The Front Lines: How to Ensure That Your Customer Service Person is a Boon to Your Bottom Line
When we discuss the role of office staff or service writer in a truck shop, we often assume that the primary job of this employee is to answer the phone, schedule appointments, prepare repair orders and greet customers. While these tasks are important in any truck repair or parts business, they are not directly profitable.
For this reason office staff and service writers often represent an expensive overhead for your business. To minimize the cost of these employees, they should be trained in profitable sales techniques as well as customer management techniques which inspire long-term client loyalty.
Is Your Office Staff Driving Profits, or Driving Customers Away?
If you view your office staff as only being responsible for the basic duties of an administrator, it’s easy to assume that they also have little impact on your company’s revenue. This is a mistake. A skilled customer service person can significantly increase the income for your company, while a rude or poorly trained customer service person can damage your bottom line and cause customers to go elsewhere.
A well trained customer service person’s skill set should extend far beyond a pleasant manner on the phone and basic administrative knowledge. They should also possess top-notch customer relation skills and know how to gracefully manage a variety of customer care situations, including the occasional unpleasant interactions which inevitably occur in a truck parts or repair shop. When faced with a disgruntled customer, your customer service person needs to know how to represent your company with a sharp eye toward professionalism. This means that he or she will be able to keep their cool during conflict, while also looking for ways to turn an unhappy customer into a loyal client for the long term.
Additionally, a skilled customer service person will be well versed in the fundamentals of sales techniques, and will possess a solid toolkit of skills around up-selling, cross-selling, product and service promotion, overcoming common objections in the sales cycle, and closing a deal to mutual benefit.
With a few basic techniques, your customer service person (and other office staff) can provide an important boost to your company’s income.
Teach Your Front of House Staff to Turn Disgruntled Customers Into Loyal Clients
Customer complaints are inevitable, no matter how great your services or products are. Managing these complaints effectively will often mean the difference between a lost relationship and a long-term loyalty.
When faced with an unsatisfied customer, it’s very easy for a staff member to take the complaint personally and respond with an attitude which further escalates the conflict. Your front of house staff likely feels personally invested in the success of your company (which is a good thing!), and so may respond defensively toward an upset client. While this kind of reaction comes from a good place (wanting to protect the company from liability and criticism), it is counterproductive and will likely lead to the destruction of the customer relationship. It is important, therefore, to discuss this dynamic with your reception staff ahead of time, and create a customer care flow that prevents these kinds of problems before they arise.
It is often the case that, when handled correctly and with care, an unsatisfied customer will turn around and become one of your most loyal clients. This is because a successful resolution of a problem, which ultimately satisfies the customer, is likely to create a sense of respect and admiration for your company’s customer care principles. This, in turn, will keep that customer coming to you for products or services.
On the other hand, a single conflict that is poorly-handled by a staff member will likely destroy the customer relationship, and worse yet, cause that customer to leave bad online reviews or speak negatively about your business to the community. If this happens often enough, the bottom line of your company can suffer irrevocable losses, all because the front of house employee lacked the basic training to manage a disgruntled customer.
The good news is, this outcome can be prevented with just a little preliminary training. To turn an unhappy customer into a loyal client, train your reception staff to use the following steps when faced with complaints and grievances:
Step 1: Adjust your mindset from defensiveness to problem solving.
When faced with an angry client who may be raising their voice or placing blame, the natural response is to defend yourself and the company. Instead, it’s important to take a deep breath, focus, and try to put yourself in the customer’s mindset. Maybe a mistake made by one of your technicians caused this client to lose money when they were unable to use the truck that should have been repaired on time. Perhaps they ordered a part and it did not arrive as promised. Whatever the cause of the complaint, try to look at the situation from the customer’s point of view. Most of the time, when a customer is upset, there’s a reason. Work to understand that reason.
Step 2: Listen attentively.
When a customer is upset, he or she needs to be heard. If they raise their voice or place blame, they are looking to air a grievance. In this situation, it is helpful to respond with open-ended questions with the goal of solving the problem. Try saying things like, “Let’s see how we can solve this problem”, or, “Let’s go over what happened so I can understand why you’re upset.” These responses immediately move both parties into mutual problem-solving mode, and make the aggrieved customer feel understood.
Step 3: Show empathy.
Once the customer has thoroughly voiced their concerns and aired their grievances, respond empathetically to their situation. Start by repeating back to them, in your own words, what you understand their concerns to be. Use objective statements, such as, “What I’m hearing is that you are upset because the truck part you ordered was not delivered on time, which created a problem with your company’s scheduling this week.” This shows the customer that you have been paying attention to their concerns, and ensures that you are both on the same page about the specific problem that needs to be solved.
Step 4: Apologize sincerely.
A sincere apology goes a long way. To apologize in a professional way, try something like, “I understand why you are upset about this. It makes sense. I’m very sorry that we didn’t get the part you ordered to you on time, especially since it caused a disruption to your schedule this week. Let’s work together to come up with a solution.”
Step 5: Find a solution.
Now that the customer’s grievances have been heard, you are confident that you understand the problem, and you’re both on the same page about what happened, it’s time to move into problem solving mode. If you can provide a solution that you think will make the customer happy, present your idea. “I will call the manufacturer right now, and have that part delivered to you on an overnight shipment at our expense. It will be there first thing tomorrow morning.” If the customer resists your solution, or is still not happy, ask them what their ideal solution would look like. You could say, “If that solution doesn’t work for you, tell me what will solve this problem for you. If it’s in my power, I’ll make it happen. If it’s not possible, we’ll work together until we land on a solution that works.” Listen, and settle on a plan.
Step 6: Take action and follow through until the problem is 100% resolved.
Once you and the customer have agreed on a course of action, get it done immediately. Show the customer that their concern is a serious priority for you, and that you will go above and beyond to meet their expectations. Once the solution has been implemented, check back a few days later to make sure that the customer achieved resolution of their problem, as expected.
Step 7: Reflect on what happened.
Conflict with a customer should be viewed as an important source of information about your company. While it’s possible that the problem was a one-time situation that was out of your control, it’s also possible that the problem points toward an underlying issue in the company that needs your attention. Examine customer complaints carefully to determine if there is a greater problem within your business which is likely to cause a repeat of this issue. If you do identify a systemic problem, take care of it right away.
With a bit of training, and some practice using these strategies, conflict and complaint resolution can become a source of pride and relationship-building among your staff, rather than a profit-wrecking headache for your company.
Customer Reception: The Forgotten Sales Force
While we don’t often think of a customer service person as a salesperson, we should.
Consider this: The person at the front desk of your business is typically the first person on your staff to meet a new client. They are the first to answer questions about your products and services, search your inventory, and schedule appointments. They often issue the invoices, and accept the payments at the point of sale. Each of these situations provides a valuable opportunity for a skilled customer service person trained in sales technique to up-sell, offer promotions, and provide solutions which will increase profitability for your business. If your customer service person is not versed in the fundamentals of sales, this opportunity is missed.
To become competent in sales, your reception staff first needs to possess strong product and service knowledge. They should be just as knowledgeable about company offerings as your technicians or management team. A thorough understanding of products and services will not only help your front of house staff to suggest better options to interested customers, but it will also streamline the customer service process across departments in your business.
When a customer service person lacks basic knowledge about your products or services, customer questions will often need to be transferred up the chain of command. While this may get the question answered eventually, it also costs valuable company time. Additionally, it means that an interested customer has to spend time being put on hold, an experience which can send a less-patient customer to your competitors for faster answers.
Action plan: Take sufficient time to make sure that I and other front of house staff possess a thorough understanding of your product inventory and services. Not only will this empower them to better assist your customers, but it will also streamline the customer care process, saving time across departments in your company.
Your front of house staff should also be well versed in the basic sales strategy of ‘discovery’. Basic discovery techniques allow your staff member to determine a customer’s needs immediately, and to match those needs to a solution offered by your company. If your reception staff is trained to conduct a preliminary discovery process while on the phone or during a first encounter with a potential customer, they will be able to share vital information about that customer with other departments. This, in turn, helps to accelerate the sales or diagnostic process, and assists the other departments in providing an ideal solution, service, or product.
Action plan: Instill in your front of house staff an understanding of the importance of discovery with every customer they encounter. Discovery begins with questions for the customer which are meant to help your staff gain a clear understanding of the customer’s situation and goals, as well as identification of their pain points and needs. Once discovered, your reception staff should be equipped to offer tactical suggestions about specific parts or services which will help the customer overcome their problems or reach their goals as quickly as possible.
Your reception staff is perfectly positioned to discuss special promotional deals and company offerings with customers, at the crucial point of sale, as your customer is taking their credit card out of their wallet to pay their bill. A special promotion, offered at the correct moment by a skilled salesperson, can significantly increase income. Similarly, this is the moment that a skilled salesperson would offer an up-sell or cross-sell opportunity, suggesting a related product or service in addition to the one already purchased by the customer.
Action plan: Train your front of house staff to make a habit of up-selling special promotions and sales at the point of sale, or at the point of scheduling a future appointment. An active approach to up-selling special offers, products, and services, can significantly increase buy-in rates and boost income.
By providing some basic training in these sales techniques (and more!), you can empower your front of house staff to take on more responsibility in managing direct customer relations and driving company revenue. When your reception and office staff are better equipped to provide useful answers to common questions, offer experienced suggestions about products or services, and cover some of the preliminary discovery and diagnostics to free up technician time, you will find that company time expenditures are streamlined and profits rise.
Your Secret Weapon to a Profitable Business
By learning and utilizing the basic principles of the sales process, customer relationship management, and complaint resolution, your front of house staff will become a boon to your bottom line. Because office and administrative staff in a truck parts or repair business are often a source of overhead instead of profit, it will be a tremendous benefit to your company to provide the tools and training these employees need in order to become more profitable. When tasked with more than just answering phones and filing paperwork, your front of house staff has the potential to become an integral part of your company’s profit engine.