All of us have had the experience of shopping for a car. It is one of the most frustrating, annoying and irritating buying experiences you can have. It also provides a great analogy for understanding important do’s and don’ts in customer service, marketing and promotions.
Comparable models of premium car brands, like car-wash or self-storage facilities, may have a slightly different look and feel, but their amenities are essentially the same. So let’s assume you have narrowed your vehicle search to Lexus, BMW and Mercedes. You visit each showroom and are greeted professionally in all cases. But when it comes to service, one of the dealerships goes beyond the norm.
Not only does the sales rep listen and ask insightful, probing questions, he introduces you to all the key people with whom you would come in contact during a sale. How refreshing! He really wants you to know the dealership desires your business and it would be easy to have a relationship with the company. In addition, he realizes the significance of the purchase and that it’s important for you to understand the mechanical side of service. He takes you to see the service department, introduces you to the manager and shows you how your vehicle would be received and delivered back to you: running well and clean as a whistle.
So, you visited all the dealerships, drove the cars, and were approached several times to make a purchase. Now you’re ready to choose. All three vehicles will meet your needs and are in the right price range. How do you decide?
When Tom Peters wrote In Pursuit of Excellence, he told the story about how one automobile dealership outshined all its competition. It exceeded customers’ expectations from the moment they stepped foot on the property. Since you’ve just had a similar experience, you make your final decision based on service. The dealership gets the sale, and you get a great experience. Everybody wins.
Glossary of Terms
Now that we have an example in mind, let’s define some important terms:
Customer service. Most of us associate the word “service” with a mechanical activity, something that occurs after the sale. Service actually begins the moment a prospect comes through the door, buys your product and becomes a customer. The relationship ends when the customer no longer uses your product. Do a great job, and there is no reason to lose. Customer service is truly a cradle-to-grave relationship.
Marketing. By definition, marketing covers all activities involved in the evolution of a product, from inception and design, to manufacturing, sales and service. Think of marketing like farming: It starts with a vision, then moves to planning, preparation of the soil, planting, harvesting, packaging, transporting to market, sales and, finally, service. It’s pretty straightforward. The role of the marketer is to manage the product path and influence buyers through strategies that promote profitable sales to the company.
Promotions. Promotions are any activities you use that result in someone using your product or service. They run the gamut from low-cost, fun items to sophisticated allowances, discounts and expensive prizes. Promotions can be very beneficial as long as you understand three things:
- Promotions bring someone to your door only once. To create a lasting relationship, you have to meet or exceed customer expectations time after time. Customers have very short memory spans.
- Any strategy will work. There are few poor promotions, only ones that are poorly executed.
- For a promotion to be successful, you must weigh cost against increased revenue. If you can’t see the bottom-line impact, it probably won’t be very successful.
Tying It Together
If we are striving to reach Tom Peters’ ideal of that very successful auto dealer, there are several things we can do in our existing car-wash or storage business that will enable us to deliver superior customer service. Here are a few:
- There must be a company vision based on service and an understanding of the customer-value equation that differentiates you from competition.
- All employees must embrace, understand and practice excellent customer-service habits.
- It must be understood that service is not synonymous with wrench-pulling. It begins with the first interaction between your company and anyone who inquires about you.
- You must constantly audit your company’s performance and be committed to correcting any deficiencies.
- Employees must be held responsible and accountable for their actions.
Excellent customer service is self-promoting and grows sales, just as poor service decreases sales. One good experience will be shared with a few; one bad experience will be shared with many. Service reigns supreme. Think how those losing dealerships reacted when they didn’t get your sale. Have fun creating an awesome service program!
Fred Grauer is the vice president, distributor network, for MarkVII Equipment LLC, a car-wash equipment manufacturer in Arvada, Colo. He has made a life-long career of designing, selling, building and operating car washes. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.