Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Copy This Practice

Earlier this month, my wife went out of town for a couple of weeks to help her company with a project in Denver.  Before she left, she asked if I would bring her car in to have some service done, to which I agreed, of course. 

As I called Teton Motors, our local GM dealer, to schedule an appointment, it occurred to me that the car would be listed under my wife's name.  When I arrived at the dealer a few days later, I let the gentleman behind the service desk know that I was dropping the car off for my wife, offering her name to help him easily locate the file in the computer.  Sure enough, he found it right away.
"My name is Bruce," he said extending his hand over the counter to shake.  "Please let me know your name, and I will add it to the records for this vehicle."
Immediately, I was impressed.  This gesture seems simple enough, but believe me, it is more complex than you may imagine.  Bruce identified an opportunity to use a conversation to connect with one of his customers, and he executed it very well.  Let me explain.

Most people in the same situation would probably have approached this interaction with only one goal: to provide service.  "What is your name?" they might say. "I'll add it to the records."  Sure enough, this would have achieved the goal of providing service.  My name would be added to the record, but little would have been done to develop a relationship with a client.  And it is the ability to develop relationships that encourages customer loyalty and referral business.  I would have walked away from that interaction without any impression whatsoever.

Whether Bruce realized it or not (and I presume that he did), his conversational interaction with me was effective for three reasons:

1.  He Initiated A CONVERSATION - By offering his name first, he put me at ease.  This was an introduction, not an inquisition.  He extended his hand, which welcomed me.  These two gestures were offered prior to asking me for information.  Leading with questions can seem invasive, and may make a customer suspicious.

2.  He was POLITE - The simple addition of the word "please" made me feel as though Bruce was asking for my help.  When questions are asked directly, they sometimes come off as demands, rather than requests.  Again, this can throw up a red flag to a skeptical customer.

3.  He explained VALUE - I knew immediately why this request from Bruce would be helpful to both of us.  In my contrasting example above, the service technician also attempts to build value, but since he did nothing to engage the customer and develop a conversation, the explanation did not have the same effect.

This is SO simple that it makes me crazy that more people don't practice this type of interaction more often.  I believe that it all comes down to training.  Identifying opportunities to converse with customers is not an intuitive practice for most people.   Traditional guest service training focuses on execution and follow-through (i.e. how can I help the customer).  Training employees to develop relationships is different.  It is sales.  Relationships are made up entirely by the conversations that you have with your customers.  Coaching your employees on fundamental sales practices will go a long way to encouraging repeat and referral business.

Identifying opportunities to engage customers in conversation is only the first step in relationship development.  You must also train your employees how to keep the conversation going.  When I returned to Teton Motors to pick up my wife's car, Bruce handed me the keys and said "tell Laura we said hello."  To which I agreed, of course.


  1. Not sure I agree. Often I feel the cookie cutter approach "my name is ___ how can I help you" just wastes time. I prefer direct questioning to get on with the interaction as fast as possible and get out of there. Whenever I hear "programmed friendliness" I know it. In almost all transactions, from the mundane to high end meetings, I prefer as many questions as possible and as little formality as possible.

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