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Business and Management

How To Deliver World-Beating Customer Service

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Shop owners know that the key to attracting and retaining loyal customers lies in delivering top-notch customer service, but how is that defined in everyday interactions? What does it take to teach and instill a “customer service” attitude throughout your business?

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In this economy you have to be much more effective to keep customer loyalty and, ultimately, your business. And the key to this is delivering outstanding customer service.

Perception Is Reality

The customer always decides whether or not you’re delivering exceptional customer service. In every case, the customer’s perception is your reality. It doesn’t matter what you as a sales manager or owner may think, it’s all about the customer’s perception. If he feels he’s had a sub-standard ­customer experience, then the bottom line is that he has.

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Any time a customer leaves your shop feeling that he/she was not treated fairly or in the manner that he/she expects, you leave the door open for your competitors to go in and provide a better customer ­experience. It’s all in the mind of the consumer, the perception of the consumer. Kate Zabriskie, president of Business Training Works Inc., says, “Although your ­customers won’t love you if you give bad service, your competitors will.”

The customer is the most ­important thing in the equation. You need to deliver good customer service every day in a consistent fashion. There are tons of principles that tie into exceptional customer service. Probably the most important one is consistency. You cannot rile the troops and get everyone excited about providing an exceptional customer experience just today. It has to be ongoing.

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Companies such as Nordstrom’s, Starbucks and Hilton are famous for doing this right. An independent ­repair shop isn’t a large company like these examples, but the same principles of customer relations can be practiced. This is something they do each and every day, not just at one time. Your customer service is only as good as your last encounter. The customer contact must not only be good, but rather it must delight the ­customer.

Exceed Expectations

One of the main things we have to consider is consistently exceeding a customer’s expectations. That’s the mantra of what we’re talking about. I call that “persuading promoters.” That’s my term because you want the customers at the end of the day leaving your place of business promoting and persuading other customers and potential customers to come back to your business.

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Any of the books that talk about exceeding expectations of customer service allude to this, and those ­customers, now “apostles,” are going to sing a shop’s praises.

A real concern, and what ­unfortunately happens time and time again, is the opposite. ­Shop ­personnel are not exceeding expectations; they are, at best, just meeting expectations. Again, that leaves the door open to the worst thing that can happen – a poor customer experience.

Remember, in a tight economy when customers are watching every single penny, expectations of service and value are higher. They have a greater sensitivity, and a heightened desire to make good buying decisions. This extends from products and prices, down to every aspect of their experience with your shop and your people.

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Bad experiences will compound very quickly when the detractors start spreading the word of dissatisfaction. It can have some long-term effects. One bad experience can spoil the ­relationship forever.

I use a model called CARE – ­Customer, Attitude, Relationship and ­Exceed Expectations – in my training sessions. It’s far more difficult and costly to gain a new customer than it is to keep an existing one. Independent repair shops need to look at the cost of a single, disgruntled customer against what is needed to maintain the long-term value of that customer.

It’s not just the value today, but the long-term value of keeping them for life. Shop owners absolutely must think long-term.

Most experts agree that excellent ­customer service is achieved with a three-part program that includes a service strategy, customer-driven systems and customer-friendly employees. Each part of the program must ­reflect the needs and wants of your customers.

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An effective strategy includes market research to determine what your customers want and need, a mission statement of where your shop is going and a statement of its values. Try writing a mission and vision statement for your company that might state something like, “ABC Machine Shop is a ­customer-driven organization that offers top-quality products and services at affordable prices to customers in Northeast New Jersey.” The mission and its implied customer service attitude must be presented and sold to employees.

There should be customer-driven systems established and employees should receive training in how to utilize these systems. The customer experience should be one that delights from beginning to end. ­Customers should be greeted immediately when they enter the shop and sales personnel should quickly enter into a ­dialogue about the customer’s needs.

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The customer should receive all necessary information in a concise and friendly fashion and the service sale should be completed to impart a good feeling about the transaction.

An employee’s attitude ­toward the customer should be, “I may not have the answer to your question, but I’ll find it. I may not have the time, but I’ll make it.” This customer-service system can best be performed by a quality employee who has ­received training.

Attitude Is Paramount

A great customer-first attitude can be easily seen, for example, at the famous Pike’s Fish Market in Seattle. There are many fish markets in the area, but Pike’s is the best known and most preferred. It outsells its competitors by a 20-to-1 margin. Why? Because of the attitude of the employees and the excitement they bring to the simple act of selling fish. Fish fly from employee to employee as they are moved through the market to waiting customers, an entertaining show to be sure, but one delivered with pride and a consistently positive attitude.

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A negative attitude will most certainly reflect poorly on a customer experience. Negativism can prevent building a longer-term relationship with a new customer and can kill a carefully built relationship with an existing customer. It’s good to remember that customer service is not a department, but rather an attitude.

Looking at relationships, every customer interaction is like the links in a chain. When you have a great customer interaction – perhaps you helped solve a tough engine problem – it makes the customer feel better. In the process, it creates that strong, solid link in the chain. Every positive interaction with that customer adds more links to the chain. On the other hand, those careless customer interactions weaken the chain.

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You need to perform the ­basics as you would when you host a friend. You must be ­polite and welcoming, and, above all, professional. And get to know the customer – as a person rather than just an invoice.

Regarding the “exceed expectations” part of the formula, it’s necessary to learn what we can do to go the extra mile. Think in terms of the customer’s benefit and well being.

Just like good work habits, good customer service can be taught and learned. Everything starts at the top – with you, the shop owner – and trickles down from there. If you want your employees to have a positive customer-focused attitude, you need to have one and always exhibit it.

Steve Ferrante is the CEO of Sale Away LLC and has more than 20 years of successful sales, sales management and sales training experience. Through his Pinnacle Performance sales and customer service training program, he has received national acclaim for teaching automotive businesses how to improve customer relations and produce greater sales results. You may reach Ferrante by email at [email protected].

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