You Had Me at Hello
Never underestimate the power of communication
by Stephen Coambes
I've worked in customer service my entire life and I've seen first-hand how powerful a good check-in process can be at generating results. Well, at one dealership we received feedback from some customers that the check-in process was just too slow. At the time there wasn't a lot we could do to speed up the process (this was long before today’s technology-based tools), so we decided to hire a greeter.
The gentleman we hired was retired and happy to work for slightly more than minimum wage. He loved people and he loved to talk. His job was to greet every customer, act as a buffer between them and the advisors, and basically ensure that every customer felt valued until an advisor got a chance to come over to them.
Our greeter did his job well, the customers were happy, our CSI scores improved and you'll never guess what happened. This dealership's sales department started selling more cars. Over time we went from 80 units per month to over 200 units per month.
The moral of the story? Never underestimate the power of a simple hello!
Fortunately, today’s technology can speed up the service lane check-in process and even help to improve communications. RFIDs with welcome boards, mobile tablets and texting programs are all designed to improve the customer experience through better communication.
However, when using these communication tools, remember that they were not designed to replace real, face-to-face communication. In today’s society, I feel like communication is a lost art. Have you ever seen a family sitting around a table at a restaurant, all looking at their smartphones and not talking to each other? For some people, basic communication skills are a challenge.
When you onboard a new service employee, you may not think about teaching communication skills. But as you explain your processes and train them how to use the various technologies, it's important to demonstrate the importance of communication through every process.
There are specific ways to communicate that make customers feel valued, reduce frustration, and help boost CSI. Let's review a few basics.
1) Say Hello. Have you ever been seated at a restaurant table only to have waiters and waitresses walk by you without ever acknowledging that you're there? How did that make you feel? When your customers drive into your service lane, it's very important that their presence is immediately acknowledged. It's okay to acknowledge a customer even if you're with another customer. If your service lane is so busy that your employees don't even have time to say hello, then something is seriously wrong. A customer should always be acknowledged immediately and receive personal attention within five minutes.
2) Pay Attention to Your Body Language. Stand straight. Smile. Shake your customers' hands and look them in the eye. When you greet your customer, do it as though you are welcoming them into your home, which in essence you are. Your customers are your guests. When your customer is talking, give them your full attention. If you're looking around, fidgeting, or trying to rush the process, your customers will pick up these cues and it affects the level of their experience.
3) Ask and Listen. Your RO indicates that a customer came in for an oil change. Validate this with the customer but don't forget to ask follow-up questions. "I see you've brought in your car today for an oil change. Are you having any other issues or is everything running smoothly? Last time you were here, we recommended a new air filter. Would you like to get that taken care of?”
When your customer replies, listen to what they say. I mean really listen. You may be eager to try to upsell them, and you may have a word track in front of you that you're going to try. That is all okay, but if you aren't having a real conversation, everything you say sounds rehearsed and the customer will notice.
4) Observe. Observation requires a person to be in the moment and is one of the more challenging aspects of communication. Of course, observe the vehicle closely when you do your vehicle inspection. Also observe the customer and pay attention to their body language. Are they stressed or do they seem in a hurry to get out of there? If so, you may have to explain why each step of the check-in process is to their benefit.
If the customer wants to gripe about something, don't take it personally. Maybe they just feel like griping. Acknowledge them and be sympathetic. If a customer likes to talk, try to give them a few extra minutes of your time.
5) Record. It's important to take the time to write notes for each customer conversation during or immediately after your conversation. There's no way you'll remember a special request after you check in ten more customers. If you forget a special request, the customer will only remember that it was forgotten.
6) Reference. The next time you talk to your customer, whether later that day on the phone or the next time they come into the shop, reference something the customer said in a previous conversation. This lets them know that you were listening and that what they said was important enough that you remembered it.
The best way to teach communication skills is by example. Explain not just the process and the technology, but also how you plan to communicate with the customer. Let the employee observe and then reiterate everything you did. "Did you notice that I looked her in the eye? Did you remember what she said when I asked her about her kids?"
As a new employee goes through the check-in process. watch and offer positive critique. "Next time, don't forget to shake their hand," or "Try to make more eye contact."
This critical skill can and must be learned. Process and technology are both important contributors to service department success, but their powers are magnified when you add the effects of positive communication.