Building Customer Relationships

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I hope by now you have been able to use some of the information presented in this column series to make your monthly shop meetings go more smoothly. I have received several comments from friends and operators about the content that I have offered over the past few months. One comment in particular stuck with me.

One man said, “I didn’t know I needed to have monthly meetings.” He went on to say, “Since we spend all day together servicing customers’ vehicles, I just assumed my crew was paying attention, and if they had any comments or questions they would ask.”

I laughed and asked him how that process had been working out.

He said, “Horrible! They make the same mistakes over and over again as if they never learned anything.”

I asked, “So now that you have started having monthly meetings, have you seen any improvement?”

He said, “It’s like they are a different crew. They still make mistakes, but not like before.”

“What has been the biggest difference?” I asked him.

“Communication,” he said, “both with each other and with the customers.”

I asked him, “How do you know that the monthly meetings are making a difference? It could be they watched and listened and now they are finally getting it.”

“No,” he said. “It is the meetings. They told me the meetings are helping them become better technicians.”

We continued our conversation as to what he thought was the most beneficial topic or training item they had discussed, and he said, “No doubt about it, communication is the most important thing we have learned and have improved upon.”

If you have gotten out of the habit of having monthly meetings, I encourage you to start again. As we all know in this business, training never stops.

Building Customer Relationships

Whenever I am contacted to consult with a company, one of the questions I get asked is how to help the shop understand and practice building customer relationships. In a world that has so much technology to help us build relationships with each other, we seem to be getting worse at it. With many of our friends and family living out their lives on different social media applications, we seem to know less and less about each other.

We live in a world where it seems acceptable to blast out to the world that our three-year-old German shepherd has learned how to hula hoop and unlock the patio door with his tongue. I read a post recently from a distraught mother stating her 14-year-old son was found drunk and stuffed into his locker at school. The mother was angry because her little darling was being teased by his classmates. Good grief! What is wrong with these people? Social media sites have not helped us the way we thought they would.

Building customer relationships takes time and requires a culture shift within our shops that encourages our staff to take the time to develop these relationships.

To begin training your staff, start with talking about the clues our customers are giving us. Clues like, what does their bumper sticker say? It’s interesting how people summarize their passions in a bumper sticker. I always appreciated the bumper sticker that was showing support for a sports team. Whenever I spotted a sports team bumper sticker, I would have something to talk about. At times, when I would be greeting a customer, I would notice a book of sheet music, sporting equipment or a dog leash in the seat or floorboard. All of these clues will give you something to talk about with your customer. Building relationships with your customers is not any different than any other relationships you have. Relationship building takes time and dedication. Talking about the customer’s passions or hobbies are good icebreakers to start conversation. Thirty years ago, when I began my career in the quick oil and lube business, I had the good fortune to work with a manager whose daily goal was to make a new lifetime customer. It was like watching an artist paint a picture. When he noticed a new face in the shop, he would go over and introduce himself and offer them something to drink.

When the new customer responded with their name, he would say, “It is a pleasure to meet you,” and then repeat their name.

For the rest of their short conversation, he would say their name, and of course when they were leaving he would always say thank you and say their name again. Now this was before we had a point-of-sale (POS) system, but instead, we had a card catalog system that had information about the vehicle and the customer name. My mentor would put a checkmark beside their name and make a note of the drink they preferred as a reminder that he had introduced himself and had learned their beverage choice.

The next time the customer came into the shop, he would call them by name while handing them their preferred drink and ask about how well their vehicle had been performing. While getting the information about that day’s service, he would look for clues about that customer’s interests. Upon seeing a bumper sticker about one of our local elementary schools, he would say something like, “I noticed you have a child at Honey Elementary.” He would continue, “My kids went there. Is Mrs. Solomon still the principal there?”

The customer would begin talking about the school, and he would listen, smile, ask more questions and have a genuine interest in the conversation. When the customer left, he noted that day’s service and would make a note about their school conversation. Over a period of time, he would make a new friend, and in the process would build a loyal customer.

In today’s shop environment, where speed of service is the biggest concern, taking the time to build customer relationships is as important as the service you are providing.

The biggest mentor in my life, my father, had a saying that I remember on the topic of building customer relationships. Dad would say, “It doesn’t matter what kind of business you are in, we are all in the people business. Those who learn better people skills will be more successful in business.”

I have seen this over and over, even in my own life when I am the customer. I do business where I know people. In my hometown, my wife and I have a lot of choices when it comes to where we buy our groceries. However, we normally go to one store in particular because we know the manager, and over time, we have made friends with his staff. Recently, that grocery store chain sold to another company, but since the management didn’t change I continue to do my shopping there. I go to see my friends, and while I am there I’ll pick up some groceries.

Taking the time and making the effort to build customer relationships is hard work. Fortunately, in today’s shops, most of us have a point-of-sale system. Every POS I have seen has the capability to keep notes on the customer. Like my former boss taught me years ago, the first step is introducing yourself and learning the customer’s name, then calling the customer by their name from then on. When the customer comes in the next time, refer to the POS if needed and call them by name.

According to Dale Carnegie in his best-selling book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, the sweetest sound anyone ever hears is his or her name, and the thing most people want to talk about is the thing they are interested in. It is interesting that of all the known ways to build a relationship, face-to-face interaction is still the most successful and enduring way to create long-term relationships.

What has been your technique for developing customer relationships? I would like to hear from you.  

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