Focus on Being the Real Deal

March 2, 2008
Don’t just preach honesty, convenience and professionalism - practice it!

Customer service is a concept that is open to many interpretations in today’s marketplace, even though it has been around since the inception of commerce. Customer service is a pillar of a healthy business, and the mobile tool dealer needs to view it in traditional and unconventional ways to succeed—both as a customer and a seller.

Hopefully, we are all aware of the tenets of sound customer service practices. Honesty deserves its place at the head of the line. As I have indicated in previous columns, lack of honesty can be your undoing in a hurry! Customers are more likely to relate a horror story to their coworkers and friends than to sing your praises. I try to buffer any bad news by stating clearly that I will always tell the true story—to enhance feelings of trustworthiness.

After honesty, convenience is paramount in what we do. I was in a shop recently with 20 techs and looked around and tried to think of other businesses that come to the customer and provide all the services we offer.

The list is mighty thin. Here is how we stack up:

• Repair/replacing broken tools.
With mobiles, techs don’t have to visit a store or ship a broken tool. How many times do you see a broken non-mobile distributed tool languishing in a toolbox for months on end? Take that, web-bargain hunters!

• Easy payments.
We bring financing and payments right to the customer—no running to the bank or 7-11. We give some customers a chance to pay on time when other avenues are closed.

• Easy reference source.
Information facilitator is gaining more importance as vehicle complexity increases and customers look to us for answers, especially on brands they have limited experience repairing. I will try to make a call to a tech I respect for answers for my customer that is stymied at another shop.

• Tool knowledge.
Exposing our customers to the newest and most relevant tools is critical in our customer service model. We serve the information up on a silver platter and present it belly-to-belly.

• Immediate gratification.
Fast delivery of tool requests is a big asset in our customers’ minds. Be it a tool you have on the truck or one you pledge to get ASAP, this is the aspect of our customer service that is most palpable as a performance and value indicator. Now, for the non-traditional customer service concepts that are critical as a component in the overall health of the business, or “How do I behave when I’m the customer?”

When calling another party that has a direct effect on how my business is conducted, I count on great customer service (it doesn’t always occur). My family calls me, mockingly, “Mr. Follow Up.” As I try to teach my two teenagers how to survive in society, following up on situations comes up frequently.

How many times have you taken time from your overloaded schedule to make a call that seems to take forever and you end up needing someone to get back to you? After you go over the details again and hang up, assured you will hear back, your gut tells you it’s not happening. Enter “Mr. Follow Up.” and his notes from the call. I have learned—by painful lessons—that not writing down the person’s name, the date and what was promised makes getting it done on your second call unlikely as well.

Another tactic I employ for clarity is, “I’m not too bright and didn’t understand clearly, would you please review the details again?” This is a great way to make it clear for everyone in the process. It is easier and more efficient to say it three times now then get MRAs and disappointments later. This is important for how you stand in your customer’s eyes by getting it right the first time.

My sons hear me on the phone and make fun of me sometimes as I work with customer service professionals. Most are trying hard and do a great job. I make sure I know and use the person’s name throughout. Kindness and decency go a long way. Conduct yourself in a professional manner, especially if it is a place you call frequently. Do you want to be the person that makes someone cringe when looking at the caller ID? But don’t be a suck-up—nice because you want something. Act nice and good things will happen. Take an interest in the people you are likely to contact on an ongoing basis. The result is a pleasant experience and expanded understanding of the world.

With everyone taking swipes at your piece of the tool pie, it is more important then ever to institute first-class customer service protocols. You need to walk both sides of the line if you want to be successful and enjoy your business even more.

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