouse
distributor I decided that my car was in need of a “tune up”. Yeah, I’m old. I
changed points, plugs, cap, rotor condenser and wires. I used the top quality
of every product we had in the warehouse. It was running like it was new.
About a week later,
after several days of heavy rainfall, I go out to start the car and it just
refuses. I’m a commissioned salesman. I live 25 miles from where my territory
begins and I have customers to see. I have no time to waste so I call a local
gas station and ask them to tow it in and I’ll be in touch throughout the day. Fortunately,
I was able to drive my wife to work and use her car.
My first call to the
station: “We replaced the wires. It’s still not starting.” Second call: “We
changed the cap and rotor. Still not running.” More of the same on the follow
up calls until finally it was “magically” running. I knew what they were doing
after the first call but I needed my car back and I was 50 miles away across a
bridge and didn’t have much recourse. All my customers, where I usually had my
car maintained were on the same side of the bridge as I was. When I get home
that night I have my wife drop me off at the station to pick up my car. The guy
hands me the bill with a list of the parts he replaced and a charge for labor.
You and I both know that the problem centered around the through soaking of
everything under the hood which needed nothing more than drying out properly. I
write him a check (that’s what we did in those days) and then I hand him my business
card. He looks at it and then back at me. I explain to him that I am in the
business and I had just replaced every one of the parts he is charging me for
last week. I know what he has done and will be sure to tell everyone I know how
I was treated. Then I walked out the door.
I lived in that
neighborhood for 29 years. I never walked through that door again. My wife and
family never got gas there again. Every friend and neighbor I told didn’t go
back there. Even years after he went out of business and someone else owned the
station, I never walked in there again. I would like to tell you that “That’s
just me”, but it’s not.
Now to my conversation
that started this blog. I volunteer for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s
Department in their C.O. P. program. My partner and I are on our weekly patrol
and he’s telling me about how his car needs tires and it’s only 8 months till
he turns it in on his lease. We’re talking about where he went to look for
tires and where he finally bought them. When he mentions one place where he
says they offered him a certain national brand of tires at a good price but he
would never put them on his car. I ask why. They are a well known brand. I
He tells me about how
when he was in the Army he had needed tires for his car and got 4 new ones of
this national brand installed. He had them for a short time and 2 of them went
bad. He went back to the tire shop where he had bought them and the manager
told him it was because of the way he drove and wouldn’t do anything for him
and made him buy 2 new tires. The reality was that he rarely drove off base.
Fast forward a couple of months and he is at a new duty station. Another tire
goes bad. He brings it into the national brands’ service center where the
manager tells him “These tries are defective. They had a problem at the factory
and the 2 tires you still have on the car are part of that batch.” He replaced
the 2 tires for free but unfortunately couldn’t do anything about the other 2
because he was no longer in possession of them.
Here’s the kicker. Get
ready for this because if you don’t think people will remember a “problem” this
ought to convince you. The guy I’m talking about is a Korean War veteran. He is 88 years old. He has NEVER but
another tire on any of his families’ cars from that manufacturer. And I’m
telling you it is an instantly recognized name.
Here is a fact you have to listen to. A business will only hear from 4% of dissatisfied customers. 96% will not tell you about the problem. 91% will never come back! I’ve just given you a perfect example of two. How many might you have created?
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.
Take something with a
slightly “technical” edge or anything of a complicated and expensive nature to
it, and put yourself in the market for it. A TV, a new computer, a new car. It
should be something you personally don’t have a commanding knowledge of. Something
that you have to research or seek the advice of others, or depend on what is
being told to you by someone who is in a position to “sell” it to you. If
you’re a tech wiz, make it kitchen cabinets or some other project. Lock it in
and keep it in mind as we continue.
I think we have all
been in the situation where we say one thing and the customer hears something
different. Let’s discard the customers who are just trying to bust your chops
or get over on you. You’ll never get that total to zero. I’m talking about the
customer who genuinely believes you said something different. Now it’s time to
pay the bill and it’s not what they expected, or they look at the invoice and
don’t see a service or item they were “sure” was supposed to be there. This
could be an honest misunderstanding on either side. These instances are
uncomfortable, at best, for both you and your customer.
Look; there could be a
misunderstanding about something as straightforward as wiper blades, filters,
or type of oil. That’s not usually where the problem lies. It has been my
experience that more problems arrive as the size of the ticket goes up. And
it’s not necessarily because of the amount of dollars involved. It is because
the larger jobs are considerably more complex in nature and involve multiple
parts and services. So, where am I going with this?
It is really vital that
both you and your customer are “all in” before the job starts. You are the
expert. You have seen this a thousand times before and you can do the job with
your eyes closed. At least your customer has come to the right place. The
important element here is to take the extra step to make sure your customer
knows exactly what you think the solution to their problem is and if there are
any “extra” parts or services that might become necessary if you find certain
conditions as you get into the job. You don’t have to make technicians out of
them but they are entitled to have a “reasonable” idea of what the outcome
might be. They will appreciate you informing them and you will appreciate the
no hassle phase when it comes time to pay the bill.
The more complicated
the job is, the more options or approaches there tend to be for a solution. Not
all solutions are equal. They certainly don’t cost the same. It is important
for your customer to understand their options because their circumstances
differ. With a little cooperation and conversation, together, you can find the
best path forward. Once this is agreed and understood by both parties, you are
good to go.
So, here’s how your
interaction with your customer should go. There
are a few basic steps for you to follow.
The first is Greeting the customer in a warm and
friendly way. This doesn’t need to be an all-day discussion. The whole process
can be accomplished in less than a minute. If you know them and their family,
if you share enthusiasm for the same sports team, say something. You both know
they are there because they have a problem. You just want to connect or
re-connect in a personal way. Think about this. You have heard about doctors
who are known for having a “good bedside manner”. You know how important that
is to you and your family at that moment. Got it?
Next is the Questioning process. Figuring out why
they are here in front of you. Here is where you discover what the problem is,
at least from the customers point of view. This is not meant to be an
interrogation nor should it sound like one. You will start getting an inkling
from the minute your customer starts talking, BUT, even if you think you know
where they are going, be patient and let them have their say. Resist the
temptation to blurt out your diagnosis because there just might be another clue
six words further into the conversation that will lead you to an additional problem
or an altered conclusion. Just think about a time when you got interrupted in
the middle of a conversation. How did that feel? Remember it!
Now, it’s time for Consensus where you present your
diagnosis and solution. Once you have a handle on what their problem is, you
need to summarize it and “read it back” to them. There is a difference to them
between a buzz or a whir, a bang or a clank. By doing this you are going to get
your customer on board with your conclusion and make them an “active”
participant. It is important for them to have ownership. After all, it’s their
problem you’re working on.
Finally, it is time “Close the deal”. Here is where the good
faith estimate of what the repair will cost is detailed (hopefully in some form
of printed authorization). You go over your work process and confirm that you
will be in touch with them at a certain point in the tear down to confirm with
them that everything is as expected or to let them know, and make a decision,
on any additional needs discovered. It is also a good time to reconfirm when
the vehicle will be ready for pick-up and/or their need for a ride.
I’ve laid out four
distinct steps for you to follow; Greeting, Questioning, Consensus and Closing. You’re not quite done
yet. There is one more skill you need to hone and that is Confirming. As someone who has been involved in sales and customer
service my whole life, I am well aware of when the “sales presentation” is over
you need to shut up. I am a subscriber to that theory. But a word of
confirmation that your customer has made the right decision by agreeing to your
recommended solution can be very reassuring. I can’t tell you what that is
going to look like because, chances are that it will vary from one situation to
another. But, let me offer this scenario. Your customer has just made a very
difficult decision to spend $1,200.00 on a repair they weren’t counting on.
They may be getting ready to put it on a credit card to extend paying for it or
they may be putting off something else in their life they had been planning on.
Not everyone can reach into their pocket and pull out that kind of money
without it impacting something else. A quick word from you, assuring them that
the repair really is necessary and, you understand it’s a lot of dollars they
are committing, but the results will be a ; (fill in the blank) __________ (safer,
more reliable, longer lasting, ……… ). Your customers are people just like you.
One of my favorite
things is to take real-life experiences in customer service that are totally
outside our “normal” view and relate them directly to the automotive business.
I just think it enforces and reinforces our perception of what concerned
customer service ought to look like. We all have them every day. Every time you
interact with the many people and business serving YOU, you are forming an
opinion. Many go unnoticed; but form them you do! The exceptional ones,
good or bad, are the ones that jog your consciousness. Unfortunately, the
average “good” interaction doesn’t attract your attention. I say
“unfortunately” because we really ought to take a moment and say thank you to
those, who like us, are out there doing their jobs, and apparently doing them
On to my story. Some of
you may already know that I’m an old retired guy that spent my career in the
automotive supply business and that I happen to now live in Florida. While I do
enjoy the beautiful weather (and lack of snow), I still have a special place in
my heart for New York. Now, living in Florida takes some adjustments. How about
getting 25,000 miles on a set of tires, when I was used to getting 50,000 or
more and being told “That’s good.”? Really?
We also have a challenge when it comes to air conditioning. Not only in our
vehicles but in our homes, which is where I’m going for my example. I think the
ending is going to surprise you.
Our home air
conditioning runs 24/7 for pretty much 360 days a year. I think the heat came
on for a single 5 day stretch this year. Our homes in the development where I
live are now approaching 10 years old. The central air conditioning systems
that were installed by the developer were seriously troublesome. All of us in
our 690-home community have had multiple coils and assorted other parts
replaced as well as a few total system replacements. After the problems started
becoming obvious, the original owners were offered an option to extend the
warranties on the existing units to 10 years’ parts and labor both inside and
outside the house. Everyone took them up on the offer. Not wanting to go past
the warranty with the old piece of #!2&%, everyone is going through the
process of replacing their A/C systems.
Let me start the
comparison to our industry here. Just like people have many choices of cars and
trucks to drive (and for varying reasons), there are many choices in air conditioning
units. We all have customers that buy new cars every 2 or 3 years and those
that drive them to the bone yard. They all have their reasons, and some of them
are not focused around money. While we are talking about big ticket items here,
I suggest that you carry this lesson over to your entire customer base.
Back to the story. Me,
being who I am, start my research. I talk to neighbors who have already had
their units replaced. I go look at their installations. I listen to why they
chose which brand and why they chose their installation company. Then I took
all that information and did some on-line research of the various brands I was
considering. In the final analysis, I called in 4 installers to assess my needs
and make their recommendations. (I’ll have to write a blog on the different
“sales techniques”. You wouldn’t believe the different approaches.)
The first lesson I
learned, and I’m only going to cover it briefly here is LISTEN TO YOUR
CUSTOMER!!!! The higher the ticket, the more important for you to make sure you
understand their needs. DO NOT MAKE ANY ASSUMPTIONS!!!! You may have seen these
symptoms a thousand times before. This one may be different and it could be the
difference between securing the job or filling the customers’ needs as they
I listened to those
four presentations. Three out of the four knew their stuff but couldn’t “read”
their customer. Everyone I interviewed had a great deal of technical knowledge
and I slowly built my own confidence in the brand of air conditioner and
specific options I wanted and what I was willing to pay for them. The fourth
guy, who got the job, happened to be the service company I had been using to
service that #!2&% old unit. All things being equal, as far as pricing and
brand choices, ultimately, I made the choice based on the quality of the
service technicians that had made all those frequent visits to my home over the
last 10 years. PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT I JUST SAID. It had nothing to do
with the company except that they hired great techs and did what they said they
would over and over again. (This is going to become important in a minute.)
One of the things that
had been pointed out by all the sales reps was that the return vent to the air
handler which was 20 x 37 on the inside of the house was feeding the air
conditioner on the other side of the wall through a 20 x 20 opening thus
starving the unit from a full flow of air. (Like I said it was a #!2&%
unit.) Everyone was going to offer a bigger “box” to get more air flow. The salesman
from the company I chose said to me that he was going to give me a bigger metal
box as opposed to the other guys who were going to build it out of wood, which
he felt was the wrong thing to do seeing as how it was going to “live” in my
humid garage. It wouldn’t be the full 37” long but it would be somewhere in
between therefore giving me a vastly improved air flow.
Pay attention now!
Installation day comes. The tech rolls up to my house with a truckload of
equipment and my air conditioner. I go out and begin a conversation with a
really pleasant guy, let’s call him “Marvin”, and I ask to go over the part
numbers of the units he has on the truck so I know from the beginning that I’m
getting what I’m paying for. I’m looking around for the “big box” that was
promised and all I see is one the size of the old one. I question Marvin. He
explains that the box he has is what was loaded on the truck for the job and
suggests I call the sales guy before he starts. I do. I have a semi-unpleasant
conversation with the sales guy in which he claims I misunderstood what he said
and I tell him that I understood perfectly and since I had gotten the same
recommendation for a larger box from every sales guy before him, I was certain
that both my wife and I did not misunderstand.
I had a decision to
make. Since my present air conditioner was still working, I wasn’t in an urgent
situation. Do I tell him to forget the whole thing and go to another company?
Normally I would say YES, but, remember, I liked the service from that company
and the tech that was here was being really understanding about it. So, we go
into the dance where he tells me that larger box is worth a couple hundred
dollars more and I tell him to deliver the larger box at the original price he
quoted me, send Marvin back to do the installation OR forget the deal. Net
result is Marvin is doing the installation today, it’s not costing me any more
AND, after a apologetic call from the company sales manager, I have a full size
metal box that is customized to the exact size for my house.
It’s been a long story,
but the really important points being made here are:
Deliver what you promised or
you may lose the customer.
The technicians are
the ones who saved the job for that company. (that’s all of you reading this)
My message to all of
you out there is to really listen to your customer. Make sure before you start
that you are both on the same page. Deliver everything you promised (and maybe
an unexpected bonus or nicety for the customer). It’s right, and they pay your salary!
© Bill Rosenberg
For the sake of full
disclosure here, I’m going to admit that the first time I heard a similar
phrase was when I was in the service and it had a “slightly” different twist to
the terminology. However, the gist of the message is that if one “condition” is
present or exists, then the other will surely follow. The word “happy” is
common to all versions I have ever heard.
We are all faced with the
challenge of keeping our customers happy so that they will think highly enough
of us to continue to honor us with their business. No easy task. One of the
ways to accomplish this is by keeping them informed every step of the way. Most
of your customer experiences will flow smoothly and might be nothing more than
dropping off their vehicle for an oil change or routine maintenance and driving
away happily after the pick-up. As we all know, there are going to be times
when you must deliver “bad” news to your customer. News that might put them in
a position where they are going to have to spend money on repairs that were not
expected and maybe not able to afford. Wouldn’t you both be better off if there
were no surprises?
I know you can’t
prevent people’s vehicles from wearing or breaking down. The inevitable is
going to happen. What I’m saying is there are ways you can insulate the both of
you from utter surprise. In our business, surprise is a condition to be avoided
to the best of our ability. We have all heard the phrase “Information is
power.”. You need find ways to transfer that “power” to your customer. When a
vehicle rolls into your bay, there are certain things that, as a professional,
you know. If they are a regular customer you probably have a history of the vehicle.
You will get visual clues from the appearance or condition. If you have prior
experience with a particular customer you may have formed conclusions as to
their resistance or reluctance to have “extra” work done. The fact is, you know
more than you may think you do about your customer, even if it is the first
time you have seen them. …. Think about that.
Your task is to gather
all that information in your mind when you address your customer as they walk
into your shop. If they have called for an appointment, you have had a head
start. If they are walking in with a “mystery” problem you need to gather your wits
about you and prepare to think this through. Every problem has a path to its
conclusion and you need to inform your customer of what your intended
path is toward their solution. It’s kind of like “Mr. Smith, that sounds
like it could be your (insert part here)
is failing (or failed). Let me: look at it; bring it in the bay; run it around
the block; put it on the lift; or attach (insert
test equipment here) to see if we can’t get an accurate diagnosis.” “It’s
going to be about 2 hours (or tomorrow) before I can get to it. I’ll call you
as soon as I have an idea of what is causing this. Do you need a ride?”
The next part of the
conversation is even more critical than the last. All you have told them so far
is that something appears to be wrong and they are going to be without their
vehicle for “X” hours or days. By the way, this conversation needs to take
place whether they had dropped it off for an oil change and you’re calling them
back, or it came in on the hook.
This is where you have
the opportunity to explain how you’re going to get them back behind the wheel.
I wouldn’t “tech-speak” them to death, but I would certainly explain the path,
or paths, you are going to take to diagnose the problem and what the various
conclusions might mean to them in terms of time and expense. It is an
opportunity for frank discussion and available options. Now, you have an
informed customer, and one who cannot be “surprised” by whatever the actual
solution is that you wind up recommending.
True, they may not be
thrilled with the outcome but, at the same time, they may be relieved that
their problem can be solved quickly and at a tolerable cost. Either way, you
have done your customer a service, built their confidence in you and kept them
informed. No one likes to be kept in the dark. Absolutely no one! It is not a comfortable place to be. We can’t
allow ourselves to become complacent in our jobs and attitudes. Every customer
needs to feel as though they are special. That we are personally involved. We
cannot allow them to be just the next job in the bay.
There’s another reason
this is important for your business. That customer walked away satisfied,
feeling you were “up front” with them all the way. That will become worth more
to you than the profit from the individual transaction. It should be no secret
to anyone that a “happy customer” will spread the word. They do not keep
secrets. People talk to each other. They
ask each other questions about a variety of topics. They want a recommendation
for a good insurance guy or maybe a good place to eat, or, maybe, just maybe, they
ask someone if they know a good place to get their car repaired. The answer
your “happy customer” will give is worth more than all the advertising you can
do. (BTW. This is not a recommendation to
stop advertising. You need to do that too.) Their recommendation is gold!
And there might be more than one person listening. …. You know how neighbors
When we moved to
Florida 10 years ago. I had no idea where to take my car for its first oil
change in the new neighborhood. So, I asked some neighbors. (See the above
paragraph!) They told me to go see Al at the service center a few blocks from
where we live. Now, I didn’t just hear that from one person. I heard it from
several people. I heard it from people who live a couple of miles away. I live
in a pretty populated area. There are lots of places to get your car repaired
in addition to every nameplate dealership you can think of. So, I went to see
Al, and, I’ve been seeing him for 10 years. I can’t even remember how many
people I have sent to him. This is a
message that has spread for at least a decade that I know of. I wonder who the
first happy customer was? You’ll never know when and where it starts. You need
to create happy customers every day, one customer at a time. There’s nobody
reading this now that wouldn’t want that first happy customer for themselves. Here’s
your clue for the day. An informed customer
is a happy customer.
One day I’ll write you
a blog just about Al.
saying "the devil is in the detail" refers to a catch or mysterious
element hidden in the details, meaning that something might seem simple at a
first look but will take more time and effort to complete than expected. (Wikipedia)
What makes your customers
choose your shop to do business with? Do you have the best technicians? Are you
in a convenient location for them? Are you the “brand” dealership? Are your
prices the best in town? Are you just easy to deal with? All those questions,
and as many more as you can think of; there’s not just one right answer and one
answer is not necessarily better than the other. The fact is, the answer really is
buried in the details.
As we go about our
lives of being “consumers”, we are subjected to hundreds of details every day
that form and mold our buying habits. Was a particular employee in a business
you visited really kind and patient with you? Were they friendly and courteous
beyond your normal expectation? Was the business well stocked and had
everything you needed. Did they tell you there was a sale on the item you
brought to the register when you weren’t even aware it was on sale? Did they
promise to be there at 9:00AM and actually were? Did they call you by name? Did
they thank you for your business?
To complicate matters a
little, what makes a customer happy one time may not seem to matter 3 months
from now. You can’t always chalk it up to “they’re having a bad day”. I’m going
to let you in on a really big secret. They’re human, just like you. Consider
this. You have no idea what frame of mind they’re in when they walk into your
shop. You don’t know if some wise guy just cut them off 2 blocks from your
location or if they’re dealing with a health issue OR if they got up feeling
great, stopped at their favorite coffee shop and are enjoying their perfect cup
of morning coffee.
And they have no idea
what you are dealing with either. Was an important part for a big job left off
your morning delivery? Did the last customer give you grief and blame you for
their radio not working when their car was in for struts? The point is, neither
of you can ever know for 100% sure what’s going to be on the other side of
“Good morning!”. The only way to approach that customer striding towards you is
to clear your mind of what was on it 2 seconds ago and commit to doing
everything you can to make that person’s encounter with you as pleasant and
reassuring as you can.
Before you go off all
sure, sure, easy to say, but not very practical or possible, let me remind you
of the title of this blog. Go ahead. Check. ….. Correct! It’s in the details.
Everything you say or do might be the turning point of each and every
encounter. And that could be positive or negative. That’s why you have to be
totally focused on the customer in front of you. Besides the verbal
communication going on, what is their body language saying? Is there a smile on
their face? Do they seem pre-occupied and in a rush? I know you thought you
were a Technician or a Service Writer but I doubt anyone ever told you that
there was a degree in psychology you all got somewhere along the way. (Congratulations!)
The best way I can
explain this to you is to ask you to go back in your mind and think of a few of
those instances when you yourself became a dedicated customer of “xyz” company
or store. Somebody did something for you that clicked in your mind as having
been above and beyond the call of duty and you instantly committed your
loyalty. Although we have all had those moments it seems they are easy to
forget as time passes and your loyalty slips into habit. I’m not saying that
“habit” is a bad state. It works to the benefit of both the customer and the
business. The customer is always expecting a good experience and the shop is
honored with their business.
There is a slippery
slope to this process and it is truly buried in the details. You and your customer
can go along for years and everything seems to be going just fine. Then one day
you detect a slight change in attitude from your longtime customer or maybe
they miss a service appointment or maybe you just don’t see them again. Did
they move or did they take their business elsewhere? You may never know. Part
of the problem is there are generally only two ways a customer deals with a
“perceived” slight, insult, shoddy job or service. They either tell you about
it or they take their business elsewhere. Your longtime customer may say
something to you the first time or maybe even twice. After that, it reverts
back to the basic human instinct of “fight or flight”. If you serve me a bad
meal, I’ll pay my bill, leave and never come back. If you serve my wife a bad
meal, she will tell you about it instantly. You want my wife for a customer. At
least she will give you a chance to correct the error. Not me. And the bad news
for you is that there are more of “me” out there than her. Sorry.
You never know what
outside influence is working on your customer. Who did they become friendly
with? What story of excellent service did they hear from a friend? Where did
they stop out of necessity or convenience one day to have the same service you
usually provide them and find these people, who didn’t even know them, did “X”
that really impressed them? You have zero control over what happens outside the
walls of your shop. None!
But the one thing you
can absolutely control is what goes on in your shop. I don’t care if you are
the technician, owner, manager or service writer. You all depend on each other
to keep the customers happy. Their happiness keeps your paycheck coming. How you
contribute to the effort depends on what your job is. You may never even speak
to or see the customer. The customer may never be aware of what you personally
did. They may never know that you made sure all the clamps were tightened or
the excess dirt and grime were wiped away. All that matters is that your
combined group effort made the customer happy and kept them coming back. You
see, the devil IS in the
© Bill Rosenberg
It’s not a mistake. The
question mark is there on purpose. You’re most likely a qualified technician
and/or a skilled manager in the auto service industry. If not, you would be
following a different career. Hopefully you’re on a path of constant learning in
your chosen profession. It raises the bar higher for us all. It allows us to
offer our customers ever increasing levels of professional service. The reason
for the question mark is this. Do you really study and understand the challenge
and opportunity of establishing trust and rapport with your customers?
My continuing reminder
to us all is to approach these questions relating to customer service from a
standpoint of our own experiences when we ourselves are the customer. There is
no one better than yourself to provide you the honest answers. It becomes
extremely personal when you are the sole judge and jury. You are the sum of what
you have experienced. If you have made it past adolescence you have plenty to base
your judgements on. Enough psycho-babble!!
So, how do we establish
trust? Many of the places we choose to do business with can be attributed to
convenience or, when it comes to a branded product, who’s got the lowest price.
Here are a couple of examples. If you do most of your food shopping at a
particular store, you are probably doing it because they are close to your home
or they are located along the route you take on the way home from work. I’ll
bet there are items that cost more than one of their competitors in your
shopping basket, but, hey, you’re there and it’s convenient. On the other hand,
if you’re looking for a new TV before the big game, you’ve probably checked out
the price of Brand XYZ p/n 12345 and are headed to the store with the lowest
Within reason, I could
make a case for you that says it is still possible to change that customer’s
buying habits but we are not ready for that conversation yet. Instead, I want
to keep our focus on the folks who come into your business every day. All
things being equal, why do they come to you (for something other than an
advertised special)? There are probably lots of places to get their vehicle
serviced in your area.
Having spent most of my
life in the automotive aftermarket (which is a considerable number of years), I
can’t tell you how many times I have been asked; “Where is a good place to get
my car repaired?” Sometimes I have heard that question from people who knew I
was in the business and other times I was standing with a group of people at a
party and overheard the discussion. Here’s how it usually went. “Hey. I’m
looking for a good place to get my brakes checked. I think I need to have them
looked at because I hear some squealing and I’m concerned. I’ve been going to
Bill’s Friendly Auto Repair the last couple of times and I’m not sure they
always have my best interest in mind.” Keep in mind this is just a rough
example. Most of the times the conversation about their present repair shop
isn’t so “gentle”.
So, now there’s 6
people standing around this circle and, let’s say it’s me that offers up an
answer. Remember, only one guy was asking the question. Here I go with a
glowing recommendation. I start with a story that lays out a scenario where
Andy over at Andy’s Service Center “did right by me” when he told me that what
I was told by another shop was going to be a major repair was only going to be
an inexpensive fix. I added how nice the techs were and how professional
looking the shop was and how accommodating they were. AND, that I’ve been going
there for the last 5 years AND everyone I ever sent to Andy has been happy with
his service. The guy who asked the question is now asking me to text his
contact info to his phone. AND so are the other 4 people who were listening.
There are lots of
lessons in this simple example. Getting a new customer into your place is an
expensive and exhaustive proposition. Shops spend tons on advertising;
newspapers, direct mail, radio or, where it is affordable, putting ads on TV.
All this is good and worthwhile to do. You need to cast a broad net on the
water. But, remember, the first time one of those customers comes into your
shop TRUST has not yet been established.
In the example where I
made the recommendation, that person (or those people) will be hitting your
place with a pre-conceived notion that there is trust to be found here. I can’t
tell you how much that means. The fact is that when someone in the crowd asks
for a recommendation, the person who answers has set themselves up as an
authority on that subject. Everybody likes to be looked to as an authority. Think
about it. “Hey, my insurance rates just went through the roof. Anybody got a
good ‘guy’?” I’ll bet you’ve heard that one before. That’s how we make
decisions. With a little help from our friends. That’s why you’ll drive a
little out of your way on the way home. That’s why you might be willing to pay
a little more. It’s not always the “Complete Brake Service” advertised at a set
price. Your most meaningful customers value the TRUST in your service. They are
the most likely to “sell” your shop and they’re going to do it when you’re not
even there or trying. The reality is that you’ve obviously already established
trust and rapport. You’ve done your job.
What can you do to earn
that kind of trust from your customer to make them that passionate about your
business. It’s simple. Everything you
can possibly think of. Before you engage the customer, go to those “outside
your business” experiences you’ve had and remember all the times when you were
treated well enough to create a positive memory. It would serve you well to
also remember when you were not treated so well and how that made you feel.
Then, don’t take your customer there.
Trust doesn’t just
happen. It is built over time. Even with a good recommendation from an existing
customer, you’ve only gotten past the first step. What are you waiting for? You’ve got trust to
© Bill Rosenberg