And Don’t Forget to Smile!

How to effectively communicate to your customers that your shop always wants to give them superior service.

Customer loyalty is much more elusive and difficult to acquire than ever before, and to maintain your customers, you have to continue to “wow” them by providing exceptional service that glues them to you.

Customers will leave and go to a competitor, and most often you won’t know why. And that is loss of profit and growth. It’s your job and responsibility to find ways to avoid customer departure, and good communication at all levels in the shop operation is the answer.

A recent Econsultancy report found that just 20 percent of companies have a well-developed customer-experience strategy. This is a huge opportunity for companies willing to invest in customer service. And a Bain & Company survey in 2005 found that only 8 percent of companies truly deliver a superior customer experience.

Here is the shocker: 80 percent of those companies thought they had delivered a “superior experience” to their customers. This all comes down to paying attention to and developing how existing and potential customers search for “good shops.”

That’s why you need to take a closer look at how you communicate with your customers, as well as how customers perceive you. In turn, you cannot expect your colleagues and employees to read your mind about needs and actions without having an open line for conversation and understanding.

This article is a “how to” on the ways you can more efficiently communicate with your customers and your colleagues. I’ll start with the ways to handle them when they arrive in your shop.

Top 15 ways to improve customer communications

1 Make your greeting pleasant and professional to customers. Keep your desk inviting, possibly by even adding family or pet photos for conversation. This is your first chance to establish rapport with your customer. Treat your customers like family, and you will find them more relaxed and open in their conversations with you.

2 Smile. This is the first image your customer receives when he or she enters your facility, so make your smile genuine.

3 Eliminate distractions. Customers will focus on what is in front of them. Don’t let them see a swollen stack of work orders on your desk, or miscellaneous papers stacked here and there, as they will wonder if you are going to be able to effectively work on their vehicle.

4 Watch your body language and keep your voice low and soft. If your customer is frustrated and angry and talking loudly, a consistent calmness in your voice will eventually help them to relax. Nod your head as they express their feelings to demonstrate your compassionate response.

5 Don’t rush. Match tone and tempo of voice to the customer, and always demonstrate calmness and confidence.

6 Listen, really listen. Maintain close eye contact and pay close attention to what your customer is telling you. If appropriate, make notes.

7 Ask clarification questions and repeat them back to customer for accuracy. Make every effort to determine customer issues and concerns clearly.

8 Demonstrate empathy. Your customer is upset with having to address the mechanical problem and wants you to feel how they feel. “I can certainly understand your frustration with this” is a typically good phrase to use when appropriate.

9 Go over issues and shop goals in plain talk. Although a proposed repair may involve technical words, explain what these words mean and do a step-by-step overview of what your shop is going to do to address the issue or issues.

10 Introduce the customer to helpful co-workers and involve them in questions and concerns, if necessary. If possible, introduce customers to management. “Let’s ask our technician, Bill, and get his input” is a good technique. If Bill isn’t immediately available, then try to secure him for a brief consultation.

11 Summarize clearly what work is to be done. Turn the work order or proposal around on your desk so your customer can read and follow along with what you are saying. Vocally address what events will take place in your shop.

12 After consultation, if customer needs to wait, walk them to the coffee and snack area and ask if you can get them anything. Point out where different snack or drink machines are located, as well as the restrooms.

13 Don’t let customers sit past the expected task finish time without checking in with progress or issues. If you have a break in other customers, walk to the waiting room to check in with your customers to see how they are doing. Be prepared to talk with them briefly and describe any progress you know of.

14 When finished, clearly go over details of the bill and what work was done. If additional items were found for repair or adjustment, explain what was found and secure the customer’s response for addressing the new item and act accordingly.

15 Handle any in-house arrangements immediately. If vehicle is to be kept, help the customer with any rental or courtesy vehicle activity. Personally walk the customer to rental person and introduce them. If a courtesy vehicle will be involved, direct your customer to the waiting area for courtesy vehicles. Make sure the cellphone number is correct for texting or call follow-up.

Summary

The most efficient shops with the highest customer loyalty have effective free-flowing and open lines of smooth communication in place within the working structure of the shop. The more employees feel that they are part of the shop family and that their input is respected, the more efficient will be communication and professional task achievement. It’s obvious that a coworker who has pride in their position is going to accomplish more for the organization. Giving your employees a clear understanding of the shop brand and philosophy so they can adopt it in their daily activities can reinforce this.

It’s imperative that with any issues requiring attention, you empower your employees to “own” the issues that appear with customer work or internal concerns, and enable them to develop and handle solutions themselves, as much as possible, without the bothersome procedure of having customers wait for a manager. These “waits” can and do bog down the operations of the shop.

As a manager, get involved with your employees and coworkers at their stations and ask for their suggestions and input on how possible improvements could be put into place. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. “Okay, folks, can we take a quick break? I need your thoughts on how we can handle a situation.” Or, “Bill, what do you think about this?” This type of demonstrated interest automatically opens doors of communication and clearly shows that employee input is valuable and respected.

Share what you know with those you work with. Avoid situations where “taking credit” for something becomes acceptable. Emphasize group efforts for solutions and make frequent congratulatory statements about solutions being successful.

Well, there you have it. We suggest you train your employees to adapt these suggestions into their everyday activities. And when you’re face-to-face with your customer, don’t forget to smile.

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