Focus on Fast Lube - July 2002

Customer Indifference: Positively
Motivate Your Customers to Return

By By Scott Holmes and Kit Sullivan

Regardless of your position or job title, in any organization your number one task will always be to attract and satisfy customers. In other words, customer service is job one! And everyone has customers.


With regard to customer service, there is good news and bad news. First the bad news: The average American company will lose between 10 percent and 30 percent of its customers this year - mainly because of poor customer service. When customers have a choice, they will go to your competitor almost one third of the time.

Customer service is like an election being held every day and the customers voting with their feet. If dissatisfied, they walk (sometimes run) to your competitor.

Now the good news: Organizations that initiate effective customer service programs have seen profits jump 25 percent to 100 percent. They also
experience reduced employee turnover and a much happier workforce.


The customer-service game is ultimately won or lost on the frontlines where customers come in contact with your employees. In your customer's eyes, these employees are the company. Employees who come into regular contact with your customers must see themselves as the heroes that they really are.
Managers should share this view and must support these employees with the tools (such as training and established operating systems) needed to serve the customer appropriately. Surprisingly, very few organizations seem to understand this.


Why do customers make the decisions they make? Customers are rational people. If their buying experience is positive, they will probably come back; if negative, they will try to avoid returning.
Customers who are not dissatisfied are not necessarily satisfied customers. They could be merely indifferent to the whole experience. They may not even remember your organization the next time they need the same service.

Satisfied and not satisfied, therefore, do not represent the entire spectrum of customer experience, merely the two extremes. In between these two extremes is what most customers experience - indifference. This zone of indifference can be home to as much as 80 percent of your customer base.
For a customer to be motivated to return to your business - and only your business - for future needs, something more than adequate service must be experienced. Otherwise, that customer resides in the zone of indifference and is not positively motivated to come back to you in the future.


The frustrating thing about customer expectations is that they are all perceptual. They exist solely in the mind of the individual customer. Sometimes they're accurate and rational, sometimes they aren't.
A customer's judgement of satisfaction goes beyond just the product or service purchased. The standards by which customers measure satisfaction are much more vague, and they present somewhat of a moving target.

The challenge, then, is to create positively motivated customers by exceeding their expectations.


Some companies seem to have fallen into the trap of promising the customer the best possible product or service (over-promising), and then delivering only an adequate experience (under-delivering). This will almost never result in customer satisfaction simply because, based on the over-promise, the customer's perceived expectations are too high.

The trick is to make realistic, positive promises about your service or product. This helps to set your customer's perceived expectations at a rational and attainable level.

When you exceed those rational and attainable expectations, you achieve what most companies talk about endlessly yet rarely, if ever, succeed at on a regular basis - customer satisfaction.

Scott Holmes is a partner in Connecticut Car Care, a Milford, CT-based firm whose operations include car washes, detail centers, and fast lube facilities. Scott was program chairman in 1999 for the Fast Lube Division of the ICA Convention.

Kit Sullivan has worked with large and small independent fast-lube operators developing strategies for business growth while implementing continuous training programs to sustain their future success.

Scott and Kit work together as consultants specializing in the car wash and fast-lube arena. They can be reached at (203) 232-1258.

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