A Blueprint for Getting and Keeping Customers (Hint: Make it Ridiculously Easy)

This article was originally published on the FCR blog on April 19, 2019. Click here to read the original post.

In November of 2017 I aired out my grievances about a terrible tire buying experience and concluded the post by saying that I’d follow up after my next experience. As it so happens, I (thankfully) haven’t had to purchase tires for a while but the time finally arrived recently for my other vehicle. True to my word, I left the previous company in the dust and headed over to Les Schwab, a mainstay here in the Pacific Northwest that’s reknowned for their customer service.

In my previous article I laid out my Blueprint for Losing Customers and can confidently say that in most cases it should work like a charm — if losing customers is your goal. For the rest of us, let’s look at what the fine folks at Les Schwab did right — and there were several things. As it turns out, they laid out a terrific blueprint for getting and keeping customers.

Minimize Wait Time

Upon entering the store, there was only one person ahead of me in line and they were being helped. A lady who appeared to be wearing a number of different hats in the office stood up from her desk and approached me with a smile. While I didn’t ask, it gave me the impression that the store employees were focused on quickly responding to any customers who enter. Have you ever stood in a long line at a store where only one person behind the counter was actually helping customers, while there were multiple other people doing who-knows-what behind the counter, making every effort not to directly help customers?

There are two lessons here. First, don’t make your customers wait excessively. And second, there will be times when your frontline staff can’t shoulder the load on their own without excessive wait times. One way to mitigate that might be to empower others to help.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that if you’re inundated with long wait times, a good outsourcing partner won’t just throw more bodies at the problem. They will holistically help you optimize your staffing and help your entire operation run more smoothly.

Make a Connection

It’s so simple but my first impression when I was helped was the smile and the “Welcome! How can I help you?” said with a friendly tone of voice. That initial greeting sets the tone for the rest of the interaction. Later on the sales person made a comment about the jacket I was wearing. It was a souvenir from a past marathon I’d run in Carlsbad, California and he talked about that city. I thought, “Wow, this guy is good!”

I implore you to recall a poor customer service experience where the person serving you actually showed some interest in you as a person. It probably doesn’t exist. An empathetic customer service professional who personalizes the interaction and makes a connection with the customer can often soften even the most difficult of issues.

Share your Expertise.

I once wrote an article about another tire shop where the sales person presented me with ten different options and asked me to choose without helping me understand the differences between the models. I ended up walking out of the store and going somewhere else. Contrast that with my Les Schwab experience where the sales person presented me with a handful of options and addressed the range of prices along with key features — like how the tires would perform in rainy conditions. He helped me choose tires with the right features that fit within my budget.

A huge reason customers contact support is because they aren’t the expert and want to hear from an expert. In my poor tire buying experience in 2017, the sales person simply said, “We don’t have any tires for your vehicle. You need to go order online. Next customer.” Apparently helping me select tires wasn’t his job. The funny thing was that they appeared to have as many tires in stock as Les Schwab did. Regardless, I as the customer was ready to hand him my money and he essentially communicated to me that he didn’t want it. That’s a serious missed opportunity.

Solve the Problem Already

In that experience I just mentioned, I actually did go home and order tires online and then had to wait a week before I could have them installed. In sharp contrast, Les Schwab had five different types of tires in stock for my vehicle and had them installed within one hour. It’s important to note that once the car is in the garage, I’m already committed as a customer. There’s no turning back. But by taking care of me in an hour, Les Schwab ensured they’ll get my repeat business.

Make the Wait Pleasant

My son was with me on this occasion and was delighted by the free popcorn and the activities that were available for kids while we waited. I was delighted by the abundance of available seating and the free WiFi. Clearly Les Schwab understands that customers will be spending some amount of time waiting and has worked to make it a pleasant experience.

Keep Your Promises

Les Schwab promised that they’d call me when my car was ready and they did. Sounds simple enough, right? Compare that with the other company who never called me and also never answered their phone. It’s one thing to set an accurate expectation and it’s another to meet or exceed it. If you don’t meet or exceed expectations there will be problems.

If you’re keeping track, my tire buying experience from start to finish in 2017 took approximately a week with multiple points of aggravation. My experience with Les Schwab took a little over an hour. While I may have paid slightly more at Les Schwab, they’ve obviously taken that small premium and ensured that I get a better experience. I’d say it was well worth it.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating. When you make it as easy as possible for customers to do business with you, they’ll not only continue to do business with you but they’ll encourage others (as I’m doing now) to do the same.

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