Motorists expect and deserve direct explanations of their automotive problems. However, service personnel must learn to give straightforward assessments without sounding like they're belittling the customer's vehicle. Many managers and technicians forget that berating the vehicle is a quick way to forfeit service sales-not to mention losing customers for good!
Recently, comments from one of my favorite speakers reminded me that tactfulness is paramount to winning the sale and earning a new customer or retaining an existing one.
Mike Weinberg is president of Rockland Standard Gear Inc., a Nanuet, N.Y.-based firm specializing strictly in the sales and service of standard-shift transmissions.
Rockland Standard Gear serves both wholesale and retail customers with drivetrain repairs, standard transmission overhauls and transmission parts. And Mr. Weinberg is the rare executive who's as comfortable reading a spreadsheet as he is evaluating new gear pullers back in the shop. He's also a popular lecturer at drivetrain-specialty symposiums.
Over the years, the challenging nature of their specialty forced Rockland's staff to hone its customer-relations skills. You see, the days of extremely high-volume, broad-application stick-shift gearboxes are long gone. When a trans begins growling or jumping out of gear, a serviceable salvage-yard replacement may not be available. The typical undercar repair done at many tire dealerships may seem labor-intensive to you, but it pales compared with removing and disassembling a gearbox. The work is so labor-heavy that relying on used gearboxes, used replacement parts or shortcut overhauls is more than high-stakes powertrain poker-it's Russian roulette!
Good transmission technicians know the common failure trends on standard gearboxes. But once a customer authorizes a teardown, techs don't know the real cost of a proper overhaul until every last part has been cleaned and thoroughly inspected. Unexpectedly finding critically worn parts can increase the cost of the job 50 to 100 percent over the original estimate, breaking the motorist's budget.
``Reassemble the transmission as is because I'm trading in the car,'' the defeated customer will say.
It's bad enough that human errors (e.g. teardown and inspection mistakes) doom many overhaul jobs. But it's worse seeing legitimate repairs go unsold due to service personnel's tactless remarks, Mr. Weinberg warned his automotive service audience.
Perception is reality. For example, a gearbox overhaul at Mr. Weinberg's shop may extend the service life of a vehicle for many years, warding off the payment book many cash-strapped customers dread. Extensive undercar repairs at your dealership may achieve the same goal.
But at this juncture, consumers may need more than clear cost justifications for serious repair work. They want to know the investment is the right thing to do.
Suppose Ol' Betsy's gearbox is one of the most problematic on the road, but a proper overhaul will put it right again. Mr. Weinberg stressed that the last thing the consumer needs to hear are comments such as, ``Oh, those pieces of crap. We see these failing all the time'' Or, ``This is a lousy design-none lasts very long.''
Customers already feel bad about facing a big bill. Tactless, negative comments questioning their intelligence and car savvy only further darken their mood.
It's enough to make some people leave the shop with an unrepaired car. Other customers somberly take the abuse, get the car repaired, and then look for friendlier service personnel elsewhere.
Instead of publicly venting all your anger at what you regard as an unfriendly or unreliable design, telegraph the calm confidence and know-how befitting a true expert. You might say, ``This car intimidates some technicians. But we've become students of these (brakes, suspensions, transmissions etc.). If you follow our recommendations, you'll see thousands of miles of worry-free service from the investment you're making today.''
Or, ``Fixing this properly isn't cheap. But if you invest in a thorough job, it'll be as reliable as you could ask a machine to be!''
What's more, when you slam the owner's vehicle and its design you may raise doubts about your confidence and ability. Your negative remarks may make the motorist wonder, ``If this guy's supposed to be the expert on these things, then why does my car's problem upset him? Maybe he doesn't know these things as well as he thinks.''
Finally, Mr. Weinberg recommends positive comments that bolster the customer's trust in your repair shop.
And if you have any doubt about that negative comment you're about to make, he counseled, it's probably best left unsaid.