In all of our dealerships there is a daily grind that for all intent and purposes is necessary and appropriate to get the work of the company accomplished. I see these daily routines play out in our own dealership. The morning coffee and water cooler talk quickly dissipate as players take their positions and begin to prepare for the line drives and ground balls that will challenge the quiet morning and launch them into the chaos that will be the workday.
This is the challenge we all face in the world of the aftermarket. Few customers ever call to tell us what a great job we did. The new task at hand every morning is to assess the needs of the customer, apply our assets to the needs, be efficient and professional, and turn the customer’s dire situation from chaos into uniformity.
The way we normally respond to customers is governed by four key items:
· Our understanding of their needs
· Our assets and infrastructure
· Our capabilities and our knowledge
· Our commitment to achieving our ultimate goal of customer service
Most dealerships work diligently at improving and developing these key areas. We lease or purchase service trucks. We invest in tools like ERP systems, call logs, quoting software and CRM templates. We constantly train our service technicians in order to dispatch the most qualified and skilled personnel to address the customer’s needs. We train the administration staff on how to handle customer requests, properly prioritize repairs and gather the proper information.
At my dealership we even hired “mystery shoppers” who called with fictitious scenarios in order to assess and define weaknesses in our customer handling skills. The exercise was illuminating to say the least. We found significant weaknesses that we addressed with specific training to improve and maintain superior customer contact practices in all of our branch locations.
As necessary as all of this is to running an efficient service department, sometimes we get so tied up in the “process” that we fail to actually recognize how these processes are connected to our goals. What is our goal? Many will respond, “To serve the customer.” This is the correct answer. But what does that really mean? As stated, I just don’t think that goal is specific enough to be meaningful.
What is customer service? Every dealer organization has a different viewpoint and perspective on what that means. Dealers have allowed this perspective many times to be defined by the OEM. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my 33 years in the equipment business, is that the OEM is proficient and skilled at designing and building equipment. They do not however have the skills experience or expertise to produce effective customer service. If they did, they wouldn’t need dealers!
Don’t get me wrong, many of the OEM’s have produced excellent programs for aftermarket development. Their understandable aim is to sell more OEM parts, and in this venture they get my full support! My contention however is that most of these programs as well intentioned as they are, only help the dealer in the area of developing best practices. Development of best practices is an INTERNAL function. Although they are helpful in POSITIONING you to serve the customer, when the unit stops running and the dispatcher’s phone rings, the actions that follow are up to YOUR DEALERSHIP, not the OEM.
Other dealers actually allow the competition to set the expectation! “If my competitor doesn’t do it, than I don’t have to do it either.” This plays to the strategy that claims that customer satisfaction is based on my dealership simply being the best of the worst. I don’t believe that anyone actually develops their customer offering with that in mind, but you would be surprised at how much influence can be wielded by the practices of our competitors.
I see this demonstrated in the practices of some of the suppliers that we deal with on a daily basis in our own dealership. I have experienced less than satisfactory customer service from uniform companies, tire suppliers, hardware distributors and industrial battery vendors. In our dissatisfaction, we looked for alternatives and found that the very things that irritated us about the departing vendor, were simply repeated by the organization who replaced them. Looking at this strictly from a customer perspective, I cannot describe how helpless I feel when nearly every vendor in the industry cannot seem to satisfy our needs. Feeling this way, I have to turn and inspect my own service offering. I have to ask myself if we are in any way hypocritical in holding OUR vendors to a standard, while providing service that is not at all-sufficient as I might believe.
It reminds me of the quote by Benjamin Franklin. “The world is full of fools and faint hearts; and yet everyone has courage enough to bear his own misfortunes, and wisdom enough to manage the affairs, of his neighbor.”
I think the task of defining “good customer service” ought to be left to the one with the power to choose – the customer! I remember attending a staff meeting with our service team a few years ago. They were debating the “issue of the moment” and focusing mostly on those “internal best practices” and whether we were getting better or worse at using those methods to serve our customers. During this meeting I asked some seemingly simple questions: “What does the customer expect from us?” “Why do you think the customer chooses US, and not someone else?” Silence filled the room. Was the question too easy? Finally the service manager spoke up. “Customers want good customer service.”
I agreed, and then asked, “What do you think the customer pays us to do?” For this I got multiple answers:
· Change oil
· Lubricate the unit
· Perform safety and operational inspections
· Remove and replace defective parts
· Diagnose repairs
There were a dozen or so of these “task based answers” volunteered by the staff. I listed all of these on the whiteboard. Then I turned to the group and said “Yes, that’s what we DO, but is that what the customer actually PAYS for?” Once again, they looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.
I then suggested a reason that had nothing to do with the equipment, and everything to do with the CUSTOMER. I suggested that the customer actually pays us to NOT COME BACK TOMORROW!
Yes the customer EXPECTS you to do everything on the list. He expects you to do it quickly and efficiently. The nuts and bolts of maintenance are the basic requirement in any aftermarket relationship. The cold hard truth however is this: Many of your competitors can do the same things. And several of them will do those things for a lower price.
It is however the things you do that are special, unique and prescient that make a difference to the customer. What the customer really wants to buy from you is the peace of mind that comes with the trust he can put in you to have his back, and FIND the things that others would ignore or be too lazy or indifferent to address. How many times has a customer complained and said “You guys were JUST HERE! Didn’t you see that leak (or frayed cable, or cracked belt, or burnt out light etc.…)?”
So we have to ask ourselves, do we properly prepare our staff to meet THAT challenge? Delivering service that a customer can TRUST involves much more than a cursory lube/oil/filter can deliver. Being committed to seeing beyond the basic task, and identifying the thing that might happen next is the reason why your dealership is worth the extra money. That is why the customer pays YOU and not someone else.
Creating a culture where every service tech delivers this premium level of service takes diligence, investment, commitment and training. Equipping technicians with all of the proper tools is requisite to building this environment. Do your technicians have the right parts on their van? Do they actually KNOW what is on their van? Are they prepared and authorized to quote small repairs on the spot with the parts that they carry onboard? RDS has installed customized programs at several dealerships that addresses this very issue. In order to DELIVER premium service, you have to put your staff in a position to OFFER premium service.
These are the points of differentiation that can truly separate you from the guys out there hawking a lower hourly rate. I have found that customers will gladly pay for peace of mind when they know their supplier has their back. Being the supplier that breaks away from the pack and refuses to be the best of the worst is gratifying….and profitable!
Dave Baiocchi is the president of Resonant Dealer Services LLC. He has spent 33 years in the equipment business as a sales manager, aftermarket director and dealer principal. Dave now consults with dealerships nationwide to establish and enhance best practices, especially in the area of aftermarket development and performance. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to contact Dave.