Auto Service World
Feature   January 1, 2010   by Laurie Izgerean, Curriculum Developer, Durham College

Telephone Skills Training

Knowledge Building:

Those first few seconds you get with a customer over the phone can set you up either for failure or success in the areas of sales and customer service.

To address this important skill set, CARS OnDemand is offering a new training course to jobbers and counterpeople developed by Durham College: Using the Telephone for Success.

This newly minted training course teaches you how to use techniques to greet, gather detailed information, sell, and upsell successfully so that a positive customer service experience is delivered during each and every call.

Our culture is fast-paced and works on an all-access 24/7 timetable. Customers have more choice and more availability of products and services, and they have the ability to conduct business from anywhere at any time. Does your parts department stand apart from all the others when it comes to telephone communication?

Today’s customer makes buying decisions based 10% on product and 90% on service. Most of us grew up on primary face-to-face communication. Today, however, our primary means of communication is anything but face-to-face. In the 21st century we communicate predominantly through cellphones, Blackberrys, emails, and text messages.

Everyone knows that you never get a second chance at a first impression. Consequently, the challenge is to leave a positive first impression within the first few seconds of a call. It is absolutely critical that you do, or they won’t call a second time.

Over the phone, it’s the words you say and how you say them that are the most important. A customer makes a judgment about you and your organization within seconds of answering a call, so make it count.

Eliminate any negative self-talk before you pick up the phone, such as, “Can’t anyone see I’m already busy? Why won’t someone else get the phone for a change?” Remember that answering the phone is not an inconvenience; it’s an integral part of the job. Without customers there is no parts business. Additionally, be prepared with all of the resources you’ll need to handle each call effectively from beginning to end, including catalogues, flyers, promotions, master phone list for transfers, price sheets, supplier information, etc.

Today’s customer wants to feel appreciated and valued, and the most successful organizations have adapted a customer-focused approach, as opposed to the quick-sale philosophy. How do you do that over the telephone? Greet every caller in a positive way–be happy that he’s chosen to pick up the phone to do business with you. Speak clearly, listen with the intent to understand why he’s called, and then ask a series of effective questions to find out how you can be of service.

Anyone can be an order-taker over the phone. When you probe further into a customer inquiry, you’ll learn something about your customers and ultimately how to offer products, alternatives, and additions to their original request.

Here’s an example: A retail customer needs a muffler. You can look it up and sell it to him. That’s the easy part. Or you can find out the reasons he needs the muffler, when he needs it, and how he’s going to pay for it. Learn the customer’s story. What other products might he need to help with his issue? Can you recommend one brand over the other based on customer preference?

Which brings us to the next requisite skill for handling customers effectively over the telephone: product knowledge.

Know your parts, their warranties, their limitations. Know their functions and their benefits. Know your suppliers. Know your industry and the importance of a jobber-shop relationship. Know your competitors. What do they have that you don’t? What are they lacking in inventory and customer service that you can provide?

Once you have a comprehensive understanding about the products and services your organization offers, you can sell with the expertise and confidence of a true consultant, not just an order taker.

The sales process is the same over the telephone as it is in person. You first have to establish a rapport with customers and get to know what they need. Once you’ve determined the right products, it’s time to ask for the order. That’s right, you have to ask. All too often, we present what we have to offer, but we never ask our customers to actually buy what we’re selling.

At the end of a presentation, if a customer says, “okay, thanks,” and hangs up, you’ve lost a sale.

You have to ask for the order. If you’ve done the digging and found out what he needs and why he needs it, ask him to make the purchase. Closing techniques over the phone can be as simple as, “When would you like to pick it up? When would you like this delivered? How will you be paying for this? How many do you need?”

Once in a while, we have to deal with a difficult telephone situation in the form of an upset customer or a complaint. Handle difficult situations with professionalism, not emotion. Respond to a customer’s complaint; don’t react. A reaction makes it personal and can cause further issues. A response is thoughtful, calm, and offers solutions.

Remember, nine times out of 10 a customer is not angry at you; he just wants someone to take care of his problem. Listen to him, offer a no-fault apology, come up with a mutual solution that’s good for both of you, and thank him for his continued business.

The likely result will be positive word-of-mouth advertising and a loyal repeat patron who feels valued by your organization.

For more information on inside sales training, visit CARS OnDemand training at contact CARS at 1-888-224-3834