I’m a customer at a wide variety of businesses. You name it, grocery and hardware stores, restaurants, theatres, banks, flea markets and fast lubes I’m there. Having been in business for a couple decades myself, I can’t resist mentally evaluating why I patronize a particular establishment, how they are managed, the attitude of the employees and their methods and procedures.
I’ve found that all the things I like can be summarized in one statement, “They care.” They proactively care about their facility, employees and customers.
Caring sounds simple, but the challenge is to proactively incorporate it into the operations manual, employee training and the procedures of day-to-day operations. Caring must be promoted. It’s a philosophy of managing that must be solidified by specific actions and procedures that create favorable perceptions. The customer must perceive you care.
Cleanliness is a universal expression that you care. The higher your standard of cleanliness, the stronger the customer’s perception will be that you care. Pay particular attention to reception areas, restrooms and flooring. Customers rarely look up at the ceiling, but floors are always noticed. Consider skid-resistant, light colored tile that’s easy to clean, durable and nearly maintenance-free.
Attractive landscaping and manicured grass shows you care. Overgrown shrubbery, un-mowed grass and debris are turn-offs.
Care for your employees. They are your frontline for customer contact. Your level of care for them will definitely pass on to how they relate to the customers.
The best managed business I know is our local Home Depot, and there is a specific reason I rate them the best. All the employees are empowered to take the initiative to do whatever is necessary to please the customer. Whenever a problem or customer inconvenience exists, they don’t call the manager. Every employee on the floor is apparently authorized to make adjustments, grant discounts or to take whatever action they deem necessary to resolve the matter immediately and make for a happy customer. This empowerment reflects management’s respect for those on the team and confidence in their abilities. At the customer level, the team members’ authority is reflected in good advice, helpfulness, sincere interest in projects and a solid perception that they care.
There are numerous little things in your process that say, “We care.” Cleaning windshields, using fender covers, setting tire pressures, checking the spare, pet treats, compliments, visual inspections of the underside of vehicles, showing oil levels, making good recommendations for the customer’s benefit and having the morning paper handy are all profound messages that cost nil but emphatically say, “We care.”
I like loud and clear quality control checklists between the upper and lower techs. It gives me confidence and assures me the owner cares enough to ensure everything that should have been done was done, and done correctly.
I like sharp uniforms and good personal grooming of those who work on my car. It says, “They care,” and I want caring people working on my car.
The level of training received is perhaps the most profound expression of caring an owner can convey. I like efficiency. I like to drive up, be greeted, have my order taken, drive into the bay, have the service systematically performed and depart promptly. I don’t mind waiting in line so long as it is moving. As a matter of fact, I like the idea that a lot of others share my choice. But if the cause of the line is because there are only two employees in a three-bay building, my perception is the owner doesn’t care about the business, the economy, the unemployment rate or me. Waiting for an hour to get a 10 minute service inspires thoughts like, “Next time, I’ll just make an appointment at the dealership.” If you choose to be a fast lube, have a sufficient staff to be one. Cutting payroll is a short-term solution to a problematic bottom line but a near certain destroyer of a business’ future. If there is no one to greet me on arrival, you need more staff.
I like visual inspections of my vehicle, especially those items that are a safety issue, such as lights, tires, wipers and suspension. I appreciate it when I’m made aware of repairs or additional services that should be done. But I absolutely detest being sold something when the motivation is only to increase your profit at my expense. The line is drawn on caring. Do you care for me or do you care for you? The difference is easily recognized. Don’t trade short-term profits for long-term trust.
I like to watch anyone work who is really good at what they do, whether it’s an electrician, ditch digger, surgeon or lube tech. Train your crew well enough so they put on an impressive show and give me confidence that I received the services I paid for.
I like friendly people who smile a lot, make me feel welcome and indicate they care for me as well as my car. Since it’s the customer who makes the decision of where to go next time, isn’t it worth the effort to train the crew in the techniques of developing a relationship with the customer, as well as how to change the oil?
Your level of caring can be directly related to your profitability and business success. Care for me like you would your dad, brother or closest friend, and I’ll come back.
JOE HAGGARD writes from a customer’s point of view and is a retired fast lube consultant. He welcomes comments at 352.861.1985 or via email: [email protected]