AKRON (Sept. 27, 2004) — Have you ever wondered why some tire dealers and service shop operators have such understanding and forgiving customers?
Call it good will, sympathy, empathy or forgiveness; good business people earn these relationships via years of thoughtful service.
Many bosses I meet seem to think this is a matter of good luck or divine intervention. However, my field experience tells me there's a direct relationship between how your customers treat you and how you've been treating them. Luck has very little to do with it.
For example, an owner and I were discussing one of his competitors. He didn't know that I know the competitor's operation very well. He was upset the competitor once quipped that he couldn't make one of his customers angry if he tried. This fellow became even more upset when I confirmed that this claim was probably true 95 percent of the time. I knew this because I'd watched the competitor and his crew in action so many times.
To me, the next thing that happened typifies what ails so many bosses. The whining owner didn't ask me about anything his competitor did to build customer trust. Instead of trying to learn something new and improve his business, he just changed the topic.
Cull favor, build trust
Most things I see savvy bosses doing to earn customer trust are simple courtesies that have to be done first time, every time. The very first step is to take responsibility for your work. This doesn't automatically mean admitting guilt or needing to give anything away free. Rather, it means agreeing to check the vehicle if the customer perceives that something's gone wrong after your techs worked on it. Acknowledge the customer's concerns and treat them seriously.
The next major step to cultivating sympathetic customers is to be mature and realistic. This means recognizing and accepting that the only thing you can count on in a service business is that things will go wrong!
Too many service personnel who should know better are still wringing their hands and wailing about problems instead of shutting up and dealing with them cheerfully and promptly. A tech called in sick unexpectedly. Your supplier sent the wrong parts. The tech didn't tighten the fasteners correctly. The tech did this, didn't do that.
Show some common and professional courtesy by telephoning a customer right away so he or she knows the vehicle won't be finished on time. Right away means right away—bad news never sounds any better when you delay delivering it to the customer. Whenever possible, provide a loaner vehicle or shuttle service so the customer isn't stranded without transportation. After addressing their transportation needs, you can concentrate on fixing their car.
The third way to grow sympathetic customers is to be sympathetic yourself. The quickest way to be sympathetic is to show that you respect the customer's time. As a rule, people depend a great deal on their vehicles. In fact, the mobility that car provides actually defines their daily lives, doesn't it?
Therefore, act accordingly whenever you're scheduling work on that vehicle or dealing with a work delay or a comeback. Long after the work delay is solved or the cause of a comeback is corrected, people will remember how promptly you dealt with the problem.
The fourth and possibly the most-challenging way to earn sympathetic customers is to control your temper and keep a sense of humor. Losing your cool doesn't engender trust or confidence nor does it speed up the problem-solving process. Besides, the typical customer coming through your door has his or her share of horror stories about service providers of one kind or another losing their tempers. They really don't need to see you do it, too.
Grace under pressure always earns you many more points than blowing your stack does.
Over the long haul, this approach comes back to you when you or one of your team finally does make a really big mistake. They've heard about your behavior from friends, neighbors and relatives. They've watched you operate from the customer lounge, and they've experienced your thoughtfulness firsthand with small issues. Consequently, they're so much more likely to cut you slack on the bigger boo-boo that you won't believe it. But then, you earned it!