Do you have broken windows?

Physical neglect is not the only thing stopping customers coming back

Published:  11 November, 2013

Andy Vickery

What the customer actually wants is help with problems, a courteous and attentive service and people they can trust (as they would get in any other retail establishment). However, due to the nature of many garage businesses, what customers often expect are polar opposites to what they want. These expectations are made up from many other perceived or pre-conceived impressions over the years. They almost expect to feel intimidated, so question whether you are trustworthy. They are probably already in 'defensive' mode before you open your mouth.

'Does your business have broken windows' is a metaphor taken from a book by Michael Levine called 'Broken Windows - Broken Business'. The book describes how what started out as a legal theory, called the 'Broken Window Theory', published in 1982, which talks about how petty crime is related to larger crime, can in fact be applied to business situations.

So, the broken window theory has a lot to do with perception - about what people see and the conclusions they draw. And these perceptions can be created in a blink of an eye. Opinions are formed very quickly. First of all, there are the physical 'Broken Windows' in a business - as well as peeling paint, shabby furniture and cleanliness. What does this say to the customer? If you really can't be bothered to take care of your own physical premises, how can you be trusted to take care of someone else's car? If you let things slip so much that your customer starts to notice, you risk being in possession of a business in decline.

In this current, competitive environment, you almost have to become obsessional about attention to detail in everything about your business. Customers have a choice and are more discerning than ever but the worse thing is they won't tell you if anything is wrong, why should they go to the trouble? You just won't see them again - and your competitors will be rubbing their hands together.

If you were ever taught to say 'please' and 'thank you' as a child, then this advice still applies. Simply saying 'please', 'thank you' and 'you're welcome' can make a big difference - even the way you greet customers can have a big impact (first impressions count as they say). Training all your staff in common courtesy, or at least reminding them about it, goes without saying.

Even better, why not go one further and try and exceed your customers' expectations. This is a great way of reminding customers that local, independent businesses can be great to deal with, especially in the light of such bad service performed by some of the huge corporations recently (mentioning no names).

Finally, two other words that can be extremely disarming to your customer are... No, not that... I'm talking about saying 'I'm sorry'.

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