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Departments: First Word

 

  
   

Better and Betterer

Just when you think service can't possibly improve...

by Dirk Dusharme

 

 

I take my Volkswagen Passat to the Chico Volkswagen dealer for service every 5,000 miles. I do this like clockwork. I didn't use to do this like clockwork, but then one morning while flooring it to get around a sluggish commuter, alarms went off, the dash lit up like NORAD at DEFCON 1 and the engine fell out.

After pouring the ground-up remains of my rings and valves from the crankcase, the service manager politely pointed out that I really should change the oil every now and then. They then replaced the engine, under warranty, so I felt a little indebted to them and vowed to only have that dealer service my car.

Fortunately, this didn't turn out to be painful. The service people there are so darn nice it almost makes me feel good about paying for the (apparently) gold-plated VW parts. Over the years, I've gotten so used to great service that I was surprised one day that a simple action by an employee could actually improve it.

Last month, I dropped my car off for service and waited for the courtesy shuttle to pick me up. The shuttle pulled around, I climbed in and was immediately greeted with a handshake. "Hi, my name is Deanna."

OK, maybe I'm a simple guy with low expectations, but this impressed me. This wasn't a salesperson or a service manager or someone who deals with customers all day long. Deanna, like the other shuttle drivers, normally works for the detailing department. The detailers take stints as shuttle drivers as part of their normal duties around the dealership and are not what you would normally classify as front-line (i.e., customer-facing) employees. Although I don't want a grump to drive me to work, I don't expect my shuttle driver to be the Henry Kissinger of Chico VW. Just be nice, get me to work on time and try not to run over anyone along the way. It's not like I would have noticed if she hadn't introduced herself. So why did a handshake make Deanna stand out?

Because it went beyond the normal expectation of service with a smile or an upbeat attitude. Because it was pleasantly unexpected, it set her apart and, by extension, set the dealership apart. On a subliminal level it sent the message that this dealer only hires outstanding people and that it has a culture that creates and supports employees willing to take that extra little step in customer satisfaction. Ironically, this would be true even if she worked for an awful company. Even though she might not think of it this way, her actions elevate the customer's estimation not only of her but of her employer.

We usually think of special customer-centric training only for our front-line employees--sales people, receptionists, clerks and so forth. Going the extra step to ensure that every employee, even those that rarely interact with customers, are customer-centered is what will set your organization apart. It's a common-sense lesson: Every single person in your organization has the power to make or break the customer's perception. From the sales manager to the service writer to the mechanic, salesperson or detailer, their attitudes are what make your customers come back… or not… even if they have to buy your platinum-tipped wiper blades.