A Cure for Poor Customer Service

On 24 July, 2012 in Customer Service by Martin Grunstein

Today I was humiliated by a car salesman.

So, what’s new? It’s probably happened to anyone who’s ever bought a car.

What I learned from my incident is why customer service in Australia is so poor!

And what we can do about it - as consumers and businesspeople.

You see, I asked an outrageous question that triggered off my humiliating experience. This question was so impertinent and so unusual that the salesman was at first dumbfounded and eventually abusive. Not only didn’t the salesman have an answer, he called his manager over and he had no answer either.

What was this infamous question that caused all the trouble?

“I can get this car from a number of dealers. Why should I buy it here?”

“What do you mean?” asked the salesman.

I rephrased the question.

“What’s in it for me to do business with you that has nothing to do with price?”

“I’ve been selling cars since the seventies and nobody has ever asked me that”.

His answers (and his manager’s whom he called over) ranged from “Why wouldn’t you buy from us?” to “We need the money”. This was ridiculous but when they started joking together about what a stupid question I’d asked, it became too much and I walked out.

They were flabbergasted.

The salesman chased me and said he thought I was kidding when I walked out and I told him that if he thought he could have a joke at my expense to my face and then expect to take my money, he was sadly mistaken.

As I left, he told me he knew from the start I was a troublemaker.

I was angry!

But when my anger subsided, it was replaced by insight.

The reason customer service is so poor in this country is twofold.

From the consumer’s point of view, we don’t challenge businesses to give us more than we pay for. The reason that car salesman had never been asked what he did to add value to the sale is that it’s a risk for a customer to ask. The same as it’s a risk to send food back in a restaurant or to complain about bad service in a shop. If you take the risk, you might get humiliated like I did.

As a result, we “learn” not to challenge and complain and sadly, those bad businesses “learn” there is no need to do it any differently.

From, the seller’s point of view, the lesson is not just the obvious one of treating your customers with respect when they do complain. That is important, but what is critical is to ask yourself, or your partner or boss, “what’s in it for a customer to do business with us that has nothing to do with price?”. And tell your customers these reasons up front because they may not ask you for fear of being humiliated.

There are great examples in the Australian marketplace of reasons to do business with different companies that have nothing to do with the price of their products or services. And you don’t have to pay for any of them!

Target tells the world about their unconditional money back guarantee; The St.George Bank will save you the trouble of closing your current bank account by doing it for you if you open one with them; Nissan offer free road service with all their new cars in case anything goes wrong; Muffin Break remind you that their muffins have low salt, low cholesterol and high fibre.

Telling your customers what they get that they don’t pay for (whether they ask you or not) not only shows you are concerned about their needs, it helps shift their focus away from price and onto value.

As a salesperson, it could be the difference between making sales at top dollar and constantly having to price match.

I don’t believe customer service is ever going to be perfect in this country, but, if as consumers, we regularly ask the people we buy goods and services from “what’s in it for me to do business with you that has nothing to do with price?”, two things will happen.

The businesses that have a customer focus and have an answer to that question will have an increasing loyal client base and the businesses that don’t care enough about their customers to be able to answer that question will go broke.

And wouldn’t that be wonderful?

I am less angry now. I hope you and your customers benefit from my experience.

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