2013 Jobber News Counterperson of the Year
Customers say Alain Jacques’ natural penchant for outstanding customer service and extensive product knowledge is a win-win for all. Jacques’ actions, they say, often speak louder than his words. Described by co-workers and customers alike as soft-spoken and modest, Jacques is well known for his keen diagnostic skills, and his advice is well respected by Nordiques Inc. of Quebec City’s loyal following of local customers and associates.
Jacques started out in the automotive industry as a technician before joining Nordiques Inc. nearly 20 years ago. After a short stint as a mechanic, he decided to apply for the position of counterperson at Nordiques Inc., and hasn’t looked back.
Nordiques Inc. is located in an area of Quebec City that serves a unique customer base that is about 85% DIYers. “We never know who is going to call or walk in the door, which means we have to prove ourselves with every customer,” explains Jacques.
Since joining the company, just days after getting married, Jacques quickly discovered how much he enjoyed dealing with customers and helping them to get the right parts for the job. He found his previous training as an automotive mechanic proved to be a valuable asset when dealing with DIYers, who often had questions about the parts they needed or how to perform certain repairs.
Owner Denis Berube says that the retail environment in which the firm operates really puts pressure on his counter staff to be well informed. “When you’re dealing with the garage, the technician will know the name of the part he’s looking for, but may have no idea what car he’s working on. In contrast, the retail customer knows the car he has, and that’s about it. Our counter staff need to have the skills to work with both types of customers to help them determine the parts they require to get the job done,” he explains.
“Alain is very knowledgeable and very fast, and he always goes that extra mile when you are having one of those days,” explains Jeff Dery of Atelier de Mechanic Jean-Francois Dery. “When I describe a problem to him, he quickly knows what I am talking about and he always ensures that I get the correct parts for the job every time. He is very good at diagnosing things over the phone, and is also very fast at checking for parts or specific brands online for me. He has been a real asset to my business. I always dial Alain’s extension when I call in because I know I will get the best service.”
Jacques often finds himself going outside to look at a customer’s car to determine what part they need, whether it’s a headlight or a wiper blade or something else. More often than not, once they have purchased the item, Jacques is back outside installing it for them.
Jacques also performs the role of purchasing assistant, ensuring that customers’ wants from today are on the shelf in the future. In this role, he quickly realized that if he wanted to communicate with vendors he was going to have to improve his English, which he did on his own time. “My English is not perfect but I do my best,” he says modestly.
“I speak with Alain on a daily basis, dealing with RGAs (Return Goods Authorizations) and short orders,” says Nathalie Majeau of Modern Sales Co-op’s Distribution Centre in Barrie, Ontario. “For me, working with him is a pleasure every day. He is very good at what he does, and is very knowledgeable and just a pleasure to deal with. In fact, when I have car issues, I always call Alain because I know he can help me.”
“His dedication is remarkable,” adds Berube. “Even when he is not well, Alain will still show up for work. And he always shows up a half hour before we open.”
According to Berube, the DIY market tends to slow down a fair bit in winter, and Quebec winters can be long. So for almost 30 years now, Nordiques Inc. has carried an extensive line of woodworking equipment to help offset this slow period. Turns out many automotive DIYers are also woodworkers during the winter months. “We carry everything from a screwdriver to a $20,000 table saw,” says Berube. Working out of a 13,000 sq.ft. store with 3,000 sq.ft. devoted to showroom, sales of woodworking equipment amounts to about 25% of the location’s annual revenue.
In 2010, Berube decided to move his operation onto the Epicor Eagle system to further increase sales, streamline inventory, and improve customer service. This move proved to be quite challenging to the operation, he says, but the end result has been well worth the initial hurdles.
“We found that the guys would always use the same shortcuts to get to the pages they needed, so it soon became apparent to us that it didn’t really matter what language the program was in once they knew how the system worked,” adds Berube. “We got through it and now, three years later, looking back at where we were compared to where we are now, we wouldn’t go back for anything.”
“When I started here we had the paper books, and every year there was a new set,” Jacques recalls. “Now, with the computer tools we have, I can get more accurate information in less time and can do more research much more quickly. Many customers don’t know what parts they really need, so I often have to be able to ask the right questions to help them determine what their needs really are. This means they need to be able to trust me that I am recommending the correct part or parts for the job. Once I have their trust, I have a loyal, repeat customer.”
Nordiques Inc. currently operates four websites: one specifically for the woodworking market, the second for general automotive parts, the third a transitional electronic catalogue for retail customers, and the fourth a catalogue site geared towards technicians.
“We are currently working with Epicor and SiteAlive to consolidate these four sites into one to further streamline our operations and improve online sales,” adds Berube.
And he says that Alain has been a true asset to him throughout all these changes. “He is my right arm,” says Berube. “When I am not here, he is in charge. Alain has developed a great deal of trust and rapport with many of our clients over the years and for those customers, price is not as important to them as the quality of the customer service they know they will get from him.”
Customers know Jacques will not sell them something they do not need. This approach to customer service goes a long way in building customer trust and loyalty. A typical example was a customer who came in and wanted to replace all the coil packs on his car. Jacques asked if he was sure he needed all of them; the customer replied he didn’t want to take any chances. Jacques explained to the customer what he needed to do to determine which coil pack was gone, and ended up selling him just the one coil pack that he actually needed.
“This type of exchange with customers is a regular thing with Alain. Customer service is what brings people back, and his technician background really comes in handy when helping a customer to determine what they actually need to get the job done,” explains Berube. “Our customers know that Alain will give them top service and give them what they need at the price they need to pay. In retail, you have to make sure you don’t work on price only. Any day of the week you can always find a cheaper price. Quality of service is the key to repeat sales.”
“I have been serving Nordiques Inc. and 300 other jobber stores for over 20 years and Alain is one of the best countermen around,” says Denis Turcotte of Specialty Sales and Marketing. “As the guy with the most experience, he is the team leader there and the new staff know they can count on him for help whenever they need it.”
“Alain has a very friendly personality and is always ready to jump in and help customers and co-workers alike. They are in a very unique market with so much retail business, and they have a very unique team that works very well with this customer base,” adds Turcotte.
“I’ve been working here two years now as a cashier and Alain has been such a pleasure to work with. He has such a happy, easygoing nature and is so knowledgeable about the business and he always helps out our junior staff,” adds colleague Rachel Rondeau. “Alain has a vast knowledge of parts that goes back to the days of the paper catalogues, and this is often a big help to our new, younger staff that are only familiar with the computer catalogue format and have difficulty from time to time finding a unique part.”
Nordiques’ philosophy is that you may not remember how much you paid for it, but you will remember if the counter staff went the extra mile and did a little bit more for you. Even on returns, staff are instructed not to argue with a customer.
“If you say no to a customer for any reason, you will lose that customer. When a customer comes back unsatisfied or angry about something, we want them to leave with a smile. My staff have been trained to do what is necessary to satisfy the customer,” adds Berube. “Just like we expect our suppliers to take care of us, in turn, that’s exactly what our customers expect as well. Alain is a great ambassador of customer service for our store.”
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