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 well.
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 see them.
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.
It is not always price.
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
BillR Services, LLC