Past Issue

Reputation, Part II - Maintain a Positive Image in the Community

By Prentice St. Clair

04/01/15


Your customers will appreciate your involvement in the community.

In the February 2015 issue, I started a discussion on “reputation,” which can be defined — textbook style — as “the opinion or judgment in which a person is generally held.” We all have stories of how existing customers win over referrals through describing our good reputation. So how does a new business “create” a good reputation? And how does an existing business maintain a good reputation?

 

In that earlier column, I identified four activities that will assist in establishing a good reputation:
1. Provide great customer service
2. Provide superior results
3. Treat your customers like friends
4. Be a good citizen and contributor to the community

A quick re-cap of the first two items, which I covered in February: A great customer service experience begins with the first time that a potential customer learns of your business and continues through the follow-up that you provide once the service is complete. This experience includes the first impression that the customer has upon meeting you, the sales presentation that you provide, your capability to provide the desired services, and the experience that the customer has after paying and leaving.

Providing superior results starts with doing the best job you can. Then it continues with adding something extra. A superior result is characterized also by “completeness” (everything is done that is supposed to be done) and “thoroughness.” After all, that’s why they call it “detailing,” because all the details are done. Finally, an important component of superior results is “consistency,” meaning the customer knows what to expect from you during each return visit to your operation.

Treat Customers Like Friends

Most customers will respond well to your efforts to be warm, friendly, courteous, and hospitable. Warmth begins with a smile and an exuberant greeting. Years ago I owned a Saab 900 Turbo. Fun car, but I hated bringing it in for service because the only place in town that specialized in Saab repairs was run by a guy with the personality of a brick — no “hello,” no smile, no response to “how’s it goin’?” I put up with this only because they were the best, but I know other Saab owners who refuse to go there because of the iceberg personality of the owner/greeter.

Most customers want to feel invited when they walk into a business, perhaps with a warm “hello” or enthusiastic “good morning!” followed by “welcome to our detail shop. How can I help you today?” As much as you can, make your greeting and sales presentation conversational as opposed to “strictly business.”

Next thing to do is shut up and listen. Let the customer explain his or her needs thoroughly, interjecting only when necessary to clarify. It can be annoying to a customer to have to listen to the operator’s non-stop jibber-jabber instead of being heard. For example, I was recently having dinner with friends at a supposedly high-end steakhouse where they age the meats in a glass-enclosed case in the waiting area.

Every time the waiter checked in on us, he spent several minutes explaining the menu and each option. When we were ready to order I told him so the next time he came by, at which point he launched into some long-winded explanation about how they age their meat. Three times during this, I repeated, “we’re ready to order.” I finally had to say forcefully, “can you please take our order now?”

If you mostly see one customer at a time, then take a moment to ask them how things are. If you happen to remember something that customer shared with you during the last visit, ask about it. The customer will be impressed that you remembered.

On the other hand, be sensitive to the needs of the hectic customer who does not have time to chitchat. You can typically detect these folks by their short answers to your questions and how they seem to be ready to break for the door. Of course, make sure you have the information you need to perform the service well, but then recognize the customer’s need to rush off.

If you have a high-volume operation, I understand that it is difficult to connect with every customer as if he or she were a best friend. So it becomes important to hire warm and friendly front-counter sales staff and to train them on how you want them to treat the customer.

Also, I say hello to customers who I see out and about in the community, like at the grocery store. I make sure to not ask “hey, when are you going to bring in your car?” because I don’t want them to think that every time we see each other, it’s going to be a sales pitch. Instead, I just converse like I would if it were a neighbor.

And remember to be friendly with strangers. Some of my best customers have come from gas stations. If you’re filling up next to someone who has a nice car, give them a compliment and ask, “who does your detailing?” Then you have an opportunity to hand over a business card.

If you have a family, make sure to include them occasionally in your marketing piece, for example with a “thanks from our family to yours.” Ask your customers about their families as well as part of your rapport-building salesmanship. This sharing about “family” will also help your customers feel like you are a friend and not just a service person.

Be Community-Minded

Your customers, new and old, will appreciate your involvement in the community. I recommend donating services for silent auctions and raffle prizes, especially for those organizations from which you have personally benefited. For me, that’s the local public schools that my kids attend or have attended, as well as the Y.

And when the prize winner comes in, make sure they get the same high-end treatment as a “paying” customer. Make a point of thanking them for their contribution to the organization. You would be remiss if you didn’t up-sell or cross-sell other services, but don’t make a big deal out of it. Be cheerful whether or not the prize winner spends another dime with you — at least you have another address for mailing promotional material.

Also, as your budget allows, take advantages of sponsorship opportunities in the community, from the big ones like the local Little League team to the small ones like donating a few cases of bottled water for the grade school “jog-a-thon.” People in the community will appreciate the fact that you support the local community, not just take from it.

How do you act in public? Are you as warm, friendly, and courteous as you are in the shop? Are you known as a “good guy” in the community, or a “jerk?” I’ve known people who have gone out of business in my community mostly because they had the latter reputation. One time my banker introduced me to a guy who needed some work done on his truck, as we were both in the bank lobby. I went out and looked at the truck and came back in and told him my price. He angrily responded, “That’s a rip-off. And besides, I’ve never seen you in my store!” As I walked out the door, I thought, “and you never will.”

Later, I asked the banker why that guy was so gruff. She said, “He’s just like that.” Well, he’ll never have my business in his store.

Remember that when you are wearing company shirts, you are a moving billboard for your company. Being kind and courteous to those with whom you come into contact is an important statement about your company. Always have business cards so that you have something to hand those who are prompted by your shirts to inquire about your business.

The same goes for your mobile rig that has signs. Drive courteously: let people in, don’t tailgate, don’t speed through customers’ neighborhoods, and keep your vehicle clean.

Another way to be active in your community is to become involved in volunteer activities. This is an opportunity for you to show that you are community-minded and to get to know more people in your area. Involve your employees in volunteer work as well, with everyone wearing your company t-shirts, of course.

 

SUMMARY

Let’s face it, we are in a business whose success requires a steady stream of customers. Each person that we come in contact with is a potential customer. It is important, then, to maintain a positive image in your community as a whole, and to be warm and friendly to those whom you meet at your operation as well as in the community in general.

 

Prentice St. Clair is an International Detailing Association Recognized Trainer and Certified Detailer. As the president of Detail in Progress Inc., he has been providing training and consulting to car washes and detail shops since 1999. He is available at (619) 701-1100 or prentice@detailinprogress.com.

 

 

 



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