Solving an unhappy customer's problem may be the truest test of your business' personnel, policies and procedures. Here's why.
Motorists come to your tire dealership or service shop to purchase tires and/or maintenance and repairs. Vehicle owners trust you to service costly, sophisticated machines — four-wheeled wonders in which they usually take great personal pride.
(Some younger readers may have lost perspective of these things, but not older folks like me. Many of the common vehicles rolling into your bays today cost more than my first home did.)
Simply put, you have developed a relationship with these motorists. Many service personnel I have met over the years forget that a relationship is a relationship — regardless of the parties involved.
Ultimately, relationships with your customers are like those you have with spouses, children and "significant others." That is, some are very straightforward but others are relatively complicated.
Some relationships seem to be self-sustaining; others demand extra attention — call it extra emotional maintenance.
But the most-important, most-relevant truism of relationships is this: You may not know the quality of any relationship until something or someone tests it.
By test it, I mean stress it. Sometimes, the factors that test a relationship are apparent to anyone and everyone within shouting distance.
They see a conflict coming as clearly as they see an approaching summer squall.
On the other hand, the trouble or perceived problem that stresses the relationship may come out of the blue. People who are privy to the conflict wonder, "What caused that outburst and those tears?"
Whether it's your spouse or a customer, you may not have recognized that one factor or another was an irritant—a potential issue of any sort.
You may have heard the old adage that nothing's more certain than death and taxes. I respectfully add that stressed relationships are another certainty.
One thing we can count on is that things go wrong, jeopardizing a relationship. The "wrong" could be major or minor, real or perceived.
Regardless, the most-successful managers and bosses identify the issue and address it.
You already may be trying hard to meet or exceed motorists' expectations. But in spite of those efforts, perhaps both a service writer and tech overlooked the rumbling/growling noise that worried the motorist.
Possibly an otherwise-capable tech left hamburger wrappers inside the car or overlooked grease prints on an interior panel.
And maybe you're grooming an exuberant, younger person to work the front service desk. Unexpectedly, a customer claimed that this youngster's attitude was flippant.
OK, now the boss or manager begins earning his or her keep.
First, isolate this customer from everyone else so you can control the conversation more easily — focus on the person more effectively by screening out noise and potential interruptions.
What's more, this approach prevents this person from trying to grandstand his or her argument in front of other customers.
Second, maintain eye contact with this customer and allow the person to vent all the discontent that's possibly bottled up. Patiently allow the person to blow off all the steam.
You may be surprised to discover that the real irritant had nothing to do with your staff or procedures. Rather, some unrelated grievance actually fueled this action; it just happened to be your turn to hear it.
(Last week, the unlucky audience for the tongue-lashing may have been the checker at the supermarket.)
Third, address the real or perceived issue to the best of your ability once the person has vented. Often, just your courtesy and the open ear satisfies that person.
Working with customers is and always will be both an art and a science. I welcome your feedback on the ways you have found to be effective.