An Automotive Management Network forum member writes:
"Since purchasing my auto repair shop in 2005 I have found a growing interest in the analysis of the service I receive when I am the customer. It could be in a restaurant, at the dentist or even the post office, and it revolves around what I really liked or disliked and how I can apply it to the way we service our customers.
"It is a priceless glimpse of 'when the shoe is on the other foot' and something I ask my staff (especially service advisors) to be aware of when they are the customer. It leads to some interesting discussions for sure. My latest experience, which really made me want to post this, was at our local post office. I bought a bunch of old stock from a shop that was closing: oil filters, air filters, air filters, auto bras and headlight covers.
"Whatever I couldn't use I decided to sell online, so I have made many trips to the post office over the last few months. In my many trips, one visit really stick out in my mind. It was during a bustling lunch hour when there was about six of us in line with two attendants at the service counter. It was about 12:33 when one of the attendants' computers went down and rendered him helpless until it could be resolved with the help of a senior staff member. He in turn notified the other attendant of the situation and looking at the number of us in line asked him to help the next in line. His response was, for everyone in line to hear, 'It's lunch time, and I'm already late.' And with that, he placed the 'next window please' sign on the counter and left.
"We stood in line with all the windows closed wondering how long it would be before things start moving again. Thankfully it wasn't more than seven minutes before the computer was back online and we were moving again. I couldn't help but think it was less then seven minutes and the other attendant couldn't hang around a little longer to help us. His sandwich was apparently more important than us. He didn't care, and it showed. In turn, I felt like the post office didn't care. I would expect (and have seen) my staff put our customers first, and this experience was an excellent reminder to keep it up.
"Friday was a good example. I was eating lunch in my office, my service advisor had a pizza in the oven and a walk-in comes in with a complaint that he just lost his brakes. Knowing that we should have a tech returning from lunch in a little bit, I quickly finished my sandwich and grabbed the RO from my service advisor after he was done writing it up. My service advisor ended up over-cooking his pizza and I left a portion of my lunch on my desk, but we put the customer first and got him back on the road with a new brake line ready for the holiday weekend.
"Really, being hungry for work and desiring to grow this business influences us in our decisions, so we did what I would expect. The question is, when we reach the goals we set out to accomplish, will we be just as hungry? I think of a quote from the Green Bay Packers' head coach Mike McCarthy, when starting the season after they won the Super Bowl: 'Success is one of the hardest things to overcome in this league.' I think this applies to more than the NFL, but to many aspects of life."
Another forum member replies:
"I agree that customer service has, in the past few years, all but disappeared. Many different retailers treat you like you can't get service anywhere else, so they are doing you a favor. I had a customer last week with a squeak—not vital or life threatening, but important to my customer, as her commuters wouldn't ride with her until it was fixed.
"She explained that the rear struts had been replaced three times and the noise was still there. She hadn't come to me earlier because it's over an hour drive. I assured her I would take care of it. I removed the noisy strut and found a bit of hardware was rubbing. After removing the edges of the noisy washer, I returned the vehicle squeak-free. The next day she came driving in with the squeak. I was able to drop what I was doing and remove her rear strut again to see why my fix hadn't taken care of the squeak. Another adjustment and this time I guaranteed the squeak to be gone.
"Her husband called me that afternoon and thanked me for not only fixing the squeak but taking it seriously when she came in unannounced. I did not charge for the second repair. I felt I should have been able to fix it the first time and she had to make another trip. If just one of the other shops had good customer service they would have found and fixed the squeak. They advised her to replace her rear struts, and when it didn't fix the problem they sent her on her way. The squeak was in the strut. The reason the squeak didn't disappear with the strut replacement is the washer got removed from the old strut and reused on the new.
"I felt good about fixing her vehicle to her satisfaction, but I was also upset at the other shops. If I had recommended a strut change and it didn't fix the original reason the struts were replaced I would feel obligated to find and fix the original problem. Too many of those shops make all of our industry look bad.
A third forum member responds:
"I commend you for taking the position of paying attention to how you feel when you're the customer. That's important, and if more shop owners did that they probably wouldn't be looking to replace customers that they've had. But the most important part of what you said is this: 'I felt like the post office didn't care.'
"That's right. The biggest lesson here is that people often forget about what you say to them, but they never forget how you made them feel. It's the emotion—the feeling that you've been looked after and that you got the service that you bargained for. Like I said, so many times it's easy to lose sight of this aspect. By taking the first important step to understand and recognize that is huge. Yes, you are the customer sometimes, and if you don't like getting treated that way (the way the post office did) then your customers probably won't like it either."
Another forum member writes:
"I have been a trainer and have been emphasizing that the moment we step out of our work place, we become customers. We may go for a cup of coffee, we may buy some snacks, we may buy medicines, we may travel by bus or train or, for that matter, do anything when that service is being provided by someone else. We have now become the customer, and we react to the way the service is offered to us.
"We judge that person and that organization by the way the service is offered. We judge it to be good, bad or indifferent, depending upon how we react to that interaction. We do not need to study any great management manual or management terms or attend customer service programs to understand what the customer is expecting. If we apply our own experience as a customer to our own profession, we will react to our customers differently. Unfortunately, neither many managers nor many of the executives want to analyze how they would react if they were the customers under the situation. What we need is to inculcate certain values in all the people who will have to interact with the customers and meet their requirements."
The questions and responses are posted on the Automotive Management Network website, which is operated by Deb and Tom Ham, owners of Auto Centric (formerly Ham's Automotive) in Grand Rapids, Mich. The comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.