Wednesday, April 12, 2017

An Informed Customer Is A Happy Customer

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 are.

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.

© Bill Rosenberg

BillR Services, LLC