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Details matter – What the customer sees
Dave Baiocchi
Dave Baiocchi

With all of the things there are to do in the business day it is inevitable that something always gets missed. Getting the big stuff right is necessary. Without that, we have NO business at all. How much of the little stuff can you miss, and still manage to be successful?  

This question assumes that our systems, our people and our process are not already water-tight. To those who believe that their way of doing things is leak-free I can only say check again.  Something is leaking somewhere! Reference last month’s column on holes in the boat.     

I think that the answer to the question is predicated on how you define the difference between big stuff and little stuff. It’s like asking: How big is big? 

I think there should be a set of criteria that should govern what is a big deal and what is not.  

  1. Is the item critical to our business?
  2. Do most of our customer’s care about this?
  3. Will I lose any business because we got this wrong?
  4. How does this affect our image?
  5. Is this in direct conflict with our mission and our promises to our customers?

Let’s assume for the moment that we are getting all the BIG stuff right. Customers are generally getting what they pay for. We are managing expectations and tracking results. We are making money and meeting our stretch goals.

During times like this, we can easily become complacent about the things that under the surface can eat away at our customer service effectiveness. No matter how well built it is, the tide eats away at even the sturdiest of structures. When we are meeting our objectives and customers are not complaining we tend to think we have arrived.  

It’s at this very moment that as leaders, we must circle back to our systems, people and processes, and ask “what are we missing?” If we wait for customers to complain in order to make changes in our culture, we are already in trouble. The real question that we should be asking ourselves is, what is bothering our customers or robbing our effectiveness that isn’t a big enough deal to complain about, but is a big enough deal that it shows up on the customer perception radar?  

These are the hard to pinpoint items that negatively affect two of your greatest assets:

  1. Your image
  2. Your reputation

These two things take a lifetime to build, but can be undermined and destroyed in short order if not constantly cared for. It normally stems from a business-as-usual operational culture that fails to expect changes in customer requirements or demands. These days, the needs of the customers are evolving at such a torrid pace that our customer response tools must constantly be under scrutiny. 

Details matter. It’s as simple as that. In performing an assessment of how we are perceived by our customers, we have to put ourselves in their shoes. See what they see. Hear what they hear. Review what they get from us, preferable before we send it. Get inside the mind of the customer.

I propose to do this by investigating three key areas:

  1. What does the customer see? Visual input establishes initial perception.
  2. How do we engage the customer - customer experience – both in person and over the phone.
  3. Is what we send the customer understandable and meaningful? I.e. sales materials, technical data, invoices, statements.

Being aware and diligent about all of these areas demands that we view our own dealership with what I call the critical eye. It requires us to actually LOOK for things that are not consistent with the image we want to portray. In this column we will take a look at the first important area of customer perception - what the customer sees. Here are some examples:

  • Your parts / service entrance: Look with a critical eye at everything a customer sees. Park your car like a customer would and enter the building from the parking lot. 
    • Do your customers have a place to park?
    • Is your signage up to date, well lit and in good condition?
    • Are the grounds free of trash?
    • Are there weeds or overgrown vegetation?
    • Are there old discarded parts or dead batteries near the entry door?
    • Are the windows and doors clean?
    • Is there a welcome mat in good condition?

The path to your parts or service department door should be a pleasant walk for a customer. He should see a well-kept, clean and inviting environment. The traffic through that door can be plentiful. This is especially true when your road techs are also using the same entrance. Recycled batteries, crushed filters, waste bins and other unsightly items must be out of sight around this key customer entrance. The door itself is handled by multiple people with grease and dirt on their hands. If you don’t clean this door, on purpose, EVERY WEEK, it will quickly end up looking like the entrance to a coal mine.

Your parts retail area: Look with a critical eye at everything a customer sees. Enter the parts department. 

  • Is it a showroom or a storeroom?
  • Does the inventory move?
  • Is the inventory, or the shelves under it, dirty or unorganized?
  • Is the inventory priced?
  • Is the inventory in saleable condition?
  • Is any literature kept in the display rack up to date and relevant?
  • Are the floors clean?

All of the items in your customer self-service retail area must be rotated, clean and properly priced. If not, then you can expect them to remain right where they are - on the shelf. Everything in the customer retail area should be an item that a customer can readily identify and should have a price that is competitive with other area retail vendors - think Napa or Auto Zone. In many dealerships, retail price points over the front counter are much lower than they are over the back counter. This stands to reason. It costs money to outfit a service van with parts. Parts sold from the road van should demand a price that reflects that extra cost, and the lack of competitive price pressure. Customers at your front counter however are looking for a deal…and they ought to find one! They invested the time and trouble to come to your dealership. Give them a reason to return! 

Your parts / service counter: Look with a critical eye at everything a customer sees. Approach the counter. 

  • Are there old catalogues or impulse buy items crowding the space?
  • Are there handwritten signs taped to the counter?
  • Is the messaging clean and relevant?
  • Are the protector pads on the counters in good shape?
  • Are the cushions on the stools falling apart?
  • Are there workspaces visible from the counter that are unkept, with a blizzard of files, catalogs, price books, old parts and post-it notes?
  • Do you have banners or posters on the wall from 1989?
  • Is your customer coffee area clean and well stocked?
  • Are your bathrooms clean?

When it comes to customer counters…. LESS IS MORE. Little things on the counter like magnetic pick up tools, pocket lights and canisters with everything from grade 8 bolts to Teflon tape only add to a cluttered environment that may very well detract from the image you want connote. We tend to believe that if it’s on the counter, it will sell itself. Yes, that will occasionally happen. But I think that there is more truth to the notion that if your counterman suggests it, it’s more likely to sell than just hanging it off the counter and expecting the customer to self-initiate.

The first step in improving customer engagement, is creating an environment that is visually appealing. The second step is actually engaging the customer in a way that communicates trust and care. We will discuss this more in next months article, when we will investigate how the “Details Matter” when it comes to the customer experience. 

Dave Baiocchi is the president of Resonant Dealer Services LLC.  He has spent 33 years in the equipment business as a sales manager, aftermarket director and dealer principal.  Dave now consults with dealerships nationwide to establish and enhance best practices, especially in the area of aftermarket development and performance.  E-mail to contact Dave.