Interviewing new customers lets tire dealers identify their specific needs and expectations. Like a first date, it may preview the future of the relationship. An interview-or having the person complete a service questionnaire-also helps service personnel tailor service and maintenance recommendations to particular needs. The result is a longer, healthier and more profitable relationship with that motorist.
Getting to know you
As I discussed in my last column, a shop owner who uses this approach believes it does more than break the ice with a new customer. It makes the business look more thorough and professional and reinforces the service staff's concern for the vehicle's care and the customer's satisfaction.
A short one-on-one session also gives service personnel subtle but important insights. For example, complete reliability is probably a priceless commodity to the night-shift nurse who's expected at work regardless of the weather. What's more, a breakdown on a dark city street at the wrong time could cost her her life. Here, service personnel should place extra emphasis on thorough preventive maintenance-not to mention the value of all-season tires.
The vehicle a new customer drops off may not be his own. A talented interviewer not only determines that it's his daughter's car, but also learns that the man's three children drive different cars to different colleges. Unless the fellow has just won a lottery, operating costs are likely to be a major worry.
Show empathy and exceed expectations by itemizing what the car needs, then prioritizing which repairs must be done first and which can be scheduled later.
Some people get to work easily without a car, others are paralyzed when their vehicles are down. If the interview reveals that the person has a car-dependent sales job or is a car-pooling parent, then punctuality is usually a priority. The vehicle must be ready when promised! If your store offers loaner cars, this person will appreciate one when the shop schedule won't permit a quick repair.
When it's clear that time is extremely valuable to a new customer, add value to your store's services by having the car wash next door clean the entire vehicle after it comes off your service rack. Besides saving him time, this gesture builds the store's image by exceeding his expectations.
Let's assume for the moment that your service department has been doing quality repairs at competitive prices. Many owners and managers never devote any time to learning why people choose their store over another one. But tactfully questioning new customers tells you how well you're promoting your business and what people perceive its strengths to be.
For example, several first-time interviews or questionnaires may reveal that a relative or neighbor referred the person. However, a pattern of responses may show that the reason for the referral was a helpful, friendly staff, guaranteed same-day services, or your loaner vehicle program. If your advertisements in the local papers haven't emphasized these attributes, it's time to revamp the ads.
Qualify vehicle usage
Never underestimate the importance of qualifying vehicle usage with new customers. For example, short trips or constant stop-and-go driving require more frequent oil and transmission fluid changes.
But unless service personnel ask, a customer may not mention he carpools with four or five adults, or shares his car with a teenager who fancies himself an amateur Andretti. These details might explain why his car's fuel economy isn't what it should be.
In an extremely hilly area, a new customer may be worried about increased brake and tire wear. The same customer may neglect to explain that one son began using the car for rapid pizza deliveries five nights a week while another son uses it to deliver newspapers in the morning. Case solved?
Last but not least, extending the interview approach into a routine questionnaire for all service customers can save a dealership untold hours of wasted time.
A carefully prepared questionnaire forces service personnel to gather the important background information they often fail to get: What are the symptoms, when do they occur, and when did they first appear? Answering these questions are the real keys to making accurate, profitable repairs and satisfying customers.
Service personnel invite trouble when they fail to identify valid symptoms first. For example, the customer may demand an alignment because his car shakes or vibrates. However, misalignment rarely causes vibration problems.