NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Show customers you care about their needs, perform extra services for them, and chances are the result will be bigger profits. That was the message of two customer service experts who spoke at the 1999 World International Tire and Rubber Association Expo in Nashville, Tenn., last month.
``When your service is excellent, you can charge almost anything you want,'' said Chris Frederick, president of the Automotive Training Institute in Annapolis Junction, Md., said during tyhe workshop ``Customer Care-How to Deliver Exceptional Service.''
``Will you pretend you care?'' asked Dr. Rick Kirschner, during his seminar, ``10 Fundamentals to Deliver Legendary Service.''
Customers should not be seen as an interruption, but rather the purpose for which a business operates, said the physician and co-author of the book ``Dealing With People You Can't Stand.''
``The No. 1 motivation today for people to come to your shop is (that) they like you,'' Mr. Frederick said. This is especially true for women, who make up about 65 percent of the auto service industry's customers, he said.
Customers who are complainers could end up being good long-term patrons, Mr. Frederick said. But 96 percent of customers with complaints won't say anything and of those, 90 percent will never return.
In his workshop, Dr. Kirschner said most of the customers who don't complain will tell at least 10 other people about their experience. He also said the customer isn't someone to argue or match wits with because the dealer loses in the long run.
``The customer is right even if you know damn well he's wrong,'' he said, noting the potential damage a disgruntled customer can cause.
Mr. Frederick agreed, to a point: ``Give them (customers) whatever they want, as long as they don't say, `I'm not coming back'.''
The key to recovering after a customer complains is speed, according to both speakers. Mr. Frederick said 95 percent of dissatisfied customers will again do business with a company if a problem is resolved ``on the spot.''
Dr. Kirschner suggested it takes ``four moments of good to compensate for one bad one.'' He added that customers dread hearing an employee say, ``Let me get the manager.''
That means empowering front-line employees—the service manager or the cashier, for example—to make things right. But, cautioned Mr. Frederick, employees should never be put in a position of choosing between pleasing the customer or pleasing the boss.
Both speakers said a customer's view of a company is all-important. ``Perceptions are reality, that's all there is,'' Mr. Frederick said.
Dr. Kirschner noted that satisfying the customer isn't enough in a competitive environment.
``People will go out of their way for more, better, faster,'' he said. That means meeting their basic service needs and doing something extra—like Les Schwab Tire Centers of Prineville, Ore., which gives customers a complimentary piece of meat with the purchase of a set of tires, he said.
Something ``extra'' can also be something basic, Mr. Frederick said. ``In the auto service industry, we're not known for our bathrooms,'' he said. Clean restrooms are one of the little things a dealer can do to ``create uniqueness in your shop.''
Dr. Kirschner said winning businesses ``make the moment a positive experience.'' He suggested dealers promote themselves by displaying letters and cards they receive from grateful customers.
Both speakers agreed that extra service means extra profits.
Mr. Frederick cited studies showing auto service shops that provide high quality service earn 11 percent higher profits.
Dealers have a choice, he said: ``You're going to be really good and cost more; or be really bad and be cheap.''