AKRON (June 20, 2005) — Courteous, cheerful and respectful employees aren't expensive—they're priceless.
At the same time, hiring and/or grooming this caliber of people may be the least expensive way to distinguish your tire dealership or service shop from your competition.
Competition today in the automotive service arena is downright fierce. The typical owner or manager I meet in my travels is eager to learn any new trick that will yield a competitive edge in his or her particular market. Launch ceremonial balloons? Hire singing gorillas? Offer tire-shaped hot dogs with each tire purchase? Propose it and I bet they'd at least listen to the concept.
Besides being interested in a competitive edge, the bosses I encounter perceive themselves as being small business operators. A person, for example, may be a franchisee with an outfit that boasts instant name recognition coast-to-coast, but he or she still considers this business to be more mom-and-pop or small-town style than large corporation.
Hmmmm…they fancy themselves as being small businesses and they're anxious to edge out the competition. At the risk of sounding trite and obvious, those who pride themselves on being “small businesses” should act like them. The last time I checked, the hallmark of a small business is friendly, personal and prompt service. If these are the traits of small businesses, then recruit and groom your staff accordingly.
You needn't hire a consultant or marketing research outfit to verify consumer attitudes on service businesses. Just keep your ears open at any given church picnic, block party or family reunion…or get button-holed by your seatmates on a cross-country flight who see you reading an automotive trade magazine.
This informal feedback will teach you that service tends to be so bad in so many places that simply being adequate distinguishes you from the pack. Being prompt and personal, in turn, makes the staff of any service business look like super stars.
Don't get me wrong here. Friendly, knowledgeable workers should be a characteristic of every business, large or small. In fact, companies as large as the Nordstrom's department store chain try very hard to distinguish themselves with personal service, but the average consumer seems to expect more of these traits from smaller businesses. Of course, you impress people and earn loyal customers by exceeding their expectations.
If providing cheerful, courteous and prompt service was so easy, everyone in the auto service market would already be doing it. It isn't easy because it's difficult to find the right people for the job. In fact, many bosses I know are still working on getting the staff to show up on time every day, let alone act cheerfully.
Considering the demands on your time and attention, it's very easy to be distracted from this goal.
If you believe there's room for improvement at your dealership or service shop, hold a team meeting. Don't assume that everyone on your staff understands what you want or what the consumer expects. Explain that cheerful personal service begins with people who smile. It begins with workers who learn to make eye contact instinctively with people who are often total strangers (new or unfamiliar customers) and say hello. For that matter, saying hello and offering to help someone is even better.
Some owners and managers are blessed with service personnel who meet and greet naturally. I'm convinced that these skills can be taught to a typical worker—not unlike the way the military teaches recruits to salute.
At the same, emphasize the need for cheerfulness and courteousness when hiring service personnel. Some bosses even stipulate these traits in their employment advertisements. As far as I'm concerned, they should be spelled out in an employee manual and emphasized during hiring interviews. Again, don't assume that a prospective hire knows what you want—describe it in plain English.
You aren't likely to create this personalized service atmosphere overnight. There's no time like the present to begin working on it.