Off! Should You Be
the One Who Says Goodbye?
If you wanted to make someone feel unwelcome, saying "Kiss
off!" seems to be the ultimate, polite expression of loathing
and desire for immediate separation. Perhaps we have all dreamt
of telling someone to "Kiss off!" Perhaps you have been
on the receiving end of these unfortunate words.
Admit it. Haven't you ever felt the urge to tell a customer - one
you didn't want - to "kiss off?" Wouldn't the relaxation
and reduction in stress you'd feel as you observed the customer's
shock and prompt departure be worthwhile? Is there redemption in
While saying these words has a dramatic effect, can our silent
actions produce similar results? Can our body language and behavior
tell someone - a customer - to kiss off? Think about it. Could we
be chasing off customers?
Should you always be polite and leave the emotional departures
to the irate customer? Can the accumulation and sudden discharge
of emotion -like a capacitor - do anybody any good? Well, it does
feel good when the sparks fly. Rather than get involved in fisticuffs,
we just want someone to leave - this is the intent of the kiss off.
Don't go away mad; just go away.
This month's article considers this ancient issue and how it all
fits into detailing. My question to you is should you be the one
who says goodbye? Alternatively, this is an argument that true customer
satisfaction and business success depend on satisfied customers
and that controlling emotions - on both sides of the transaction
- will produce greater happiness for both parties.
This mutual-benefit or win-win approach to customer relationships
is my objective. Yes, it might feel good to blow off a customer,
but the long-term effects could be less than those initially considered.
It is true that some artists can be temperamental, but bad word
of mouth can kill a business - dead!
Well, this article found its inspiration at an outdoor equipment
store here in Medina. This winter has been unusually snowy and cold.
My Cub Cadet snow thrower that has weathered two to three uses per
year over the last 14 years finally stopped. The auger drive belt
started to slip because it had grown hard and smooth over the years.
Repairing the snow thrower, I thought, would be fast and easy: remove
the four cover bolts, disengage the belt, install a new belt, and
replace the cover. Very few repairs are as easy as that. I was about
to enter the murky world of poor customer service.
Before I begin, however, I must apologize to northeast Ohio. I
realize that my snow thrower has managed to keep the snow away for
the past 14 years. While I had the snow thrower in the garage ready
to move snow, there could be no significant accumulations of snow
in NE Ohio. With the snow thrower in pieces in the garage, I left
the state wide open to its snowy fate.
REPLACE VS. REPAIR
To understand all the twists to this story of poor service, you
must understand some of the ins and outs of outdoor equipment. One
of the largest manufacturers and marketers of outdoor equipment
- lawn mowers (both walk-behind and ride-on), snow throwers, tillers,
trimmers, etc. - is MTD. MTD offers a wide variety of nationally
known brands such as Cub Cadet, White, Yard-Man, Bolens, Troy Built,
Ryobi Outdoor, etc. These brands are sold through mass merchandisers
(Kmart, Sears, Wal-Mart, and similar places), big-box hardware outlets
(Lowe's and Home Depot), programmed distribution hardware (HWI,
etc.), and independent distributors. MTD's brand strategy appears
to offer each group of channel customers what their customers need.
Often there is little overlap. However, in the low-end homeowner
products there is little difference (other than paint and price)
among the brands. This is true about my single stage snow thrower,
which occupies the "good" in a good-better-best strategy.
As a result, parts for my snow thrower should be available anywhere.
Tool parts are becoming impossible to find anywhere. Nobody wants
to bother with repairs themselves and repairmen are often too expensive.
House calls start at $60 for the first half-hour for large appliance
repair. As a result, many items are discarded before they mechanically
fail. This is why many garbage men say that everyday is Christmas
in the trash business. People throw away vacuums with clogged HEPA
filters or snow throwers with dirty spark plugs.
Retailers must realize that there is no money in repairs, as parts
are impossible to find at Kmart and Wal-Mart. Home Depot claims
to have parts at the beginning of the season; they were out of the
part in January and would not be able to obtain or reorder the parts
until the fall of 2003. Sears does have online capabilities for
its parts business. They have almost everything except the Craftsman
version of my snow thrower. That left the independent distributors.
THE KISS OFF
My search began again Saturday afternoon. I called a Cub Cadet
distributor Saturday morning to make sure that they had parts (they
did). When I drove over Saturday afternoon, I discovered that the
shop closed at noon. Why didn't the counterperson I spoke to mention
that they closed at noon? Did they care if I came? I returned two
days later, following a snowstorm that dumped about eight inches
of snow. I should have known that I would have problems when I discovered
that the shop had made it impossible to park. I had to step out
of my van into a snow bank and climb through snow to the door. They
certainly didn't make it easy to do business with them. With wet,
snowy feet I walked past the White version of my snow thrower and
I felt that all the hassle would be worthwhile because I would have
my v-belt in a few minutes.
I walked back to the parts department and put down the old belt
and told the counterperson what I wanted. I mumbled some pleasantries
about the weather and the overlapping nature of MTD product parts.
The parts person told me that they didn't sell Cub Cadet. I said
that I knew that but they did sell White, which is a MTD company
and the snow thrower is identical to the Cub Cadet. The person told
me that he could match belts, but I wouldn't be happy. I told him
I wanted to get rid of the snow and that I would risk it.
The outcome was simple. They had the belts, but they wouldn't sell
me one because I had a Cub Cadet belt. The clerk's behavior was
obviously in the "Kiss-Off" mode. He had nothing to do
(the snow) and he didn't feel like doing anything. I was so angry
that I melted the snow all the way back to the van.
Was it the 24" drifts and piles of snow that caused the frustration
or was it the counterperson's refusal to provide service? Was there
more to this tale? Yes. Because I wasn't going to find a belt, I
decided to buy two new shovels. This was January - snow shovels
shouldn't be hard to find. Hah!
One of the truths about retailing is that you sell the next season
rather than the one you're in. Thus, because it's January I should
be looking for lawnmowers and not snow throwers or their parts -
and certainly not items like snow shovels. After visits to Home
Depot and Wal-Mart, I finally found two shovels at Kmart.
Well, I won't burden you with that story. Suffice it to say I was
being presumptuous trying to buy a winter tool in winter. However,
if I needed a new lawn mower - this is January in Ohio - I would
not have had a problem.
Apparently, anticipating and meeting customer needs is not very
important to many businesses any more. The prevailing attitude seems
to be "take what we've got or kiss off!" Like it or leave.
Many people have left. McDonald's must close stores; Kmart continues
to sink. Some of the brands and companies we have known for years
seem poised for disappearance. Why?
Here's the point: Satisfying your customer's car care needs starts
with understanding the customer's needs. Yes, there are customers
that cause trouble, are trouble, or look like trouble, and while
we might wish them away they may have an impact on your business.
Remember, word of mouth is the basis of most of your referrals.
Usually, the customers with strongly felt needs are the ones that
will be vocal about your service. Resist the temptation to reflect
the customer's attitude. Here's one more story. It didn't happen
to me so I don't know if it's true, but I hope it is.
While Jim was in college he worked summers as a bass guide. He would
take small groups out onto a lake and help ensure a successful day
of fishing. One of the outfitter's prime customers was known to
be a pain, and nobody wanted to take him and his parties out. Jim
was new to the outfitter and knew the customer by repute. One day
he drew this painful person, but he was ready. About 20 minutes
out onto the lake Jim had had enough abuse. He pulled out a worn
engine starting rope and bit onto it. He pulled the rope into two
pieces and demanded of the customer, "Are you going to shut
up and fish?" The would-be fisherman started laughing and they
soon became friends. At the end of the summer, after several trips,
Jim received a bass boat, motor, rods, and electronics as a tip
for his summer efforts.
Jim knew that he had to confront the problem and find a resolution
with the customer. While we can't expect bass boats for our efforts,
most of us would
appreciate more customers.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.