LAS VEGAS—You may have the most reliable and experienced repair shop in town, but if it's unkempt and your front desk employees are sloppily dressed or unfriendly, your first-time customers may never come back.
Impression trumps experience almost every time, according to Garrison Wynn, a business consultant and motivational speaker who conducted an AAPEX seminar, "Being the best vs. being consistently chosen."
"People choose what makes them comfortable in that moment. They choose what they like," he said.
A customer's first impressions of your shop and personnel can pollute everything else you do.
"If people don't like your behavior, it can betray your skills," he said. "People don't choose what's best, they choose what they're comfortable with," he claimed, based on surveys of successful businesses.
As an example, he asked the seminar attendees: "Who make the most hamburgers? McDonald's. Who makes the best hamburgers? Not McDonald's."
Being the best at what you do is not enough to build sales, he said. "There are people out there who do a mediocre job and they are extremely successful. There are people who are fantastic and they cannot find or get enough business."
Success depends on making customers feel comfortable with you and your business and that is done by determining what people value.
"Customer satisfaction does not, nor ever has, created customer loyalty.... It's the experience that creates customer loyalty—What did it feel like to work with you? What did it feel like to encounter you?" Mr. Wynn asked.
"If people don't like your behavior, they start to look for reasons to disagree with you and not trust you. They just start to look for a reason," he said.
Mr. Wynn, of Wynn Solutions in Houston, noted that bad customer service can be traced to the behavior of supervisors and bosses. If bosses treat their employees relatively badly, the employees pass that behavior on down the line to the customers.
"The key to having your products and ideas consistently chosen, according to the research, is making sure you have a culture of service in your organization. If you do, then everyone is much more likely to make the customers feel valued," he said.
He suggested business owners conduct anonymous customer surveys to find out what people think of their service and hire mystery shoppers to visit their shops at their busiest times. "That's the only way you'll ever know," he advised.
A positive impression can beget wishful thinking on the customer's part.
"When someone walks into your shop, the sign looks good, the carpet looks good, the counter is clean, your employees look clean, then (first-time customers) are just mentally stimulated to go, 'You know what? I don't know if this place is any good or not, but I want it to be,'" Mr. Wynn said.
A store should be well lit, clean and neat. Customers should be greeted warmly and there should be a general atmosphere of friendliness.
The store also should be staffed with good workers at all times, including the night shift and weekends.
"People will approach you at your worst, weakest time and judge you on that," he said. "That's why it's so important that in your area of weakness you have to be strong enough for people to say, 'I had a good experience then.'"
How can you prove you care and are competent? Mr. Wynn advised that salespeople should ensure that a customer feels heard in the first 30 seconds to 2 minutes of the conversation.
He suggested shop salespeople ask customers questions and learn their needs and thought processes. For instance: "What are you going to use that part for?" or "What are you plans for the vehicle?"
"The person asking the questions is in control of the conversation. The person being asked the question is having the better experience than someone just telling them or informing them or showing them or whatever," he said. "Asking questions is very powerful. People who are most consistently selected, it turns out statistically, are the ones asking the questions and asking pretty good questions,"
What's the best question to pose in order to get people to choose your business? "Is there a question I didn't ask you that you think I should have?" Mr. Wynn said this proves the employee cares.
"The No. 1 reason people don't ask questions is that they're afraid to look stupid."
He recommended overcoming this by a four-step process that is used by successful businesses—ask, listen, agree and recommend. Ask the customer questions, listen for something specifically the salesperson can agree with and then make a recommendation based on that.
Mr. Wynn suggested by listening to customers, a salesperson can uncover more information—they may be looking for one part or service but the salesperson may discover he or she can recommend additional items to meet their needs.
He suggested salespeople offer multiple solutions for a single problem—such as: "There are other ways to do this, but this is the way most people agree works best."
"If you tell people there is only one way to do something, you have no influence," he said, noting that people under age 35 were raised to believe there are multiple ways of doing things.
"The consistently chosen understand what people value because they're asking the questions to find out what they value very specifically," he said. He also noted that businesses may also find out what the competition is not offering or areas where they are not doing well.
"Find out what your competition does not do well and show that is what you offer," he said.
Mr. Wynn also advocated spending money on both Google pay-per-click ads and organic SEO (search engine optimization) to secure a top spot on a Google search to attract more customers.
"The consistently chosen spend money—they are willing to do what it takes to gain customers," he said, noting that successful small businesses typically spend 15 to 20 percent of their gross revenues on marketing.
"They'll reduce their profitability to win, win, win and eventually increase their profitability once they've risen to the top and can dominate."
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6127.