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A FEATURED ARTICLE FROM

JANUARY 2002

Customer Service: We're All in the Business
of Satisfying Customers
By John Lamade

Many still disagree about the definition of detailing. But there is one thing that is true for everybody in business: We're all in Customer Service!

This month, I do not wish to delve into the intricacies of value and process. Let's give those subjects a brief rest and consider how we can provide better customer service and really satisfy our customers.

Customer service is satisfying customer needs and exceeding their expectations. When you perform a detailing job for a customer you should return a vehicle when and as promised and at the price promised. This all sounds simple, but your own experiences should tell you that good customer service is rare. When was the last time you had a problem with a product or service and you had the
problem resolved quickly, courteously, and to your satisfaction? How many times have you asked yourself if anybody cares?

Think about your customers. What do they think about your customer service? Would they cite their experiences with you as a shining example of what customer service should be? Or would they be less than enthused about dealing with you and your employees?

Earlier this month I visited a web site called allbusiness.com, which offers free advice to small businesses. It is well worth a visit. In an unattributed article on this web site, the authors stated that there are ten rules to customer service:

 

1. Commit to quality service
2. Know your products
3. Know your customers
4. Treat people with courtesy and respect
5. Never argue with a customer
6. Don't leave customers hanging
7. Always provide what you promise
8. Assume customers are telling the truth
9. Focus on making customers, not making sales
10. Make it easy to buy

These points make sense, and their application to any vehicle service business is quite appropriate. Remember that most of your new business comes from referrals and your current customers are repeat customers. As a result, keeping your customers satisfied ensures a steady stream of repeat and new business. You cannot survive without good service.

COMMITTING TO QUALITY SERVICE

The first commandment of business is to provide value to your customers. The second commandment is to value your customers. You show your commitment by respecting and being courteous to your customers. Each of your customers believes that his or her business is important. You must reinforce the customer's belief and believe it yourself. When you respect your customers you learn to
understand their needs and seek to find ways to satisfy those needs relating to the services you offer.

This sounds suspiciously simple, but beliefs are fragile. Any misadventure with anybody in your shop can sour a customer's attitude toward your shop. As a result, everybody in your shop must commit to providing the highest levels of service. This means that you should empower your employees to provide service. In short, make good customer service a responsibility shared by everyone. This also implies that everybody should be able to provide service without seeking approval. Yes, there are limits, but everybody should be working to make the customer's experience with your business pleasant.

MAKING THE COMMITMENT

Who should make the first commitment to quality service? Well, that person is you! You set the example for everybody else in your shop. If you do not provide the highest levels of courtesy and respect, why should anybody else? As a result, you must be the example that everybody emulates. When your staff sees you do everything possible to ensure that a customer receives outstanding service, then they can learn from you. What are some things that you can do to ensure the delivery of satisfaction?

Keep Your Promises
Very few people intentionally break their promises. The problem is that many people promise more than they can possibly deliver. Two weeks ago I needed to have the ball joints replaced on my van. The shop manager promised me that they could have the job done in two hours. I brought a book. However, the job took over seven hours. Parts were delayed and related services were temporarily unavailable. The result: I was irritated that a two-hour job became seven. The manager promised two hours. As I
observed the work process, I realized that the job could have been done in less than two hours, but when the various processes failed to mesh, delays s-l-o-w-e-d things down. Do I believe that the manager intentionally lied? No. He just promised performance over things he could not control.

The moral of this story is that it is wrong to make well-intentioned promises if you cannot guarantee that the promise will be fulfilled in all of its terms. When you commit to providing a service, make sure that you can deliver. It is better to commit to a longer time span and deliver earlier (exceeding expectations!).

Make Sure the Customer Always Wins
When you must disappoint a customer, make sure that the customer gets something extra for free. In the story above, the manager realized his error and apologized for making an unreasonable promise. During the course of the day I was offered the use of the manager's car, a transmission flush at cost, and a free oil change. The manager was trying hard to make sure that I would not leave angry. Of course, giving away services hurts profitability and by making unfulfillable promises he got himself into this situation. At least he realized that my satisfaction was important. Will I do business again with this company? Certainly.

Concentrate on the Customer
The good folks at allbusiness.com state that it costs six times as much to gain a new customer than to maintain an existing customer. This makes sense. And customers bring in new business. AOL spends over $70 to get a new Internet account, and if an existing account refers a new customer the existing account gets a month's service free. This only serves to show that keeping a customer is probably the best investment you can make.

Resolve Problems Immediately
Do not let the customer wait for a resolution. Take action now. If you cannot fix the problem immediately, then tell the customer how the problem can be resolved. Commit to the resolution immediately. Just make sure that when you resolve a problem that you have resolved the customer's problem. When you discuss resolution, rephrase the customer's complaint and then express the resolution in those terms. Then ask the customer if the resolution satisfies the customer: Did you solve the problem? In addition, make sure that the customer feels that he or she has "won." Over 70 percent of customers will do business with a company with which they have had problems that were solved in their favor. Does arguing get you anywhere?

Don't Argue with Customers
Keep your cool. Let customers express their feelings as they explain their problems. Afterwards, you can ask questions regarding details. Don't turn a complaint into a shouting match. Listen, rephrase the problem, ask questions, and find out what the customer wants. When you offer a solution, outline at least three action steps:

 

• What you can/will do now;
• What you will do in the near term;
• What you will do to ensure satisfaction in the long term.

Remember that you are making promises, and you must deliver on those promises. If a customer is worth keeping, you may sacrifice a little to gain a long-term relationship, but if a customer wants too much, know where to draw the line. Sometimes you must say "NO!" - just don't say no in anger or in the middle of an argument.

REWARD GOOD SERVICE

Remember that I stated the importance of your being an example. When you see somebody in your shop providing good service, reward that person! Look for opportunities to reinforce
desirable behavior. Rewarded behaviors are more likely to be repeated.

MAKE IT EASY TO DO BUSINESS WITH YOU

The last point this month is probably the most obvious. Reduce the hassles and you will produce smiles. When you remove the guesswork and ambiguities from the services you offer, your customers will have a better idea of what to expect. When a customer has a firm expectation of what he or she will receive, then meeting - and hopefully exceeding - that expectation is much easier.

WIN-WIN RELATIONSHIPS

When you structure your business to provide value and exemplary service, everybody wins. The customer is satisfied and will recognize the value received. The stage is set for repeat business and positive referrals. As you consider your New Year, resolve to ensure that service leads everybody's list.


John Lamade has extensive experience in the marketing of detailing products and is a contributing editor to Auto Laundry News. Contact John via e-mail at john.lamade@gte.net

 

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