How to Win Customers (and Influence Sales)

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Good customer service certainly sounds like a "duh" concept. Treat the customer well and get treated well in return. End of story. Right? Not always.

For every one business that gets this, there are countless more that don't. The disgruntled service. The surly stares. The single-syllable replies. How many ways can an employee mistreat a consumer? Oh, there are many, many ways. Most of us have seen them all.

Scott Lyon can thank bad service at another shop for sending Road House Cycles its first motorcycle customer six years ago. The guy walked into the Post Falls, Idaho, dealership with $10,000 cash and a hankering to buy, something the other shop didn't seem to get.

Lyon was more than happy to help.

"It's so simple to offer customer service. To me it's easy to have a smile on my face, to greet people and say, 'How can I help you?' It's easier than walking around grumbling and trying to figure out a way to piss people off," says Lyon, who runs Road House with his wife, Jinny. "I treat people the way I want to be treated. Bottom line.

"If you treat them right, what they're going to do is walk out of here, and they're going to run across somebody who rides a motorcycle. Whether it be a family member, a neighbor or a friend ... and they're gonna say, 'God, I was at this place out in Post Falls the other day and what a great bunch of people.'"

It Starts at the Very Beginning

It's a simple concept that Lyon says is the root of his business starting inside the front door of the dealership. At a kiosk just 10 feet from the door, a greeter offers salutations to all who enter. There's no "What are you looking for?" or "How can I help you?" — just a greeting.

For many customers, there's a fine line between good service and being annoyed. Lyon recognizes this with both his greeting kiosk and sales personnel. The sales force at Road House work the soft sell. He figures most people looking through his selection of Big Dogs and used bikes know what they're looking for.

When the sales process starts moving along, the dealership even encourages test rides, which usually nails the sale because, Lyon says, "these Big Dogs will sell themselves."

"One thing we'll tell a customer is 'If you're riding this just to get a thrill, you probably shouldn't ride it because when you come back you're going to want it. If you're not financially or mentally ready to make that decision today, you probably shouldn't ride it,'" Lyon says. He adds that the OEM makes it easy to offer test rides, but it's a dealership-level decision to do so. "I figure, why not? I pay insurance for it. I follow the right guidelines. ... Why not send them out?"

Road House also follows up on all sales — from the service department to the sales floor — with telephone calls. Lyon says this lets customers know the shop is interested in more than their money. (He cites a recent follow-up call from his dentist, saying, "Just that little simple phone call gave me a warm fuzzy feeling.")

The approach appears to be working. Even with the slumping cruiser market, Road House is only three bikes short of its 2006 sales numbers. At the recent Big Dog Motorcycles dealer meeting in La Jolla, Calif., the shop won the custom OEM's Customer Service Excellence award.

In addition to Big Dog, Road House also sells and services used Harley-Davidsons and is a Ridley Motorcycles dealer.

Party Like It's Their Job

Located on a frontage road along I-90, Road House Cycles is in view of anybody going east or west across the United States. The prime location pulls in travelers, out-of-towners — just about anybody who comes along.

"During the good months when the weather's great we'll have 20 or 30 choppers right out front and you can't help but see us. So people get off the interstate and they come in," Lyon says. "We don't care who you are, where you're from, what you're riding — you're the same opportunity."

To really pull in the crowds, Road House likes to throw a party or two (or three, or four) and invite just about anybody who might want to come. The main throwdown is the Thunder Thursday that runs every week from May until September. The event pulls in people from Canada, Montana and points beyond. Lyon says he knows of some attendees who get an early start on their weekend vacations to make sure they make the party. "We have a live band and we'll have, on a bad day, 200, 300 bikes. We've had as many as 1,000 bikes out here before," he says.

Events are a big part of the shop's success, he says. In addition to Thunder Thursday, Road House has three major parties a year where it closes down the street and brings in the bands. The events are always free.

"The response from our customers is 'You know, you're so inviting,'" Lyon says. "To me, instead of spending money on radio and TV and newspapers, I'd rather spend it on having events."

Because the dealership uses events as advertising, each year it prints a calendar of happenings on sleek, glossy 4"x6" postcards and sends them to everybody in its customer database. Lyon says the idea is to hand out a quality postcard that people won't be inclined to throw away.

The shop also sponsors a number of runs and rides each year, including the Ladies on the Loose run led by Jinny. The ride takes Jinny and a group of female riders of every age and experience level across the roads of Idaho, Washington, Montana and Canada. The group alternates, one year staying in a condo, the next roughing it at a campsite.

Paying attention to its female customers might be one reason why 45 percent of Road House Cycles' customers are women.

In five years, Ladies on the Loose has grown from 12 women to nearly 50. Jinny communicates with these riders throughout the year via e-mail and organizes a Sunday breakfast once a month. She also organizes the Ladies on the Loose event, from lining up chase vehicles and food to encouraging new riders and creating the artwork for ride T-shirts.

"People can spend their money anywhere they want. If you take care of them and make them feel good about spending their money, they're gonna come back and spend their money," says Scott Lyon. "They aren't locked into me. There's half a dozen places that do the same thing that we do. We just do it differently."