Avoiding the Subliminal Countdown: Improving Sales by Improving Employees' Knowledge

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“:60, :59, :58, :57…” a countdown starting at T-minus 60 seconds, but what happens when the countdown is concluded? When it comes to your customers, it could lead to a number of conclusions. In this column, we’ll discuss what may happen when your customer’s countdown reaches :00.

A few years ago, in the community where I live, there were two big-box hardware stores. I frequented the one located just a few blocks from my home. On most any weekend when I had a home fix-up project in the works, I might make as many as two or three trips to this particular store.

On almost every visit to this specific store, I would have to wait at the checkout counter for long periods to give them my money because they were understaffed. It seems odd a company would make it hard for you to give them money. In addition, whenever I asked for information about a product I would have to go through a number of employees before I got to one who could help me with the information I needed.

Because the number of times I had to wait for product assistance happened so frequently, I got in the habit of mentally counting down from sixty seconds to see how long it would take to get the help I needed or for the cashier to take my money.

As it happens, on a certain weekend I was across town and near the location of the other major hardware center. To my great relief I didn’t have to wait for any cashiers and regarding the three products I needed assistance with, one employee was able to answer my questions about all three items even though each item was located in a different department.

The Gold Standard

We often hear businesses proclaim their mission to be the gold standard of their niche in the marketplace. Those gold standard aspirations would imply the service provided or the product offered is of such quality people will go to great lengths to obtain it, akin to searching for actual gold.

In the case of the two competing hardware stores, that is exactly what happened to me. I now found myself willing to go out of my way — 10 miles out of my way — to get the gold standard service that wasn’t available just a few blocks from my home. Incidentally, within three years the hardware center nearest my home was closed. I did get a good deal on a stepladder at the going-out-of-business sale, and, of course, I had to wait for a cashier to pay for it.

The Subliminal Countdown

If you want to increase sales in your fast lube, you should make certain your customers don’t do their own subliminal countdowns. Perhaps most customers won’t actually do a mental countdown, as I did, when they’re waiting for service or product information. However, it’s a fair bet most customers are going through the effects of what I call a “subliminal countdown.”

A subliminal countdown” means subconsciously customers may be thinking, “It seems like every time I come here I have to go through this.” Or, maybe they’re thinking, “Why can’t they hire some qualified people who actually know about the services and the products they sell?” Or, maybe they’re asking themselves, “Would it be too much to ask for an employee to actually know the price of the service or the product they’re in business to provide?”

If those kinds of questions are going through your customers’ subconscious, they are essentially counting down. If they reach :00, in other words the point where they’ve had enough, the conclusion to their mental countdown is not good for your sales or your fast lube operation.


In fairness, retailers like the big-box hardware centers referred to, have hundreds of thousands of products with hundreds of thousands of prices. It is reasonable, that on occasion, they might need to get some special assistance on product information. The expectations customers have in these retail environments are somewhat more forgiving.

However, when it comes to the fast lube environment, customers expect you to know the details about the services and the products you offer.

Yes, the fast lube industry has dramatically increased the service and product offerings over the years, but even now in 2016, the variety of services may number 20 to 30 and the number of products offered is somewhere in that same neighborhood. The question for the industry is, is it reasonable for customers to expect each of our employees to know the requisite information for each of about 60 products and services? The answer is an unqualified yes.

Why is it so important that each person in your center is schooled in the details of every product and service you offer? Let’s answer the question by asking some questions.

How much confidence do you suppose it inspires when a customer asks, “What’s the difference between a full-synthetic oil and conventional oil, and what benefits are there if I choose a synthetic?” The answer received is something like, “I think there are a lot of beneficial additives in synthetics, so it’s better.” That is the answer I was given when I recently asked the same question at my local fast lube.

What might a customer conclude when they ask the price of a service and the technician responds, “Gosh, I don’t know. Let me get back to you in a few minutes.” It’s pretty likely that the customer will conclude, “If this person doesn’t even know what they charge, I wonder what else they don’t know about the service they’re doing on my car?”

The expectations customers have for efficient and accurate answers when they arrive at your center, driving their second largest investment, are not out of line when they ask any employee about the products and services offered and expect to get a precise and helpful response.

May the "Four" Be with You

The checklist of what every employee should know about the products and services you offer is really quite brief. Every employee should know four basic elements about every service and product offered. The four product and service sales points include:

1. The price

2. The approximate service time needed

3. The benefits of the service or product

4. Service or product guarantee information

If each of your employees could confidently respond, without hesitation, to these four points, for every service and product you offer, you can be certain your customers trust them, and their confidence would be enhanced immeasurably.

Knowledgeable Employees Don't Just Happen

So how do you get each of your employees to the point where they can respond, with confidence, to every customer who needs information about any of your products or services?

It will take some effort, but if done consistently, over the course of 60 days, each of your employees should be able to give the four product and service sales points, with confidence, for any of the services or products you offer.

Below is a list of suggestions to get the essential product knowledge into each member of your service staff:

1. Hold regular crew meetings, and review each product and service offered.

2. Have suppliers assist with product instruction classes.

3. Rotate product and service questions throughout your certification exams.

4. Catch employees doing something right by asking them a product question, which when answered correctly with the four product and sales points, is rewarded with tangible reinforcement like free lunches.

5. Choose a new product or service each day, and ask employees about it throughout the day as you work together.

6. Get employees in the habit of answering product information by asking them about it on a regular basis. If they know you’re going to ask, they’ll be ready. Be consistent, and reward desired performance.

T-minus :60 and Counting

Whether your customers are performing a subliminal countdown as they wait for information or assistance you should be able to give them in an instant doesn’t matter. If they reach the end of such a countdown, it will not launch your business to new heights.

“:60, :59, :58, :57…” What happens when the customer reaches double zeroes? The answer is obvious. Customers simply take off in search of a service center where countdowns never need to start.  


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