Building Customer Relationships

April 1, 2013
Don’t dismiss annoying interruptions from customers; they could be the start of a profitable relationship.

How many times has someone called your shop and asked, “How much to fix a window?”

If you’re like me, you find those calls to be very frustrating for many reasons. First, it’s impossible to give a simple answer because the answer is always “it depends.” It depends on which window it is and what part of that window is broken. Is it a windshield, back glass or door glass? Those are all very different answers. Second, it depends on the car. What is the year, make, and model? And third, I would really like to see the damage in person before committing to anything over the phone.

So last week I got a call like that and what dawned on me was that even though it seemed like a waste of time to even engage it, perhaps this is just a part of customer service. In other words, if it was simple or if they could do it themselves, I would be out of job. So I tried to take a different approach and put myself in their shoes. They were looking for an economical solution, so I needed to call around and see if there were any alternatives outside the most expensive brand-new part to offer them. I had to take time to try to understand what they needed by asking several follow-up questions. 

It felt time consuming and I knew that at best it was only going to be a couple-hundred-dollar job but it gave me the opportunity to be of service and to develop a relationship with a potential customer who may need more than this service at some point, and certainly someone who knew others who would need a body shop in the future.

You have probably heard proverbial sayings like “it’s more blessed to give than receive” and “you reap what you sow.” Eastern religions call it karma. Movies have been made about “paying it forward.” The largest networking organization in the world, Business Networking International, is built around the philosophy of “givers gain.” However it is framed, we all know instinctively and from years of being taught these popular concepts that the only way to get ahead in life is by helping others. And oftentimes this will feel like an interruption—the annoying phone call or the customer who is just price shopping by calling around. In those moments we have a choice. We can treat them like an annoying interruption or do our absolute best to help them, to be of service and launch a relationship that could end up being profitable if not this time around then at some point in the future.  

Here are three things you can do to up your customer service game immediately:

Go the extra mile. Is there a scratch you could easily buff? Can you stay a few minutes late to write an estimate? Would you be willing to offer someone a mobile estimate or a ride to your shop? If you can surprise your customers with generosity, you will create a deep, loyal bond that will linger long in their mind. 

Balance professionalism with warmth. If you are too professional, you run the risk of coming across too stiff and formal. But if you go too far the other way and offer all your customers hugs or share a lot of personal information about yourself, you make them uncomfortable. The best thing you can do is to keep the focus on them by letting them talk. Also, a simple handshake is plenty of contact. Hugs when you first meet someone are just plain creepy.

Put yourself in the customers’ shoes. You never know what struggles they may have or how embarrassed they are that they wrecked their car. As Guy Kawasaki says in his recent book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions, “People deserve a break. The stressed and unorganized person who doesn’t have the same priorities as you may be dealing with an autistic child, abusive spouse, fading parents, or cancer. Don’t judge people until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Give them a break instead.”