Recently, I was staying in a well-known chain hotel north of Atlanta, working in my room at about 4 p.m. Suddenly there was a banging sound, like someone repetitively whacking a tile floor above. I listened for about 15 minutes and finally it got on my nerves. I phoned the front desk to ask about changing rooms, or borrowing a gun to shoot through the ceiling.
Me: “Hi, this is Ed in Room 521. I checked in a while ago today, and now I’m hearing a persistent loud banging noise. It’s quite annoying and I would like to change rooms please.”
Cold Front Desk Attendant with absolutely no smile in her voice: “Won’t do no good (sir). The bathrooms are being remodeled on every floor so the noise is everywhere.”
Me: “Well, how long is this noise going to continue?”
Front Desk Attendant with still absolutely no smile in her voice: “Till 10 p.m. (Pause and another ill-disposed background voice) No, I have been corrected, only till 9 tonight, so that is better.”
Me: “Are you kidding?” I am conducting training in this hotel the next day, staying here for three nights. What the… !
As it turns out, the banging stopped around 5 p.m. or so, and I was able to deal with it. What happened here from a customer-handling standpoint? No apology, no sympathy, no empathy and no love at all. It was more of a frozen take it or leave it transaction, and it made me wonder if this woman had ever been to any kind of a customer service school, or a wedding.
Reputation is your daddy
Considering that the front line people are the greatest influencers of customer retention (or not), and the molders of the company’s reputation, the selection, expectation and subsequent training of these individuals is essential to ongoing profitability. Especially in today’s consumer-driven society of ultra-high expectations (say do me and do me good).
Who are the front line people of any dealership? Service advisors transact with more customers in one day than the rest of the dealership does in a week. As the clock turns, these people also experience more stress in one day than the entire dealership does in a week too. If you question my proposition, I dare you to try out this heady position for yourself – come on don’t be a wimp. No wonder one guy called himself a “circus” advisor in my class.
So, who to hire? How about Happy Joe Smiley, my favorite candidate? (Note: Don’t hire his cousin, Snappy Jo Snarky, she works for the aforementioned hotel anyway.) Happy Joe is the kind of front line person I prefer – someone who inherited a constant smile, happy attitude and positive approach to common negative issues, probably inherited from a combo of Mommy and Daddy’s tiny genes and the precious childhood environment.
Teach me tacky
I often wondered how effective the mostly manufacturer-sponsored “Interpersonal Skills” classes were. Did Bernie actually stop spitting on other employees (to be fair, he had a big split between his two front teeth), and did Martha stop biting her lower, then upper, lip every time a customer asked a question – just before she snapped-ho the answer? Probably not has been my experience, but a nice try nevertheless. My friend who manages hotels says that his group hires the “service” within employees, they don’t teach them the concept, and they don’t beat it in to them either. “Either they have it or they don’t. The key for us is to determine that when we interview and verbally test. If we can’t make ‘em cry, then we feel we might have a keeper.” Tough crowd.
I did run across some noteworthy customer-service related material on the Internet. A Ms. JoAnna Brandi, who states she is a “happiness” (good start) coach (www.CustomerCareCoach.com), outlined some solid fundamentals, which you can use to maybe sway forward your current herd of reputation makers.
1. You chose this job (don’t say dumb…here)
She has a good point here. If you don’t truly enjoy being a service advisor, another name for a professional car caregiver, then do something else. Employees who relish in what they are doing are very apparent, and they make a powerful statement about the company overall. Do you want to be best known for hiring unhappy employees?
2. Be proud of what you do
I feel this is the largest slice of the customer service pastry. Like the Marines, dealers need a few good men and women who are proud to wear the uniform – once a service advisor, always a service advisor. Semper something …. (well, I was in the Army ROTC).
3. You have emotional genius
This revolves the emotional intelligence to make good emotional decisions. My take is to hire people who manage their emotions, not visa versa. I would never hire someone who brought a claw hammer and/or a box of tissue to an interview for example.
4. The customer is not always right
Please don’t tell this secret to the general manager. Frankly, this is a great point, missed by those who cannot manage the many emotions that get dumped on them every day. As Ms. Brandi points out, sometimes they are wrong, mean, nasty or angry. An innate ability to deal effectively with each “patient,” (my approach) is who I want on my team. Some just need meds.
5. You work in the performing Arts
My teachings here have revolved around sports. As a paying spectator (the customer), they expect to see professionals at work. If they call the first baseman an idiot, they don’t expect him to jump into the stands and beat them to a pulp (which most first baseman could do single handily). They expect them to not react, but rather to get motivated to do a better job. I guess it’s a kind of negative reinforcement mojo.
6. You have a stressful job but the amount of stress you take home is up to you
This reminds me of the answer I got from a Dallas, Texas service manager when I asked him how far he lived from his dealership. “Four beers,” he casually replied. Most managers don’t coach service advisors about the toll of stress, if they even notice it at all. Interestingly, listening is the primary skill needed to help fix stress, not that difficult to master for most.
7. You have the opportunity to make the world a better place everyday
Ms. Brandi makes the point that emotions are contagious, but then again so is malaria. The point is that positive people create more positive customers, influenced by the positive spirit of the employee. To my thinking, aggressively positive service advisors also influence technicians, many of whom are as emotional as a Disney cartoon on steroids, over to the plus side.
Clean the surface
Automotive service advisors who merely go through the motions of managing transactions are a form of quiet poison to the business – let’s call them “surface advisors.” I thought “the devil” was just too strong. Professional advisors help glue the customer to the business, both in service and sales – yes they are that important! Perhaps it’s time to take a microscopic look at your staff. Some may be better off in a different position in the organization where they would wield less effect on customer retention. They would be happier, as they can be, and best of all, so would you – and you know what they say about a happy service manager – four beers.