Friday, April 19, 2013

Is Your Shop Customer-Friendly?

When was the last time you looked around your shop to see if there are any customer-aggravating items? How about signs that explain your policies to customers? Do they read like they were written by Joseph Stalin? It’s really not necessary to scold your customers when you tell them where to park, make them stay out of the service area, or keep their hands off your tools, although it may seem like you have to sometimes. “No Customers Allowed”  sounds pretty nasty, especially compared to a sign that gets across the same message by reading, “Employees Only, Please.”

You sound a lot more customer friendly (and professional), too, when you explain why you have the rules you have. Add “Insurance Rules” or “OSHA Regulations” to the “Employees Only, Please” sign and you’ve made your policies sound a lot less arbitrary.

When it comes to rules, it’s not a bad idea to review yours every once in a while. Look at things like your hours of operation, availability of merchandise, deposits, and return policies to see if they serve a real purpose beyond irritating your customers. Do you close so early in the day that customers don’t have a chance to pick up something they need after they leave work? If a customer has to take off work, it’s an additional cost to them of doing business with you. The same holds true for when you open—can they drop off an item for repair and still have time to get to their job? Saturday and Sunday hours are customer-friendly, too. And if you want to really do it right, offer to accommodate customers by appointment at other hours when you’re not normally open.

Most customer relationships are built on good communications, of course, which raises a couple of other questions:  Do you call the customer when their job is ready or make them call you to find out if it’s finished? If the work’s not going to be done when you promised, do you call to warn them? It takes a little time and effort on your part, but the customer who gets such a call generally recognizes the thoughtfulness. Besides, it demonstrates that you respect the value of their time and, by proxy, appreciate their business.

While I’m ranting, whatever happened to saying “thank you” to customers? From the almost total absence of that phrase in most businesses these days, you might think it had been put on something like the FCC’s list of forbidden words. Another phrase seems to have replaced it, the one you hear when the cashier at the grocery store hands you your change and receipt and says, “here you go.”  What the heck is that supposed to mean? Even worse, when the customer takes the change, their inclination is to say “thanks,” which sounds as if they are expressing their gratitude to the store! What’s wrong with this picture?

If you want to make your shop truly customer friendly, make it a practice to thank the customer every chance you get. “Thanks for calling,” “thanks for letting us work on your car,” even “thanks for coming in” are the right words to use when dealing with the person who keeps you in business.

These may seem like little, picayunish details when compared to major factors like how well the product works after the customer gets it home, and they are—individually. But when you add them up, which is what happens when the customer comes into your shop time after time, they grow. Add enough aggravations, and the next thing you know, you’ve built that proverbial mountain out of a molehill
Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides and Handbooks, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, and management strategy.

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