Communicating essentials

Communication is the key to keeping customers happy says Andy, but how does a business make sure that the lines are open at all times?

By Andy Savva |

Published:  30 October, 2020

We all know customers are one of the key elements of any thriving garage business and if you do not keep them satisfied, they will simply go elsewhere for the services you provide. It is a simple fact, but one that is so often overlooked by businesses up and down the country and the people who work within them.
    
Everyone within your garage has a critical role to play in delivering excellent customer service. There are many distractions that get in the way of us providing a positive experience to customers, as I like to call it; ‘An Experience’.
    
I regularly witness employees not understanding customer perceptions, and people who are placed into reception roles who do not possess the necessary skills and ability to qualify and deal with a customer from start to finish. Worse than that the processes within the business are inadequate which does nothing to assist these poor folks.
    
We should all realise the importance of building long-term relationships with customers, understanding what many business commentators call the lifetime value of a customer, after all without them the business does not exist.

Motivation
If we are going to provide an exceptional service to our customers, we first need to understand what their motivation is in dealing with us in the first place. Some buy because they find your price to be the lowest, some because they find your services to be outstanding, while some purchase from you because of your reputation in the garage industry. By understanding our customers, we are better placed to deal with their needs in an effective manner that meets with their core requirements.
    
But most of all, customers buy your services because of the perception of value that it gives them. However, it’s much more difficult in our garage sector as most if not all purchases are distressed sales, they are needs rather than wants and that’s why I focused so much on giving my customers a positive unmatched experience they’ve never had before.

Journey
Aside from understanding the wants and needs of our customers, it is also useful to understand the journey they take. My skill-set allowed me to value stream the processes of the customer journey from phone call to handing back the keys examining the non-value time and processes which helped us identify the danger points and start to plan how best to serve the customer for their needs not ours.
    
Now to keep it simple, I focused on six parts of the customer journey:

  •  The appointment
  •  The greeting
  •  Consulting
  •  Customer approval
  •  The exit
  •  The follow up


At Brunswick Garage we managed to exceed customer expectations at each of these stages and do it far better than anyone else in our local marketplace – you will notice at each stage communication is needed. We called these touch points.

Key stages
I want to share my thoughts on some of the techniques that you can all use to improve your communication with customers, an area which in my view is misunderstood. Let’s begin by looking at the four key stages of the communication process.
    
Open and Initiate – what do we mean?
 
Been prepared
Anticipating the needs of the customer, with information already to hand

Welcoming
Greet customers professionally and convey a positive attitude through your tone of voice, body language and general demeanour

Your position
When contacting the customer, first explain the purpose clearly and second use features and benefits when seeking authorisation. When you are being contacted by the customer, provide a clear response to acknowledge their needs and ensure you are best placed to help them.

Listening
The first stage in the process of gathering information is, ‘listening and encouraging’. It is very important to hear and remember both the facts and the feelings that are conveyed by the customer to establish the significant concerns they highlight. This type of approach is often referred to as ‘active listening’. Ensure you note their concerns and can understand and appreciate their requirements.
    
Examples of active listening are:

  •  Verbal acknowledgements (ah ha, yes, I see, right, go on etc.)
  •  Repeating back what the person has said
  •  Using questions that relate to the topic being discussed
  •  Keeping quiet and letting the other person talk


    
Often when we are talking to people, we ‘gap fill’, which means we are waiting for the other person to stop talking, so that we can say what we want. However, this approach is ineffective as it means we do not really take in what is being said by the other person. Truly listening and understanding what a customer is saying is one of the most effective communication skills you can master.
    
We need to question the customer effectively to understand their situation and what is important to them. Open questions help you to gain more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response from a customer and encourages them to provide more information. When you use these types of questions you are inviting the customer to talk.
    
Open questions will begin with one of the 5W’s or 1H. This is Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. If you start any sentence like this, it is easy to ensure you are asking a question that requires more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, which will help you draw out information.

Questions
Direct questions are the real fact finders. They are specific, to the point and allow no room for diversion. They usually occur at the start of conversation with a customer as in. What happened when you broke down?
    
Much like direct questions, the closed question does not allow much deviation and is looking for a straightforward answer, such as ‘yes’, or ‘no’. Restate – Ensure the customer realises you understand what is being said and agree to what is being asked where relevant.
    
Open questions are used to gain information and closed questions are used to get confirmation.

Solutions and options
Offer Information and options. Give your customers information that helps them. Provide options and choices. Use explanations that are clear and free from jargon. Set expectations; Be clear with the customer about what you can and cannot do. Be specific, be honest.
    
Explore further needs and gain agreement; Ask good questions. Try to assess level of agreement. Promote the available solutions.

Confirm and close
Ask for a decision; Ensure you clearly, precisely, and confidently ask for a commitment from the customer.
    
Summarise and check; Review the key points with the customer and check that they are happy. Thank them; Make your customers feel important by leaving a positive message.
    
Follow up; Do what you said you would do. If someone else deals with the customer further on, ensure the transition is smooth and all information is passed on.
    
By following this clear structure, you will ensure all your customers receive a positive experience each and every time they communicate with you. The process is simple and the tasks within it can be learnt and applied quite easily.

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