Feature October 1, 2012 by
Jim Anderton, Technical Editor
Why Customer Service Stinks
Ever wonder why, when you shop or need an answer to a question, you can’t get good customer service? Strangely, in this highly competitive retailing environment, a serious lack of customer care not only continues, but appears (if consumer...
Ever wonder why, when you shop or need an answer to a question, you can’t get good customer service? Strangely, in this highly competitive retailing environment, a serious lack of customer care not only continues, but appears (if consumer surveys are right) to be growing. Why? Here are my theories about this nationwide problem:
Business owners don’t understand the difference between ownership and employment. Anyone who has spent a lifetime and taken serious financial risk to launch and grow a business has a major incentive to keep customers happy. Paid staff has a risk that’s purely proportional to their stake in the enterprise…which is substantially lower. A customer-facing employee who isn’t looking at the books each month can’t and won’t make the correlation between taking care of customers and the bottom line. This isn’t a criticism, it is human nature. To fix this, there would have to be an incentive system for great customer service, which is rarely seen in this or any other retail business.
Business owners put the wrong people in front of customers. I’ve known and worked with outstanding technicians, men with the hands of surgeons and the minds of physicists, who also couldn’t complete a sentence without a brace of four-letter words. These techs are an asset to any shop, but only if they’re working on vehicles or supervising the operation, not working with customers. Can’t afford a dedicated service writer? Then as shop owner, you’d better be prepared to run interference for Dr. Profanity because he (I haven’t worked with women techs, so I’ll reserve judgment on gender differences) will eventually let an “F-bomb” slip, which won’t work well with a major segment of your clientele. It’s the same story with gruff or unpleasant personalities, or super geeks who can’t explain what’s wrong in simple terms. If an employee can’t communicate effectively with a customer, they shouldn’t be dealing with them directly.
Owners don’t give employees the tools they need to communicate effectively. Automotive service is a journeyman trade in this country; if you want to work, you bring your own tools. The same is true of the skills needed for effective customer service. To do it well, a service writer or tech needs customer service tools, training that they won’t get in their apprenticeship program. The owner must fill this training gap, but too many don’t or won’t.
It’s a thankless job. The vast majority of technicians enter the trade because they love the challenge of diagnosing and working with vehicles. Very few do so because they love working with customers more than they enjoy working on their cars. I’ve yet to meet a tech or service writer who enjoys spending eight or nine hours a day telling people that their repair will take longer and cost more than they expected. I’ve often thought that selling chocolate or women’s shoes must be the opposite; people have reason to smile when they leave the building. Not so auto repair. There are a few service writers who love their work, but they’re like diamonds: damned hard to find and usually the result of a great deal of shaping and polishing.
The difficulty in finding the right people for critical customer service positions isn’t unique to the vehicle service industry: almost everyone can recount several recent poor customer service experiences, across every segment from food service to government, so it’s a widespread problem. In our industry however, it can make the difference between business success and failure. Winning shops know this…too many don’t.