Warren Buffett once advised us to “never stop thinking about how to delight your customer.” Not simply to satisfy your customers, but to delight them.
The concepts and ideas that follow are intended to help you grow your average daily car count and to sell more tires this year. But, like all things, these ideas are not for everyone. This is not written for the big box chain or the independent business owner who can’t keep up with the amount of business they currently have. If your bays are full five or six days a week and your average customer has more miles ahead of them than behind them, this is probably not for you. But if you are the type of business owner or store manager who seeks the virtue of continuous improvement and being even more successful this year than last, well, then this just might be for you.
Our New Economy
The stats vary, but according to consulting firm Marketing at Work, most businesses across all industries lose between 10-25% of their customers each year for various reasons. And, if this is true, then we can recognize that excellence is not static. Growing our business requires a dynamic approach. One that recognizes that what got us to this point is unlikely to take us to where we need to go.
Today, we are more connected and interconnected than ever before. And that’s mostly a good thing for consumers – that includes you and me. A rising sea lifts all boats, so goes the popular saying. But, of course, that isn’t entirely true. Because some boats don’t float and the tides of change tend to relegate those to the history books.
The companies, organizations and people who successfully make it across the finish line a decade from now are those who double-down and refocus their attention squarely on their customers.
When our options are seemingly limitless, mediocre just won’t do. So, in this way, we are called upon to be remarkable — literally, worth talking about. You are called upon to be the No. 1 tire and auto service provider in your market. And, in order to do this, customer satisfaction simply isn’t enough. As Warren Buffett says, we must delight our customers.
Today, we’re going to talk about the three C’s of remarkable customer service excellence: Care, Consistency and Convenience. When executed well, the three C’s will improve your car count and help you to sell more tires to more of the customers who you seek to serve.
The First C: Care
The question is simple enough to ask, but certainly not easy to execute: Will you care enough to create a welcoming and comfortable experience for your customers?
At all times and in all ways, you are conveying to your customers that you either care about them and their business or you don’t. You are either present online when they begin their search for you and your competitors, or you are not. When they pick up the phone and call, you either convey to your customer or prospect that you appreciate them and their business, or you do not. Our world is full of gray areas, but this is not usually one of them.
When your customers pull into your parking lot, your building conveys to them the type of business owner you are. When they walk through your front door, how you and your showroom greet them conveys to your customer the experience they are about to have. This is all simple enough to understand, but this is certainly not easy. If this was easy stuff, your competitors would have already done it.
The statistics around this are clear. For the average American small business, roughly 65% of their revenue comes from previous customers, according to customer marketing platform Annex Cloud. And customers do not recommend businesses they don’t trust. Beyond that, retaining just 5% more of your existing customers is linked to improving profitability by up to 25%, according to a Harvard Business School study. In other words, conveying to your customers that you genuinely care about them and their business leads to more referrals for new business, better retention of existing customers and has a tangible and measureable impact on your bottom line. By this logic, can anyone reasonably afford to not care about customers?
But this is where it gets difficult. Because in order to get to where we need to go, we must know where we are today and that requires us to turn a critical eye on ourselves. This is tough to do, but is absolutely critical. Put yourself into your customers’ and prospects’ shoes. Do you really love what you see? Search on Google for your business name. Are you proud of your online reputation? What do your business reviews on Google, Facebook and Yelp convey to your customers and prospects?
Turn a critical eye on your website. Do you like what you see? Is your website continually updated, easy to navigate and easy to use? Is it easy to use on a smart phone and can you book an appointment through your website?
What if you paid a company like Marketplace Insights to mystery-shop you? Or, if you stepped away from the counter and asked one of your good customers to call your business number while you listened in on the conversation? What message are your people sending to your customers and prospects when you’re not around? Are they conveying genuine care, or do they fall short of your expectations when you’re not around?
If you don’t love what you see and hear when evaluating your business from the perspective of your customers, what are you willing to do about it? Because if you don’t care enough to take action and turn a challenge into an opportunity, will anyone do it for you?
The Second C: Consistency
In 1986, Les Schwab wrote a book called, “Pride in Performance: Keep it Going.” About three decades later, that book changed my perspective on serving customers. Les became pretty famous in our industry and one of his core principles for selling tires and serving his customers was that his customers weren’t buying a Goodyear or a Firestone or a Cooper Tire. They were buying a Les Schwab tire. And to industry icon Les Schwab, that distinction made all the difference.
We can either seek to be generic, or we can serve a genre, but we can’t do both simultaneously. In other words, we can either try to be all things to all people or we can define what makes us remarkable and stick to that formula. All of which is to say that we have the freedom to choose our suppliers, our brands and our programs carefully. And we should.
Just because I have access to 105 brands of tires and 35 tire programs doesn’t mean I should try to sell 105 brands of tires and focus my tire sales on three, five or seven tire programs. If one of your objectives for this year is to sell more tires and to do it more profitably, my challenge to you may seem a bit counterintuitive. If you seek to sell more, what are you prepared to do less of?
If you’re in the tire business, pick your partners and do it carefully. Whether you sell 300, 3,000 or 9,000 tires per year, which brands and programs align best with your goals? Where your focus flows, your energy and actions follow. Will 2021 be the year you choose to refocus your tire business on the tire brands, programs and suppliers who are aligned with your goals and best interests? Or, will you allow a remarkable opportunity to pass through your hands?
Once you’ve selected your programs and partners, what about your internal processes? Are your technicians inspecting every tire that comes into the shop? Oftentimes, irregular tire wear is a symptom of mechanical issues. A welcomed byproduct of a solid tire inspection process is the opportunity to sell more necessary mechanical work and maybe even another set of tires.
Ultimately, the second C of remarkable customer service is a firm recognition of what it is we are actually selling. Consistency is conveying to our customers that they are the most important people in our business, and we appreciate them. Consistency is choosing to be remarkable at a few things and not mediocre at everything. Consistency is understanding that we are selling peace of mind and trustworthiness. Consistency is a critical component of remarkable retailers.
The Third C: Convenience
At this point, we understand clearly that in order to improve our average daily car count and sell more tires, we must do at least two things remarkably well: first, we must retain more of our existing customers while encouraging them to come back more often; and second, we must earn new business ourselves and through customer referrals. We also know that it’s about five times more expensive to attract a new customer than to keep an existing customer.
Are you convenient for your customers to find and do business with before, during and after the sale? This is simple but not necessarily easy. This means being where your customers and prospects are when they begin their search process. This means having a great website that works for your customers and allows them to schedule an appointment online and maybe even chat with you if they don’t feel like picking up the phone. This means warmly welcoming them when they walk through your front door and recognizing that you aren’t simply selling tie rod ends and tires. We’re really in the business of selling peace of mind.
As another tire industry icon, Paul Zurcher, once said: we’re in the business of taking care of people, but we just happen to sell tires.
In the sage words of Warren Buffett, we must delight our customers. The good news is that the research around this is pretty clear. After an experience is over, customers tend to remember two things more clearly than the rest. Long after your customers have left, they tend to remember the single highest or lowest point of their experience and also how you made them feel at the very end of the experience.
Your technicians either have the right inspection process in place or they don’t. Your service advisor either took the time to kindly explain to your customer what’s wrong with their vehicle – which work should be done right away vs. which work can be done later – or they didn’t. Ultimately, you’ll either convey that your business is worthy of your customers’ trust or it isn’t.
Remarkable retailers would also do well to think about that final customer “touch point.” Remember, we’re talking about how you and your business can be more convenient for your customers to do business with. Customers today value convenience more than ever before and that includes payment options. If you currently accept cash payments only, could you choose to accept credit cards? What about cashless payment options like Google Pay, Apple Pay, PayPal or Cash App?
I’m well aware of the benefits of accepting cash only. I understand credit card fees better than I care to admit. Limiting payment options is good for you. But, remember, we’re talking about being more convenient for your customers to do business with. We’re talking about removing friction in the payment process and leaving your customers feeling good about you, your business and how you made them feel. In other words, delighting your customers.
Turn Words into Work
The three C’s of remarkable customer service are undoubtedly challenging. But, an indicator of a genuinely remarkable business owner or manager is what you choose to do with these challenges. Will you allow them to defeat you or will you translate a challenge into an opportunity? Will these challenges create just enough friction to prevent the continuous improvement that you seek, or will this be just enough fuel to create the change you need?
To borrow another one from the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
What will you do differently to improve your business this year? The choice is yours and yours alone. The three C’s of customer service excellence can help you to keep more of your existing customers, earn new business, sell more tires and grow your bottom line.
Opportunity is knocking. The only question is whether or not you will choose to answer. I hope you do because we need you.