Shop Management: Dining Out
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Shop Management: Dining Out

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Shop management lessons can be found in many places – even at the local seafood restaurant. I recently had an experience that caused me to reflect on how we conduct business at our repair facility.

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Let me start by saying that if there are two types of food that I love, they have to be Asian cuisines and seafood. In fact, if it were not for the Orient and for the creatures of the sea, I would probably waste away. Therefore, when a new seafood restaurant came into town about a year ago, I had to try it out. The restaurant actually moved into an existing building that had been previously used by a family steak restaurant. That steak restaurant had a good reputation, so there was some degree of carry-over in that positive image, just through association. Naturally, they did some remodeling, but they were not finished with the atmosphere.

I opened the menu to find the typical run down of meals. The prices were a tad on the low side. Regretfully, that was the only positive point about the dining experience. You could definitely say that our seafood experience was not clear sailing. The tea tasted like it may have been brewed the day before, the hush puppies were stale, the sour cream was lukewarm, the butter resembled slime as it oozed from its sealed tub, and the coleslaw was soured and smelled similar to spoiled milk.

I pointed out the condition of the sour cream and the butter to the waitress, because I felt those could cause someone to become sick. It seemed as though she didn’t have any real concern for the fact that the “keep refrigerated” warning on the package had obviously been ignored all day with the sour cream. “Oh, OK”, she said, and then she moved on to other tables to refill glasses, leaving the questionable condiments where they lay.

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We picked through what we deemed OK, left the rest of it, and vowed not to return. When my one “complaint” was met with indifference, I kept quite about the rest of the conditions. I did however, mention the experience to friends and family.

Cheaper To Keep Them
My point to these ramblings? On the average, it costs about five to six times more in advertising to attract a new customer than what it does to retain the complaining one in front of you, as long as the unhappy customer has reasonable requests.

According to a recent study, about 69 percent of dissatisfied customers never complain. More than 90 percent of those people do not come back. Every one of those upset customers will tell nine to 20 other people about their experience.

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Keeping with those statistics, for every one complaining voice, there may be four others that you never heard. If each of those five people tell 15 of their friends, then that one voice now represents the possible loss of business from 75 people. Of those 75 people, 70 never stepped foot in your establishment. However, that doesn’t stop each them from telling someone else “I heard they are a terrible place to go”.

How much did you spend in advertising last year to get that one new customer in the door? How much did you spend to get 75 new customers? Think about that a minute.

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Eh, Whatever
Did you know that approximately 68 percent of people who stop doing business somewhere, decided to do so because they felt like they were treated with a lack of concern? I am not just talking about when dealing with a complaining customer. I am talking about the everyday process from the phone conversations, greeting them at the door, and from ticket write-up right on through the cash-out.

You do things like trim the grounds around the shop, brew coffee and place a variety of magazines in the lobby, install cable TV, and even add internet access in the waiting area to help the customer feel welcome. You use the highest quality parts. You offer the best warranty. You spend large sums of money in advertising. You offer shuttle service. You send your techs to schools, and proudly display their certifications in the lobby. However, a single employee who, for whatever reason, gave a tired sounding sigh when the customer stepped up to the counter can throw all of that effort right out the window. Have you ever seen that happen somewhere? Have you ever had that happen to you?

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No? How about this? Maybe when the customer came in, no one said “hello” and offered to help them or at least acknowledge them in some other way. The staff just let the customer stand there, shifting their weight from foot to foot and looking around aimlessly. Surely, you have experienced that one first hand when you need assistance in a large department store. Granted, that could have been because everyone was on the phone or busy with something. In the customer’s eyes, the business was just too busy for them. Is that similar to what you felt?

The last thing you want to do is let your customer feel invisible. Simply acknowledging their presence in the beginning, helps pave the way to smoother customer relations later. This is true even if things turn sour later.

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Technicians: If a customer walks past your open bay door, say “hello”. Yes techs, this might mean they will step toward you and start asking questions like where to go. Just smile and politely point them to the lobby. Or better yet, if you can, walk them to the lobby.

Lobby personnel: Say “hello” when they walk in the door. If you are busy with another customer, in person or on the phone, that is OK. People usually understand that, just take a second to let the new person know that you will be right with them.

Stop, Look, Listen
Those words are often used as advice when approaching a railroad crossing. Those words can also be used to describe customer-handling tactics as well. When communicating with a customer, stop, look and listen. If that customer is coming to you with a complaint, they are about to give you the opportunity that 69 percent of your dissatisfied customers did not. They are giving you a chance to improve your operations and possibly retain their future business. Even if the conversation is not complaint oriented, as in answering a question of their’s or writing up a new invoice, this simple tactic works very well in making the customer feel appreciated.

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Stop what you are doing. If you are holding papers, put them down. If you were going to answer the phone, have someone else get it. If you were going out to the shop, wait. Unless the shop is on fire, everything else can wait. Just doing that can make the customer feel all-important. It can even take an irate person down a notch. When you stop what you are doing to talk to someone, you are sending a message to him or her that says, “What you have to say to me is important.”

If you do not stop what you are doing, then the opposite is true. Simply not laying down whatever is in your hands, tells the customer that whatever you have in your hands is more important than they are. A message like that can taint the entire discussion to follow.

Look at them. Not at the TV behind them, not at the ceiling, not out the window, but at the person in front of you. Make passive eye contact. Meaning, you look at them in the eye, but don’t stare them down. Look at their hand gestures. Look at their eyebrows. Return to looking them in the eyes for a few seconds. Then move on again to one of the other suggested focal points. Only look at other things if the customer is directing you to do so (and hope it is not a scratch on the side of their new car). This lets the customer feel that you value what they have to say. At the same time, they aren’t being met with an intimidating or potentially offensive stare. This also gives you a good chance to gauge their moods and reactions by watching their body language. This is especially important if you are dealing with an upset individual.

Listen to what they have to say. If that person is about to complain, then he or she may be about to give you the most valuable information you’ve ever heard – how to improve your operations. This person is about to give you a “shopper’s” experience report. Big corporations pay money for people to “shop” their stores and provide feedback. You are about to get this free (lucky you). This person may be off base about any technical details involved. They may be telling their story very one-sided. The one thing they will do, however, is they will tell you their experience as they see it. More often than not, it will be based in truth.

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This is also a time to help control the tone of your customer, and condition them for any negotiations to come later. The person speaking to you wants to be heard, so let them know that you hear them. An occasional “yes,” “right,” “I see,” “OK” or positive body language, such as a nod, provides feedback to the speaker that you do hear them. Without such feedback, the other person may feel that they are not being heard. They will likely repeat things they said, and with more force.

A Time To Reflect
OK, you’ve stopped, you’ve looked, you’ve listened. You are getting an earful of information from the customer. This might be a complaint or it might be information you need to write up the repair order. Now what?

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A couple of things need to happen at this point. For one, you need to make sure you understand the customer clearly. Secondly, they need confirmation that you hear and understand them. Both of these issues can be handled with a single step. Simply repeat back to your customer what they said in your own words.

It is called “reflecting” and is especially important when dealing with an irate customer. You hear them, you understand them, and now they know that for sure. That alone lowers the speaker’s compulsion to shout. There is a trick to it, however. The trick to it is that, your reflection cannot be judgmental. You might find that very difficult to do without practice. For example:

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Customer: “You changed my oil and now I have an oil leak!”

You: “You think we caused an oil leak?”

Wrong answer!

That is a judging statement. Yes, it is probably true that they think you caused the leak. If they were not thinking that way before, they are now. A judging statement like that can focus the negative of the situation onto “you” (this time in your own voice). It can also sound as if you are trying to make them sound ridiculous. That can be very offensive.

A better reflection might sound like this:

You: “The leak started soon after the oil change?”

Do you see the difference? In the second reflection, there is no “judgment.” You simply used their words, and repeated them back in a question. You have given them confirmation that you heard them and understand them. In addition, you aren’t such an enemy anymore after they hear their words in your voice. You’ve also taken the first step toward taking the negative focus off “You,” as they stated it, and you are now shifting the focus toward the vehicle. Best of all, you have just taken away the majority of their verbal ammunition. They’ve had more time to think about what they were going to say than you did. They have most likely pictured you giving a rebuttal, and they already have a line up of counter remarks.

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“You know what I am going to tell them? I’m going to say ______ and if they have something to say about that, I’m going to tell them ______.”

Sound familiar? A properly delivered reflection will stop all of that before it happens. Their only answer to a well-delivered reflection will be “yes” (or something meaning “yes”). Now you can get down to business of dealing with what is actually wrong with the vehicle, what caused what, showing and telling, and so on.

Reflecting is also extremely helpful at time of write-up. It can help to ensure that the service advisor accurately transposes information about the vehicle concern onto the repair order. Reflecting also, helps ease the customer in the event the problem is intermittent, and turns out to be a “problem not duplicating” situation. It helps in those instances, because it gives the customer a sense that you were indeed checking for the right concern.

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Learning Curve
Some complaining customers will be a lost cause. No matter what you say or do, they will not be satisfied. You will never make them happy. You will never regain their business. However, there is still benefit in speaking with them. You may not have their business anymore, but you can use that experience to improve your business process. After all, not giving someone something to complain about is the best way to handle a complainer.

Take note of things that caused someone to complain. This is especially important with the “lost cause” cases, because this may be the only way you profit from these people. You can use this to learn how to avoid a problem with the next customer.

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A common scenario might be someone complaining about their car not being ready when they stopped in to pick it up. If a customer shows up just assuming that their car is ready, and it is not, whose fault is that? Is it the part store’s fault for not getting the parts faster? Is it the technician’s fault for not working faster or late getting back from lunch? Is it the car’s fault for being rusty? Is it the fault of the heavy workload that day? Is it the customer’s fault for not having an understanding of how long auto repair procedures take?

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Those things may have been elements involved, however none of those are at fault for the customer’s expectations not being met. The customer came in to pick the car up because they thought it was ready. For some reason, this was not effectively communicated to the customer. The communication process is at fault and needs to be examined and ratified.

As the manager or owner, a part of your job is to recognize problems like this and determine what course of action is needed to prevent it from happening again.

In the case above: Did the SA confirm that the customer understood the time promise by inquiring as to the “convenience” of that time to them? Did the SA confirm that the customer understood that they would be called when the car is ready, by asking them if they will be reachable at “XXX-1234” phone number? Did the SA communicate the promise time to the tech? When something came up that delay the delivery time, did the SA call the customer?

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Before this starts to look like the service advisor’s fault, I would like to ask; did you, the owner or manager, communicate to the SA about handling these matters?

OK, I picked a relatively easy example. Nonetheless, that scenario does happen. When it does, excuses like the examples I gave are thrown around. The root cause of the problem (simple lack of communication) is not addressed. Customers continue to complain, they are labeled by the personnel with unfavorable terms, and business is lost when they start going somewhere else. The cycle is left to repeat with the next customer, and so on. In the end, no one really stopped for, looked at, and listened to the customer.

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Recovery Time
So far we have seen that bad news travels fast. Is there anyway to make positive stories out of negative ones? That afore mentioned study also had shown that 95 percent of unhappy customers can be retained if their complaint is handled immediately. So promptly addressing the customer’s concern is a very large step toward repairing a bad situation.

People are accustomed to running into a brick wall when they have a complaint: “I don’t make the rules,” “I can’t help that,” “That’s not my job,” or “That’s not our department”. Certainly, a response like, “I’m sorry you had a bad experience, can you tell me more about it?” would be rather complaint derailing. I’m not saying give into every complaining customer. Let’s face it; the customer is not always right. However, by stopping what you are doing, listening to your customer you have done more for customer satisfaction than many out there.

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You might be surprised to find out that some customers don’t really want anything from you at all. Sometimes they are content just knowing that they were heard. Most just want what is fair. Use your best judgment in these matters. Be fair. Weigh the costs. That hubcap the customer claims you damaged, doesn’t cost near as much as the business you might loose from 75 people over it. Even if you know for a fact that your shop didn’t do it, the customer might honestly think that you did.

So, take time to reflect. Not just to pacify the customer, but also so that you might see their side more clearly. Not only will you give the customer the sense that you are more friend than foe, you may stumble onto a source of improvement that may result in more business.

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One last thought. Over the period of several months, I started to hear positive stories about that same seafood restaurant that I swore I would never return. After hearing six or seven different people say how nice a dining experience they had, I returned for one more try. It was excellent. I have returned many times with my family. I actually recommend this particular restaurant to others now.

A business can fix image problems. It can recover lost customers. Next time, if a customer complains, stop, look, listen and reflect. Look at their compliant as an opportunity to improve your operation for the next person.

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