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Customer engagement – On the phone
Dave Baiocchi
Dave Baiocchi

Two months ago, I started a multi-part series about how “details matter” in our current business environment. A dealership’s image and ongoing reputation is formed by what customers SEE, how they are ENGAGED, and how they are COMMUNICATED with.

The first article discussed the visual impact of your dealership. Last month, we reviewed the keys to an effective and purposeful customer engagement experience. This month I want to expand on the customer experience, but from the perspective of how a customer is engaged using the telephone. 

There are many dealerships that do not have a market that gives them the opportunity for a lot of front counter retail parts business. I have seen dealerships that routinely do over 90% of their parts business over the phone, or through their field based technicians. This percentage can ebb and flow based on the type of market being served. Agricultural and construction equipment markets normally have a higher volume of front counter parts sales, where materials handling and engineering firms, usually don’t.

Either way, a significant number of customers are engaged every day using the telephone. In order to improve customer engagement, we should investigate what measures we have in place to ensure that these phone contacts engender the same feelings customer trust and care, that our face-to-face encounters do.  

A friend and colleague I know in this industry runs a consulting service that helps dealers streamline their telephone efforts, and ensure a high degree of customer satisfaction in the process. Jim Facente owns Creative Sales Solutions. He assists dealers in training customer service employees so that they can craft successful telephone engagements. With his permission, I’ll share some of the ideas within his program that I found instructive.

  1. Data collection

This falls under the category of - first things first. It’s important to understand that when a customer calls us for help, they are normally under some kind of pressure. They are not calling to shoot the breeze, or tell us what a great job we are doing. The service industry exists to solve problems. That being said, the person on the other end of the phone is usually dealing with a broken machine and time deadlines that require the equipment to be back up and running in the shortest possible time frame.

The first order of business when talking to a customer that is under the gun is to slow them down, and not adopt their manic sense of urgency. This can be a difficult task, but there are verbal tools that you can use to help you to get them in the right frame of mind.

First, express to the customer: “Yes, I understand your situation, and we are committed to acting as quickly as possible to get things up and running for you. Just as important, I want to ensure that we get it right the first time. That requires us to choose the right technician, who has the proper training, and has the right parts onboard. In order to do that we need to collect some information. Beginning your response with this preamble will help to calm a customer who is primarily worried about two things:

  • They won’t be heard or taken seriously.
  • The dealership won’t understand the urgency of the need.

Actions to slow them down, and assure them that we are committed to solving their problem, will result in much better accuracy of the information you need to process the work. Now it’s possible to start an effective customer engagement experience.

  1. Data collection
  • Company name – Name of the caller – Call back number
  • Check immediately for an account number
  • Collect machine data – make, model and serial number or other distinguishing characteristics
  • Confirm the address of the machine. Many times, it is in a different location than the billing address. Include warehouse or building numbers and other data needed to access the equipment.
  • NOTE – If the customer does not have an account, or is a COD customer, or has credit issues with his account, deal with that immediately!
  • Sample Script: “I don’t see that that an account has been set up for your company, but that does not mean that we cannot solve your problem. Our policy in these cases is to secure a credit card authorization for $XXX dollars for this repair, and we will inform you of the total just prior to completing the repair. We will then charge the balance to the card. In the meantime, we can email a copy of our credit application to you right away. Do you have an email address we can use for that purpose? (Or insert your standard company policy for dealing with these customers as needed.)
  • Doing this prior to asking any pre-diagnosis questions, or scheduling of technicians, is a key factor to creating an effective and positive customer engagement.
  1. Etiquette and patience
  • If you need to put the customer on hold for any reason, please ask if it’s OK to put them on hold. This will work 99% of the time. If you have successfully prefaced your conversation as shown above, the customer is less likely to feel like he is getting sidelined. Getting permission also allows them to have a measure of control in the decision, and you will find that they will be much more patient in the process. Also, try to estimate how long they will expect to hold and if you find that time has expired, get back on the line and let them know if will be a few more minutes.
  • Patience is the key to success. If you start to adopt the customer’s sense of panic, you are much more likely to get it wrong, or guess incorrectly, which will lead to a very negative customer experience in the end.
  1. Quality diagnostic questions
  • First rule of diagnostics – Never believe the customer’s diagnosis at face value! Invariably there is more to the story. You need to drill down to have the best chance for success.
  • What noises is it making? What color is the fluid that is leaking? Is the fuel tank valve open? Did it turn over when you first tried to start it up? Are the hydraulics working? Have you checked the dipstick? Do the headlights come on? Is there any debris caught in or under the unit?
  • One of my favorite quotes by Ronald Reagan is: “Trust…but verify!”
  1. Cross departmental offerings – Consultation selling
  • If the customer reports that the water pump is leaking, we need to suggest that in most cases, we also replace the thermostat and gasket. Secure approval for whatever additional items may be necessary (or helpful) to ensure a first time fix.   Doing this before scheduling the repair is critical.
  • When talking to a parts customer – perhaps you can suggest that the needed parts can be installed by a road technician. “The repair comes with a warranty, and the assurance that it’s been installed and calibrated properly.”
  1. Closing the deal
  • In those cases where a customer is calling to get prices, we need to find a way to ask for the order. This is a skill that is seldom taught to aftermarket personnel, but it’s requisite to success and productivity. There are several ways to accomplish this without it feeling awkward.
  • “I’d be happy to pull these parts for you and have them waiting for you in will-call. Will that be OK?”
  • “We can schedule to do this work tomorrow afternoon. Will that work for you?”
  • When a customer declines your offer, ask him why? Are the prices too high? Is it a delivery issue? “What else can we do to take care of you?” “Shall I call back tomorrow to check on this?”
  1. Circling back
  • Especially in the parts department, calling back to try and re-engage the customer after a declination can be very effective. Not many parts departments do this as a standard business practice, and even if you find out that the order is lost, you can confirm why you lost the order, and track your lost order history. More importantly the customer will NOTICE that you followed up, when nobody else did. This makes it much more likely that you will get a return call, when the customer is again in need.

Just like with face-to-face customer interactions, engaging customers on the phone needs to be a point of training and policy. It just does not happen on its own. A majority of your customer touches will happen over the phone in this business. Taking the time to analyze and improve this process with all employees is a key to success. 

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 to contact Dave.