Curbing telephone-itis, a disease permeating the American retail scene, will immediately improve customer relations and ultimately boost overall sales at your tire dealership. I'm confident the strategy will succeed because it will establish the rarest of traits in your business: common courtesy!
Why do so many front-line service personnel force paying customers to wait while they try to accommodate telephone inquires? Why do I continually see counter persons give phone callers priority over existing customers or live prospects standing in front of them?
Good reporters are trained to be good listeners and listen I do—very, very closely. What I hear doesn't please me because it's obvious the majority of these calls come from price-shoppers. At hotels and motels, they're shopping for cheap lodging. At auto parts stores, they're hunting for deals on spark plugs or brake pads. At tire stores, they're after tire bargains.
Mind you, waiting for a counter person to handle a call is nothing new to me. Because I've been covering the automotive repair industry since 1976, I've traveled extensively. Delays and interruptions come with the turf. You don't stay healthy if you allow such things to bother you too much. But that still doesn't justify the way most calls are handled!
The fact that I keep my cool doesn't mean everyone else does. I can't count how often I've seen consumers absolutely steaming while they waited for telephone-itis to subside.
Picture bone-weary travelers who have already endured the overall indignity of modern air travel (bad food or no food, delayed flights, lost luggage). They're entitled to prompt check-in so they can go to sleep and prepare for tomorrow's appointments. But budget-oriented or big-buck hotel alike, the front desk is often understaffed.
You can hear your fellow travelers grinding their teeth as the hapless desk clerk takes one phone call after another.
Let's shift scenes to the customer lounge of a large auto repair shop. One man patiently waits—checkbook in hand—to pay his bill and get to work. Another paces fitfully.
An anxious-looking woman with small kids who paid her bill 20 minutes ago returns, fretting about an odor in her car. (I volunteered to help. Luckily, the odor was the telltale smell of machine oil and penetrating oil overspray burning off the new exhaust system.)
While we cool our heels, the service writer is conscientiously trying to quote prices and close sales over the phone, though I'd guess those waiting would use an adjective other than ``conscientious.''
Change scenes once more to a busy auto parts store. A technician walks in with a boxful of old parts he's been asked to bring in so the counterman can physically match them up with replacement pieces. As the harried counter persons continually quote prices on the phone, the tech and I swap stories about look-alike parts that just don't fit.
Five minutes pass. The tech looks wearily at me and says, ``My boss spends six or seven grand a month here and I'm the one waiting in line. What's wrong with this picture?''
As far as I'm concerned, the problem with those scenes is the counter persons' inability to prioritize.
Whenever I worked the service desk, present company—especially people with currency in hand—took priority over the telephone tizzies. Granted, I was an inexperienced young man with no formal management training. But I held my own with a simple technique: I cheerfully told the caller I had a roomful of customers to attend to. I politely offered to call them back as soon as possible or at a time convenient to them.
No one griped and I'm not aware of any crises that arose from this approach. I didn't anger any existing customers or cost my boss any big fleet accounts. To the contrary, I found our regular customers recognized and appreciated my courtesy.
Experience showed that any phone shoppers worth having as regular customers were pleasantly surprised—sometimes almost stunned—when I called them back to discuss their service and repair needs.
If you don't think telephone-itis afflicts your business, make a concerted effort to study the body language of customers who wait while your staff takes those ``vital'' calls. These people are rightfully indignant and understandably unhappy.
Now, get off the phone, will you?