In February I started a multi-part series about how “Details Matter” in our current business environment. The image that customers have of us, and our reputation as a supplier is formed in three ways. Customers generally draw conclusions based on what they SEE, how they are ENGAGED, and how they are COMMUNICATED with.
Today, there is no time to waste, and our ability to effectively serve customers will in great part be predicated on how tuned in we are to what their needs are. Being nimble, and having processes in place that are suited to address those needs may be the thing that separates you from your competitors.
Last month I spent some time talking about the visual impact of your dealership. Those customers that come to your place of business to purchase parts should see a facility that is uncluttered, with an organized parts showroom (not a storeroom), that has well defined signage and competitive pricing.
Visuals however are only the beginning. This month I will dive into the customer experience. What a customer experiences when
Personal customer service
There is a tire store that operates in our area of the country that takes greeting customers to a new level. Les Schwab Tire Centers are well-known in the west, as there are 410 store locations spread across eight western states. They constantly advertise on radio and television as the tire store that RUNS to greet you. Seldom do they ever fail to meet this key customer contact promise. Pull into any Les Schwab, and before you can make it into a parking spot, there is a smiling Les Schwab employee in a clean white shirt, clipboard in hand, jogging out to greet you with a handshake, a smile and an offer of service.
Les Schwab is a popular tire store. Yes, they have great tire prices and a fine selection to choose from, but to me it’s very clear that Les Schwab is not really in the business of selling tires. Les Schwab is selling SERVICE. They believe that tire sales are simply the natural result of a proper customer engagement. They demonstrate their commitment to service before you even get out of the car, by running out the door to meet you. Now this may seem silly to a lot of people, but the reason they are successful is that they actually deliver on what they promise. With rare exceptions, an employee at Les Schwab is dedicated to watching the driveway and engaging the customer on purpose.
Now I’m not suggesting that in the industrial equipment setting we need to replicate this practice. What I do suggest however is that everyone in your company understand that they are expected to have an active role in engaging the customer. From the receptionist to the truck driver, everyone must understand and be a part of customer engagement.
Experts say that it only takes seven seconds after meeting someone to form an opinion of them. If a customer’s first impression is a negative experience, it’s impossible to turn that around easily or quickly. Most of us do not understand this dynamic, or how it can affect our business. To be successful at customer engagement, we must make it a priority to assign our employees to be active customer engagers.
Customer engagement requirements
- Nobody is exempt - The receptionist may be first one to see the customer cross the threshold, but what if the phone rings? What if they are engaged with another customer at the counter? There are always other employees that are within the field of vision that, even though it may not be their primary duty, can and should get out of their chair and engage the customer. Salespeople, technicians, accounting, rental, janitorial staff…..yes, everyone must have customer engagement training, and see customer engagement as their first priority.
- Be personally accommodating - This is a practice I saw demonstrated at a hotel in Salt Lake City. I inquired of a bellman, if he could direct me to the gift shop. He immediately said “certainly sir…follow me.” He then walked me to the gift shop, asked my name and where I was from, and then personally introduced me to the cashier at the gift shop.
Wow. The reason this bellman did that, was because he was trained to do so. It was an established policy to be personally accommodating. I immediately thought about our business, and how unconnected most of us are to providing that level of personal customer service. If you make it a point to walk customers around your dealership and introduce them to the people they need to connect with, I can say with complete confidence that you have used your seven seconds wisely.
- Have a “go to” opening line - If not trained to do it differently, most people would open with “can I help you?” There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but consider that you just used one of your seven seconds asking them a question to which there is an obvious answer. You already know you can help them! Don’t waste time on this trite greeting. Have a well-practiced and confident engagement statement!
Make and maintain eye contact. Smile naturally. Introduce yourself.
“Hello my name is Dave. Thanks for coming in today! How can I assist you?”
4. Handshake - I am also a proponent of a handshake with all visitors. Regular customers or not, everyone respects a handshake. For new visitors, I also suggest the two-handed version. This is where you extend your right hand and then touch the back of their hand with your left hand. This is an action proven to connote trust, and the fact that you are actually interested in meeting them, and that they have your full attention.
- Transition - If the visitor is not looking specifically for you, quickly ask their first name, and what company they are with, and walk with them toward the department they need. Then introduce them to a person in that department, and stay with them (if possible) until you have a chance to make an introduction.
What if everyone is on the phone – or there is a line at the parts counter?
- Real life may not allow for every customer engagement to be this formal. I get that, but every dealer should have some sort of policy in place for greeting customers that is repeatable, professional and engaging. It should be a point of training and policy within the company, and many times it isn’t.
The goal here is to make sure that the customer never feels sidelined, ignored, or marginalized. It’s stunning how quickly they can feel this way. A gesture as simple as looking up from the phone, making solid eye contact, and saying “I’ll be right with you” may be all that it takes to change a negative experience into a positive one. I have walked people into my parts department during a busy time of year, to find a line of customers waiting. When you encounter this I think it would be helpful to write the customers information on a slip of paper and hand it to a parts tech (let’s call him Jim.) Jim may very well be on the phone, but I interrupt him long enough to identify the customer for him. I then return to the customer and inform him that Jim knows he is waiting, and will be right with him as soon as he finishes with his phone call. This allows the customer to feel cared for, even if they are constrained to wait.
There are plenty of ways to get this done, but the bottom line is that accommodation has to be a priority for everyone. In this business, service is everything. We always talk about how great we are at it, but are we delivering service in a way that actually resonates with customers? Creating a focus on personal customer engagement is a good place to start, when your aim is to deliver on what you promise!
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.