Running a Shop

Want To Improve Loyalty? Listen To Your Customers.

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People buy from people they know and trust. But how do you cultivate a relationship with someone you’ve just met? The service desk is hardly a place to spark a new friendship. And who wants to be friends with their customers anyway? Especially when most people are either there for a service they’ve been putting off for a while (oil change) or they have a potentially expensive problem with their vehicle.

It may not seem like it, but this is a great place to start a friendship. It’s an opportunity to solve a problem and be a hero. You better believe that a problem-solving hero is going to have long lasting professional relationships.

Don’t ask your customers “What’s the matter?” Instead, ask “What matters to you?”

Social psychologist Harry Reis said relationships are stronger when we perceive that the other person is responsive to us. It’s called “perceived partner responsiveness.” Responsiveness means that each party knows they are understood, validated and cared for.

1. Understanding:

Listen and understand your customer.

You can ask my husband, the key to my friendship circle is a listening ear. I’m a connector. I like to share stories and details of my life. I connect with people by swapping meadow reports. It’s how I build relationships.

Psychology Break: According to Alison Armstrong, a renowned expert on relationships, a meadow report is a conversation style that women use to connect emotions to a story. We use both sides of our brains to remember things better. Meadow reporting is why I’m so good at remembering things, like what my husband said in an argument eight years ago.

Unfortunately, not every customer service rep has the time, or interest, to listen to my full meadow report. Meadow reports are often lengthy and appear to have no point to the listener. But to the person giving the report, they mean a great deal — just like how I want a coffee barista to listen to my entire journey with soy before recommending another milk alternative. The journey matters to me, and if they take the time to listen, I feel more comfortable with what they recommend. If a service rep listens to my meadow report, they’ve earned my loyalty and trust.

2. Validation:

How do your customers view the world? What’s important to them? What do they aspire to, despise, fear and cherish?

You know who’s really bad at validation? Teenagers. The perfect example for non-validation is my teenage daughter.

Me: How was your day? Teenage Daughter: Good. Me: Did anything happen? Teenage Daughter: Not really. Me: I ran into a light pole on a sidewalk because I was walking and texting. Ha! Ha… er-hm... Teenage Daughter:

Most of the time, teenagers are dismissive or uninterested (we forgive them because they’re hormonal). Don’t be like a teenager. Recognize the story is important to your customer, and validate it by listening. If a customer wants to talk about a light pole, you talk about that light pole — and with a big, understanding and enthusiastic smile.

Why is validating your customers important? Generally speaking, hardly anyone outside the automotive industry likes explaining problems with their cars. As a customer, I want to ask:

  1. Why is it doing that?
  2. Is that bad?
  3. What am I supposed to do now?
People don’t like talking about things they don’t understand. It’s uncomfortable. It’s vulnerable. And, it’s a situation we all avoid. As a result, I end up not saying anything at all (and set myself up for future problems that could have been solved with a simple conversation).

If your customer wants to give you the meadow report and tell you what symptoms her vehicle is experiencing ever since her cat had kittens, then engage with her. The two are likely unrelated, but that’s OK. If you validate her concern by listening to and acknowledging her story, she won’t feel quite so uncomfortable talking to you about issues that really raise red flags with her car.

3. Caring:

Take steps that show earnestness.

People in the medical field care for their patients. People in the automotive industry care for their customers’ vehicles.

You might say, “I take care of my customers’ cars, and that’s all I really need to worry about.” But, if I Google “automotive repair shops near me,” I’ll get dozens of shops who will take care of my car. It’s the “caring about me” part that matters.

Doctors earn loyalty by caring about their patients, not just for their patients. The same is true in the automotive world. When a customer brings her car in for service, she needs to know that you care about her car and her wellbeing. The time and attention are worth it, because you will establish yourself as her trusted advisor.

The best part about building a relationship based on perceived partner responsiveness is that it’s reciprocal (cue customer loyalty). And that’s the entire point!

Here are the key takeaways:

  1. Understanding: I know what is important to my customer.
  2. Validation: I respect my customer and her concerns.
  3. Caring: I take active and supportive steps to meet my customer’s needs.
Also, if you want to make fast friends with your customers (or anyone!), read “The Power of Moments” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

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