Give Customers What They Want
Treating every customer on an individual service basis is smart business.
Why do I seemingly get mad when I get top-notch service? I recently checked into the Doubletree Hotel, a top-end-customer-service-oriented-type-of-place. I was greeted promptly at the front desk, checked in courteously and the clerk said, "Oh, Mr. Witt, here's your hot cookie." I was handed a really cool little envelope with a warm, freshly baked chocolate chip cookie in it, which is the hotel's signature trademark. I opened it on the spot and immediately took a big bite. It was sure good ... but I've been struggling with weight issues since I overindulged during the holidays and I'd resisted temptation all day.
Now, I didn't feel good about myself. I took another, smaller bite. Now, I felt awful. I could have walked past a plate of them and withstood temptation, but once it's in my hand, how can I resist?
I put the half cookie in the envelope and gave it back to them. "I'm not supposed to eat that stuff, it's bad for me. I wish you'd just asked me instead," I told them. I wished I could have had a choice of a hot-cookie or a fresh apple, for I'd have loved an apple or some other healthy snack.
How does this tie in to car repair? Easy. We do inspections all the time and produce lists of things that need attention. We take great pride in prioritizing the items we've found that need to be fixed. We're the qualified experts, right? Of course we are. We understand all the parts of a car and what each one does. We inform the customer of all the things the car needs and in what order they should be done in the event that not everything on the list can be done at once.
It's important to emphasize at this point that the list doesn't change. The list is always the list. What changes is our advice regarding what the customer does about the things on the list. Even if the customer has all the money in the world, it's not always appropriate to fix everything on the list every time. This is where our expertise enters the picture. As experts, it's our job to best advise the customer as to the course of action that best suits the needs of the customer. I think we'd all agree on that.
What do we know about the customer? What do you mean? Well, what does the customer need the car to do? Isn't that a dumb question, really? Well, all inspection lists are relative. Is the car a kid's car that only goes from home to class and never goes out of town, or will this car be carrying babies across the Continental Divide, through the Mojave Desert and on to the Redwood National Forest? If it's a kid's car, when do they graduate? Is it a son or daughter?
Now that we look at it that way, it does make sense that we should find out more about the intended use of the car before prioritizing the list, doesn't it? I mean, if the kid just started college, that's four years it has to last (these days, maybe five?). If he's only got a semester to go and the car just started leaking oil, maybe it's better to add a quart a month rather than putting in a rear main crankshaft seal, eh?
Why would it matter if it's a son's car or a daughter's car? Maybe because a son might check under the hood? Maybe because a daughter might drive it harder? Both are decent guesses, but not the real reasons. If sweet daughter's car doesn't start late some night when out of cell phone range, we're toast as her mechanic. If son's car doesn't start and he's a linebacker on the football team, we have a totally different dynamic.
I know what you're going to say and that is if you start taking the customer's budget into account, then you run the risk of not telling them enough about the car and what it really needs because you're second-guessing their ability to pay. I agree with you and that's a valid point. We run the risk of not telling them things they need to know because we think they don't have enough money to pay for it, or even worse yet, we start cutting our own prices to "help them out." This is also a big mistake.
We need to know what they expect the car to do; forget the budget. Is the car going into storage for a year tomorrow or headed away to college for the next nine months and we won't see it again until next year? Wouldn't this be critical to know if the brakes were getting thin? Likewise, this is important to know when the battery is a little weak. Too many times we think "it'll be OK until next time," but we don't always know exactly when next time will be.
So, like the hotel that I wish would just ask me what I want and endeavor to give it to me, let's ask the customer what they expect the car to do for them. Once we have a good idea of the customer's expectations for the car, we can begin to better serve the customer's interests. In too many cases, we expect to make the customer happy with our service and that's not important.
That's right, I said it! It's not important to make the customer happy with our service. Our mission should be to make our customers happy with their cars. If they are happy with their cars, we have customers for a long time. There's a fine line, here. We might do a great job of replacing that above-mentioned rear crankshaft oil seal, fixing it right the first time, on time, within the estimate. We might loan the customer a car to use and everything. We are perfection! However, if their kid is graduating in three months and that's all they need out of the car, maybe the best way to make them happy is to not fix it at all. Simply tell them to bring it in once a month to check the oil level and fill it as needed. That does what they need the car to do - last a few more months until graduation; that makes them happy with the car.
The best service comes when we ask our customers what they really want and then figure out how we can use our resources and expertise to give them the results they most desire. Provided they are reasonable people who are willing to spend money with us, this is a match for the marketplace. We can truly become a shop that's difficult to compete with. It's not that hard to do. Just ask a few simple questions.
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