by Steve Ferrante
Sale Away LLC
Part 1 of this article in the July/August issue discussed how great customer service is not as easily defined as having clean restrooms. Customer service is a tangible, measurable attribute, so your customer always decides whether or not you’re delivering exceptional customer service.
This article will continue on that track, zeroing in on the importance of a customer-first attitude and its role in delivering a great customer service experience — one that exceeds your customers’ expectations.
Attitude Is Paramount
A great customer-first attitude can be easily seen, for example, at the famous Pike’s Fish Market in Seattle. There are many fish markets in the area, but Pike’s is the best known and most preferred. It outsells its competitors by a 20-to-1 margin. Why? Because of the attitude of the employees and the excitement they bring to the simple act of selling fish. Fish fly from employee to employee as they are moved through the market to waiting customers, an entertaining show to be sure, but one delivered with pride and a consistently positive attitude.
A negative attitude will most certainly reflect poorly on a customer experience. Negativism can prevent building a longer-term relationship with a new customer and can kill a carefully built relationship with an existing customer. It’s good to remember that customer service is not a department, but rather an attitude.
Looking at relationships, every customer interaction is like the links in a chain. When you have a great customer interaction — perhaps you helped solve a tough vehicle problem — it makes the customer feel better. In the process, it creates that strong, solid link in the chain. Every positive interaction with that customer adds more links to the chain. On the other hand, those careless customer interactions weaken the chain.
You need to perform the basics as you would when you host a friend. You must be polite and welcoming, and, above all, professional. And get to know the customer — as a person rather than just an invoice.
Regarding the “exceed expectations” part of the formula, it’s necessary to learn what we can do to go the extra mile. Think in terms of the customer’s benefit and well being.
Customer Relations Tips
There is a hierarchy, a Top 10 list if you will, that helps establish good customer service. Be sure to consider the following items:
1. Respect your customers.
A real-life case history of non-respect involves a woman who came into a tire dealership looking to have her car inspected and the service tech who met with her. The conversation went something like this:
– Tech: Your car needs brakes.
– Customer: That’s funny, I just had my car here a short while ago and it didn’t need brakes then.
– Tech: Listen, the other guys don’t look at them the way I do.
– Customer: I don’t think brakes are necessary.
– Tech: Why don’t we call your husband?
The woman was insulted, of course, and never came back. She also had plenty of negative things to say about the experience and the tire dealer, and she shared those thoughts with friends and family. In this case, it was the lack of respect. If something goes wrong, apologize and correct the problem immediately. Customers don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.
2. Think like your customers.
Their perceptions must be your reality. Conduct surveys on a periodic basis to learn what they really think about your business. This can be done at a low cost through a service called SurveyMonkey.com, an on-line tool that will help you create and publish custom surveys in minutes, and then view results graphically in real time. It’s very customer friendly, even for those who have minimal computer skills and no survey experience.
3. Get to know your customers on a personal basis.
Find out what interests them, information about their families and other personal references you can discuss. Don’t fall into the trap that every customer is the same. Each customer will have certain unique preferences and wants.
4. Be consistent.
Good customer service must be delivered every day — not just when an employee feels like it. It must be, to use a shop-worn phrase, 24/7/365. It starts with greeting every customer who comes through your door, and never ends.
5. Exceed customers’ expectations.
That’s tough to do, but you can achieve it by under-promising and over-delivering. Be realistic in your promises about when a service job will be completed. Noted author Nelson Boswell (Inner Peace, Inner Power; TA for Busy People; How To Use Transactional Analysis at Home and at Work; and Successful Living Day by Day) says, “Here is a simple but powerful rule — always give people more than they expect to get.”
6. Provide a service that your competitors do not.
That could be something as simple as providing transportation to and from work or home, or giving customers a free car wash when their scheduled service work is finished. It could be offering a discount coupon to those who are regular customers, or creating a customer loyalty system that offers them a tangible reward based on a certain number of visits.
7. Make it easy for your customers to buy your products and services.
Make sure your whole team knows about the shop’s services. Be sure that pricing is competitive for comparable products in your area. Always remember, however, customers don’t buy products or services. They buy good feelings and solutions to problems. If you decide to sell your products through your website, make sure that the site is customer friendly and easy to navigate.
It would be wise to listen to Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, when he says, “If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.”
8. Communicate your return and refund policies up front when a sale is made.
This will save a lot of future embarrassment and will establish you as an ethical shop owner.
9. Have someone answer your phone — personally.
Customers are tired of calling companies where they get a voicemail message with instructions to push button 1, 2 or 3 for more information. This can immediately kill a sale.
10. Hire the best possible employees.
And train them relentlessly. Quality employees equal quality customer service. After they are hired, treat them well and incentivize them to deliver world-class customer care.
Training, Training, Training
Just like good work habits, good customer service can be taught and learned. Everything starts at the top — with you, the shop owner — and trickles down from there. If you want your employees to have a positive customer-focused attitude, you need to have one and always exhibit it.
When you see a sales or service person stumble with a customer, take them aside and calmly go through the scenario and point out how they could have better handled a situation.
At the same time, your customer service policies — the “rules” your employees are expected to follow in addressing customer concerns — should be clear, consistent and customer-friendly, but also allow flexibility to deal with exceptions.
On a more formal basis, there are a number of customer service training options available to you.
Shop owners should seriously consider seeking professional help to establish customer service training for their employees. This help can be divided into hierarchies:
Level 1 – Hire a customer service expert to present a seminar to your employees. You could then base your customer relations efforts on the models presented.
Level 2 – Take advantage of any parts and equipment supplier programs that include a customer service component.
Level 3 – Obtain software that specializes in customer relations management (CRM). There are scores of suppliers for this type of software, each offering a different facet of service — some are even free.
There are some companies that offer on-line sales and customer service training. If you want a generic approach to training, investigate those sites. In addition, some manufacturers offer product, sales and customer service training online. Although these may be brand-oriented, they still include valuable tips on positive customer service activities.
It wouldn’t hurt to look at big box stores like Walmart and how they attract and keep customers. Sam Walton laid the foundation for Walmart with three principles: have respect for the individual, give service to our customers and strive for excellence. The formula proved a rock-solid success. From a single store in northwestern Arkansas, Walmart has grown into the largest retailer on Earth.
Take some time to think about your personal experiences with big box stores like Walmart, Sears, Best Buy, Target and others — as well as the smaller, local businesses you frequent. From a customer service standpoint, what stands out in your mind? What do they do that keeps you coming back for more?
Walton observed that, “The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but legendary.” That type of customer service is within the reach of every shop owner. Plan for it. Train for it. Deliver it consistently.
Steve Ferrante is the CEO of Sale Away LLC and has more than 20 years of successful sales, sales management and sales training experience. Through his Pinnacle Performance sales and customer service training program, he has received national acclaim for teaching independent tire and auto service businesses how to improve customer relations and produce greater sales results. Steve can be reached directly at 866-721-6086 ext. 701 or via e-mail at [email protected].