The Secrets of Great Customer Sales and Service

There is no easy recipe for what makes up great customer sales and service, but focusing on the basics is a good start.

Step 1: Hire great people. Step 2: Let them turn customers into raving referral fanatics. Step 3: Watch the reviews and the dollars roll in. It’s that easy, right?

If customer service is this simple, then every automotive service facility would have hundreds of glowing reviews and more customers than they could handle. Ken Blanchard, author of Raving Fans, knows it’s not that easy – most importantly, there is no silver bullet in good customer service. “It takes energy and focus,” Blanchard writes, “And you can’t make a lot of mistakes.”

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Sounds easy enough. Energy and focus are needed to create a positive customer experience.

But what is it that we’re supposed to be focusing on – and how do we know that we’re spending energy in the right places? These questions are the true key to the secrets of great customer service.

Are you spending energy in the right places?

Some of us thrive in an environment where there is constant action and challenge; the adrenaline rush from the chaos is the fuel that keeps energy levels revved up to where they’re needed. If you’re in this crowd, not having enough to do would actually make you upset. Others need a more balanced daily schedule and like to see the day transpire exactly as the schedule says it should. Although I respect the organized crowd who desires the neatness of a planned day, the reality is cars don’t break down by appointment, and when all heck breaks loose, it’s time to toss the day planner and fully accept the challenge head on.

Sometimes your energy is demanded in so many directions that it’s hard to imagine there will be enough energy left to flip the lock on the door at the end of the day. The secret to maintaining a level of energy that is large enough to handle situations like this and still pick up the phone with a cheerful smile is: Passion. Without passion, your business is just another storefront exchanging goods and services for cash – not a highly respected and widely referred business with lots of loyal, raving fans.

There’s nothing wrong with a passion for fixing cars or for making money. But those are not the passions that typically result in a great customer service experience. Spend too much time under the hood, and you can alienate your customers. Spend too much time poring over your bank balance and profit margins, and you could easily exchange a great customer for another point in your parts matrix. Your passion needs to be with helping people. The customer experience changes from a basic transaction to a memorable, enjoyable experience when a passionate person works with a customer to solve a problem.

Do you have the right focus?

We’re not talking items on your To ­Do list. We’re talking a foundational business philosophy that guides all of your daily activities – customer service, first and foremost. Deciding what type of total experience you want your customers to have and then setting the parameters to make that experience happen comes next.

The focus on both of these things must be consistent.

A business with a purposeful focus on customer service is usually easily recognized through the experience. Consistency and quality are at the heart of your experience, and if it goes unnoticed it is because your expectations are seamlessly being met. Our ability to perceive great service is weighed by all the businesses we encounter. In other words, great service is not a fact, it’s a comparison. Unfortunately, there is only one type of service that people are keen to remember over any other, and that is a bad customer service experience.

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Customer service is another way of describing how a business succeeds at doing the things it’s supposed to do. Here’s the secret: True hospitality, not mere service, is the golden goose when it comes to creating a consistent and high-quality experience that your customers will walk away remembering. People are at the heart of the customer service experience and in an age of digital technology and impersonal communication, the interaction between humans is what customers rave about. The person-to-person interactions and hospitality are what drives referrals. If you can develop a dialogue with your customer and take a real interest in solving their issues, they will want to give you their business and the business of their friends.

You can make mistakes, just not too many.

No one expects a perfect service visit every time they choose your business to service or repair their vehicle. In fact, most people are very willing to overlook a small mistake like forgetting to remove the dirty floor mat as long as the vehicle is done on time and they feel they have been well served. But combine the vehicle not being ready with forgetting to call to get a revision on the estimate and then forgetting to replace the burnt tail light bulb and you might have a customer choosing another place to visit next time the car needs service.

Customers base most of their opinions about your service on how you make them feel – your intent to deliver great service, not your ability. Customers will often overlook mistakes that are beyond your immediate control, but are likely to get very upset about lapses in what they consider professional behavior and respect for their time and investment.

Emphasis on service.

Creating a customer service experience requires a review of your core business practices, and in some cases, requires you to think past the profits. Revenue as an afterthought is a concept many business planners would shudder at, but the model continues to work.

It is not a secret that building relationships makes a tremendous difference in growing any business. The true secret to great customer service is to not overthink it. No gimmicks, no tricks, no shortcuts – just a passion for people, a heart to be helpful, and respect for people’s lives and needs.

Editor’s Note: This article is one in a series of management articles contributed to AutoInc. by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. Learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors at www.AMIonline.org. AMI administers the distinguished Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) program.

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