It's no longer a competitive advantage to provide good customer service; it's a prerequisite. Here then is my A-to-Z on exemplary customer service and how to achieve it in easy, practical ways:
Acknowledge: Acknowledge everyone who walks in. High-volume Prestige Ford in Garland, TX, has a “10-foot rule.” Someone meets and greets guests within 10 feet of their entering the dealership.
Be there: Even though you have other things going on in your life, you should still be there in mind, body and spirit when dealing with the customer.
Communication skills: Business Week magazine says communication skills rate second only to job knowledge as an important aspect of business success. Anyone who deals with the public at a dealership should fine-tune communication skills.
Do the right thing: Whether it is behind closed doors or in full view, when you do the right thing life is a lot easier and your conscience will never get to you. Remember, it's not who's right, it's what's right.
Exceed expectations: This is not always about money. It may be doing the little extras that the customer wasn't expecting. It may be about getting that special-order item sooner than later.
Friends: People like to do business with people they like, and vice versa. The more we can take a sincere interest in other people's lives and concerns, the more we will build trusted friendships with long-term clients.
Greeting: Make customers feel welcome and like guests in your own home. It's easy to do and it goes a long way.
Heart: There is a saying great managers follow: hire for “heart,” train for experience. When you hire employees with good attitude and good heart, exceptional customer service from them will follow.
Integrity: There are numerous noble definitions of this word. For me it means doing what you say you are going to do, and doing what is right.
Judgment: One of the cardinal sins against customer service is judging people based on their age, sex, lifestyle, what they wear, drive, whatever. We should never judge people for we do not know who they are, who they know, or who they might become.
Kaizen: Leave it to the Japanese to come up with a term that means continuous improvement. Customer service is about constantly finding ways to make it easy for the customer to do business with us while finding ways for our business to improve.
Loyalty programs: Different programs are designed to reward frequent customers for their patronage. Considering how much it costs to attract a new customer to our place of business, these programs are money well spent. Car dealerships spend hundreds of dollars to attract one new customer. Look at ways to invest in getting established customers to return.
Make it easy: Make it trouble-free for the customer to buy, and they will buy from you. Night drop offs for service, late-night pick ups, Saturday opening all do that. Menu pricing does too. Find ways to be customer friendly.
Name: Know the customer's name, and use it as much as you can. First, customers like to hear their own names, and tend to pay more attention to what you're saying. Second, it's an easy way to help you remember their names.
One-stop shopping: Try to have all the add-on or ancillary products available. Make it easy for the customer to buy them from you, not the shop down the street.
Psychographics: This has to do with the science of knowing customers by knowing their hobbies, habits, interests and lifestyles. It helps build long-term clients.
Passion: Robert Kiyosaki in a book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” says passion is love and anger combined. We must recognize what annoys us about customer service shortcomings and conversely what we love about it when it's exceptional.
Question: Ask the customer questions like: “What brought you in?” “What do you like about dealing with us?” “What do you dislike?” I know a Nissan dealership service manager who asks first-time customers to fill out a brief questionnaire. He learns their buying interests and considerations. Are coupons important to them? How time-pressed are they? It makes the customer feel important. It allows the service manager to hone in on what kind of purchaser they may be.
Repeat back to the customer: Make it a point to repeat back a customer's needs, wants, requests, complaints. It avoids mis-communication and it validates a human need to be understood.
Stress: Take the stress out of the customer's life. Choices, options, doing what's right, respecting them and their needs, asking them what works best, being solution-based. All this eliminates stress. That's a customer-service plus!
Thanks: I like the way airlines put it: “We know that you as an air traveler have choices, and we would like to thank you for choosing our airline.”
Understand: We know what's going on in our own lives, but rarely do we understand what's going on in a customer's life. Try to.
Value: Although value for the money is important to today's consumer, as important is perceived value. Exemplary customer service is perceived, and the saying goes, “Perception is reality.”
Vision: Great leaders share their company vision with all their employees. It gets everyone working together toward the same goals.
Wow: Great customer service is about “wowing” them. It's important to make them feel important and to realize how important they are to you. People can find “average” anywhere.
Xtra Special: Andre Schwartz, a great hotel manager in Alberta, Canada, says: “Customer service is not necessarily about adding more products and services. It's about making their visit extraordinary and doing the little extras the customer wouldn't expect.”
Yes: Make a habit of saying “yes.” Avoid saying “can't” or “no.” Anyone can say that and it's a quick way to turn off customers. Find ways to say “yes” (though not always unconditionally, of course.)
Zen and the art of graceful service: One should receive great balance and inner peace (and more customers) if they follow the principles of A-to-Z.
(Special thanks for assistance with this go to Dave Richardson and Dan Skrobot, collaborators and customer service connoisseurs.)
Dave Skrobot is vice president of parts/service training for Automotive Sales College, 1-888-681-7377.