Focus on Your Customer - October 2002

Educating Customers:
Improve Sales through Communications!

By Joseph Rosales

The simpler the business, the more often business owners assume that their customers know everything they need to know about the products or services they offer. Big mistake!

Car washing is a relatively simple business - according to your customers. They bring their cars in dirty and they leave with cars that are clean. It's not rocket science. Heck, they could do a better job at home in their driveway, if they had the time...right?

Well, you and I know that most customers cannot do a better job washing their car at home and although the concept of washing a car is really very simple, it requires a basic understanding of chemicals. The complications and technology challenges come not from the soap-on/soap-off process, but from the many finishes that are used on cars today.

Most customers know very little about the proper care of their vehicles. In fact, most customers know more about how to set the radio in the car than about the proper care of the car's exterior finish. The clear coat on paint -and on many of the fancier wheels - requires special care to remove dirt and still maintain the protective coatings. Thousands of cars on the road today have finishes that are irreparably damaged because of inappropriate product application.

The more your customers understand about proper vehicle maintenance, the better prepared they are to make the right decisions about the products and services they may need. A very successful retailer I know says it best, "Our best customer is an educated consumer."

Educating our customers is perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of many service businesses. One of the reasons may be that we assume customers know and understand the manufacturer's recommendations for proper vehicle care. However, many studies, as well as hundreds of personal interviews with customers, indicate the majority of customers know very little about the proper maintenance processes and schedules with regard to their vehicles... and those who have some information are typically misinformed.

So, where are your customers getting their information? If customers know very little about their cars or if the little they do know could even be wrong, where can they easily get relevant and reliable information? Sounds like an opportunity to educate your customers about proper vehicle care!

Obviously, one of the most effective methods for sharing information with customers is to simply talk about additional services or products they may need. Make sure everyone who greets and presents information to customers truly understands the recommended services and can effectively communicate the information in an easy-to-understand, "non-sales" approach.

This requires more than just asking if they want tire dressing or wax today, although that's certainly a good start and definitely better than not asking at all. It does, however, require that your people be observant and engage a customer in conversation regarding certain existing car conditions. If the tires look dull, make mention of it and suggest tire dressing. If the finish looks dull, make mention of it and suggest a solution. Most customers will appreciate you looking out for their best interests. Of course, those who don't appreciate your expertise and help are the ones who will not be pleased by anything you do.

Two other very important aspects of communication at your facility deserve attention - in-store signage and displays. In-store signage will typically include wall signage, brochures, banners and posters. These valuable communications tools, placed in a waiting room and areas of heavy traffic will capture the attention of your customers and help you in your endeavors to educate and promote. Your staff can even refer to this signage to help in explaining the need for specific products and services.

Product displays can be powerful and attention getting. An attractive display will draw customers to read the message. Literature and promotional support at these displays will drive home your message and educate your customers. In addition to product displays, we are seeing more custom-produced videotapes used to educate customers. Professionally produced videos can be a powerful tool as well. Customers who are waiting for their vehicles are a captive audience for a video that educates about your newest or most popular products or services. A well-made video may not necessarily "sell" the customer on the spot, but could very well plant the seed for buying a product or service on the next visit.

Remember, the more you communicate with your customers and the more information you provide that helps them make educated buying decisions, the more they will appreciate what you offer. This investment in learning the proper presentations and installing effective signs, posters, or videos will not only make your shop more attractive to customers, but will educate and give your customers peace of mind. Ultimately, these communications tools will better inform your customers and help you sell more product and services.

Joseph Rosales is the founder and president of Performance Resources Inc., a full-service consulting and training company. If you would like more information about PRI or about its new customer communication tools, call 800-268-9899 or visit the company's web site at www.performancepros.com, where you can also view a unique line of attractive posters and signage, and customized video capability.

Educating our customers is perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of many service businesses.

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