Give 'Em the Face

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Much has been said over the years regarding customer service and sales techniques about being honest and transparent with your customers. Certainly it is always to your advantage to be as honest as possible with all of your customers at all times. It’s how they decide to return to you for future business. It’s also how you continue to build your customer base consistently. I expect you already fully understand and agree.

However, you must also embrace the idea of putting your best foot forward. Being honest with, and respectful of, your customers does not necessarily mean you need to expose all your warts and blemishes for the world to see!

You need to carefully decide, and then cultivate, the exact image you want your customers to see and experience. While you are certainly being real and authentic with your customers, you are picking and choosing exactly what you want them to see.

To take this concept a step further, you must decide what truths your customers want to see when they visit your location. Then, you need to do everything beforehand to ensure what they see, hear, feel and experience is the truth they want.

For example, your customers want to visit a location that is staffed with friendly, knowledgeable employees who are motivated to do a good job.

When the customer says, “How are you doing today?” they want to hear a positive, upbeat response. Something like, “Great! How are you?”

While that’s probably what a customer wants to hear, it is probably not what they expect to hear. More than likely, (because the art of genuine customer service has been on a steady decline for years) your customers hear a response such as, “You know, same stuff, different day.” The sad truth is, most businesses don’t deliver outstanding customer service anymore.

It is astounding to me, many managers and owners are oblivious to the long-term damage they are doing to their core customer base when they give mediocre customer service.

An even more perplexing paradox is, nearly every business — a small mom-and-pop shop to a medium-size group of stores to a huge national chain — will consistently spend, spend and spend as much money as they can to advertise. They’ll advertise and advertise some more. They do this all in the name of bringing in more customers. Advertising typically brings customers in one time per exposure to an ad. Instead, the quality of the customer service given at the location is what impacts the customer’s decision to return again, not the advertising they have been exposed to.

You can spend money on advertising or you can provide exceptional customer service. Advertising is a never-ending proposition. If you rely on your advertising to bring customers in, you are going to keep spending money on advertising. Just remember, advertising brings them in, but it doesn’t bring them back. Customer service brings them back. If all you are interested in bringing in new customers with advertising, you probably will not have a very long-term, successful business.

Your goal should be to get customers in and then keep them! The return business is what builds your customer base. There is only one thing that is going to convince your customers to return to your location in the future. It’s the experience they have! The quality of your customer service is the primary factor in building a strong and growing customer base.

The best thing about great customer service is it does not cost a thing! There are no extra expenses involved in delivering great customer service. The labor has already been spent, the inventory is already there and the best part? The customer is already there! Any expense you had to get them there is over with, now you just need to convince them to come back.

I assume you have cleaning supplies in your store and the employees are being paid while they are there, so get to work! Clean your shop, so it shines like a new penny.

There are no excuses for a dirty shop. If you are slow, there is plenty of time to clean and keep things organized. If you are consistently busy, then you have the labor dollars to have people there to keep it clean!

Keep your employees focused on customer topics — things that pertain to the business and in particular, customers. If you are slow, do not engage or allow your crew to engage in discussions about stuff not related to your shop. Chatting away about who said what at the bar last night is not a productive use of your labor dollars. Instead, talk about product knowledge or quiz them on their presentation skills. Ask them how they would handle a certain customer salutation. Challenge them to see who has the best greeting. Stay focused on business and everyone will be more attenuated to your customers when they arrive.

You control customer experience by controlling your employees’ appearance. Set some standards for appearance and then follow them. I have some pretty basic appearance standards at my locations, but I make sure they are followed consistently. Navy pants, black shoes, shirts tucked in and a belt. Staff must be clean-shaven every day and no bizarre hairstyles are allowed. Facial piercings or visible tattoos aren’t acceptable, either. If they have tattoos on their arms, they wear long sleeve shirts. If they have tattoos, piercings or gauges in their ears, they don’t work for me.

Set standards and follow them. Your employees’ enthusiasm for their work is directly related to their skills and product knowledge. Both of which always increase their enthusiasm for a job well done.

Train your employees. You cannot expect them to learn what they need to on their own. Some people may learn this way, but most people have to be led to knowledge and then shown how to use newly acquired skills.

Take time to teach employees how you want them to talk to your customers. If they are good employees, they will embrace the information and will want to please their boss. If they complain and resist your methods, insisting they like doing it another way, dump them immediately. Why waste your time paying someone to not do what you want them to do?

You are in charge for a reason. (Presumably, it is because you are pretty good at what you know and what you do.) Don’t let your employees dictate to you how your business is going to run.

Present the truth you want your customers to see. If you have a headache, the customers don’t need to be told. If your employee’s child failed a grade at school and is being held back unfairly, the customers do not need to be privy to this information. If you are short-handed and have been working for 10 or 12 days in a row without a day off, too bad. Your customers don’t need to know this. More importantly, they don’t want to know this.

It is possible to be open, friendly and honest with your customers without revealing every sordid detail of your life. Your customers did not come to you to be a shoulder to cry on, they came to you for great service.

Give them the truth. Give them great service. Do that, and you will convince them to come back. Make it happen!

See ya’ next month.

KIT SULLIVAN is a partner in a multi-unit, Florida-based quick lube company. A 20-year veteran of the industry, Sullivan has more than 28 years experience in sales and management training. He is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers. He can be reached via email:

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