It’s Your Business
- Subject: Listening to your customer
- Essential Reading: Shop Owner, Center Manager
- Author: Terry Greenhut, Transmission Digest Business Editor
Humans and most animals are endowed with two ears and only one mouth. Although some people can talk out of both sides of their mouths at the same time, the proper ratio for salespeople, negotiators and most others in business or the professions is 2-1 – listening twice as much as we speak. It only makes sense; if we listen more and talk less we can take in valuable information that we can use to get the other party to do what we need. If we’re too busy trying to get our points across instead of listening to theirs we will miss the clues that could give us the outcome we want.
Every sentence is a clue. When customers make comments they are opening doors and windows for us to go through. They might mention something about the car – what it has been costing them, how valuable it is to them, how long they are planning to keep it or how much they think they would be willing to put into it. They might open up to you about their financial or family situation. Whatever they tell you is a clue. At some point when you have enough clues you can put them all together and offer a solution that will provide the proper outcome for all concerned.
When we talk instead of listen, often not-too-bright things come out of our mouths. Case in point: The other day while monitoring a service adviser I heard him tell a customer a price and immediately follow it up in the same breath with, “If you think that’s too much I’ll find a way to do it cheaper.” The customer hadn’t said no to the asking price and never indicated in any way that he wouldn’t pay it. If the service adviser had only stopped talking after he quoted the price and waited for the customer to respond he might have sold the job at full price, but he didn’t.
Why did his mouth keep going long after his brain stopped transmitting? It could be lack of training or not understanding why it is so important to the bottom line to get the price you’ve already figured out is profitable. More than likely though, it’s fear; the fear of losing the job for price.
A growing number of customers, of late, have been doing quite a job of beating up our industry’s service advisers over price, just as they have when they deal with other businesses with which they believe they have some negotiating room. They are trying to save money wherever they think they can control spending because there are too many costs they can’t control. Gasoline, property taxes and food lead the list of costs that have dramatically increased and can’t be controlled by individuals, so they look to save in other areas.
We cannot allow their desire to save to put us in a position in which we will lose. We can’t give our work away when our costs are increasing every day. Therefore, it is critical that we sell every job we can and at profitable prices. To do that we need to concentrate more on the sale that’s directly in front of us. All our attention needs to be focused on exactly what that customer is saying. If we can see the customer, even better. Communication has a lot to do with what we can see on the other person’s face and their body language. We can’t see any of that on the telephone. Telephone conversations, in fact, are usually very short and to the point, not leaving a whole lot of time for reading the other person to get a good feel for what they are thinking. Face-to-face encounters take more time. They give us the chance to make more small talk, ask more questions and focus more on their answers while reading their expressions and movements.
Often in our haste to sell a job we think that the quicker we get rid of the customer – by playing capture the car and send him or her somewhere else – the better our chance of making the sale. Although it’s true that there is usually a psychological advantage to separating the customer from the car, be careful not to do it too quickly. Be sure to get all the information you need and show the value in doing business with you before you try to take the vehicle away; otherwise, they might believe you are rushing them into a sale, and it could backfire on you. If the customer is at the shop, keep him or her there until everyone is comfortable with each other. Find out their background, if you can, and tell them as much about yours as you think will benefit the sale. Don’t talk too much about yourself, though. You don’t want to sound as though you’re bragging about your own personal abilities or those of the shop. Ask questions that get them to open up about their situation, then plug your own appropriate stories into the conversation. Tell them about others you have helped who were in the same situation as they are or a worse one.
You have to build a high level of trust before separating the customer from the car, because when you finally call back with the diagnosis and the price, you want it to be a foregone conclusion that they will be going ahead with the repairs or services. You don’t want to have to try to establish that trust at the same time you are quoting a price. If you haven’t already gained their trust by that time, any price you quote will be more than they want to pay you; then the battle begins.
Want to get people talking about their financial situation? It’s easy; just mention the fact that gasoline has gone up by 75 cents a gallon in the past few months and wait for the reaction. You’ll hear some folks get downright emotional about it. That can lead into other financial issues that you can steer around to them and their car.
There seem to be two schools of thought about dealing with new customers. One states that you go very easy on them the first time they come in to avoid scaring them off by making them think you are trying to sell them too much. In doing that, you don’t sell them everything at once, even if they need it. You put faith in the idea that they will like you and come back if you ease them into doing business with you. In those circumstances service advisers often don’t tell customers about everything they have found for fear of scaring them away. The danger involved with that is that the customer may not come back for more, so if you sell only a small job as bait you may never get the bigger job you were looking for. Then too, if you don’t report everything they need and they break down or worse, you are the bad guy and you lose them forever.
Another school of thought is that you do a full inspection of the vehicle and sell them everything at the same time – repairs and services. You take your best shot and either totally get them or completely lose them. The problem with that, other than the obvious ones, is that of buyer’s remorse. After they’ve said yes or even after the work is done and paid for they start to feel as though they’ve been taken for a ride. In that instance, yes, you’ve made your big sale but you haven’t made a customer. The likelihood is they won’t be back or give you a good recommendation.
Actually, there’s a third school, and that’s where the solution lies. In that one you inspect to find everything they need, you question to learn how they feel about the car and about putting a fair amount of money into it, and then you make recommendations based on the answers. You report everything so they can never say they weren’t told; you make it all available to them if they are ready to buy it, but you don’t try to shove it all down their throats. They might tell you to go ahead and do it all. They might say they can’t afford it all right now, in which case you would prioritize, suggesting with urgency that critical and safety-related repairs be done now but that other service-related items be postponed. That way you are selling the bulk of the important work, they don’t feel as though you are trying to sell them everything, and you are setting them up for future services.
The third scenario works well. It allows you to sell the big, profitable work while keeping the customer as a regular. One key element, though: If there are items left on the list, do everything you can to set up an appointment for their next visit when they come to pick up the car and before they leave the shop. That is when they are most focused on the car and the remainder of the necessary repairs and services. You may think you can get them back in later with service reminders and phone calls, but once they leave, all of life’s other challenges kick in and the car drops down on their priority list. Get the appointment for next month, then call to confirm it a week before. People generally keep the appointments they make; it’s a matter of commitment.
Careful listening and speaking only after formulating your best answer will help make you the best auto-service salesperson you can be.
Terry Greenhut, Transmission Digest Business Editor. Visit www.TerryGreenhut.com.