What's the harm in being nice?

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It boggles my pea-sized brain that so many folks greet their customers in an unfriendly manner. They start the interaction off on a sour note with impersonal words and an unappreciative attitude. Don’t they know it’s easier to do business when the customer likes them versus thinking they’re a jerk?

You know what I’m talking about. Every day, customers stroll up to the parts or service counter and are greeted with a robotic “What do you need?” or a “Can I help you?” with an emphasis on the word “help,” as if to imply the customer isn’t worthy of their precious time.

To demonstrate what I mean, I’m going to share an experience I had at an alignment shop a couple of weeks ago. See if your observations jibe with my inside thoughts (in parentheses).

It started with me calling the week before to make the appointment. No problem here; the conversation was concise and the information was quickly communicated. However, five days later, my budding relationship took a sharp turn for the toilet. I arrived on time — that’s important. After all, I teach service scheduling and I know how no-shows and late arrivals can mess up a daily schedule. I drove up to the building’s storefront (which has windows running from floor to ceiling) and parked. I walk up to the service counter where the service writer is standing and he looks up:

SW: Can I help you?
DK: I’m dropping off my truck (Right on time BTW, I deserve points for that!)
SW: What do you need?
DK: An alignment (That’s why I made the appointment. I’m here on time, don’t you recognize that?)
SW: What’s the vehicle?
DK: An `02 Excursion (You know, the big red one to your right about 10 feet away, and the only vehicle in the parking lot).
SW: Have you been here before?
DK: Yes, I had my `96 Camaro in here four weeks ago (That’s a little insulting. The last time I was in we talked for several minutes).
SW: What’s your name?
DK: K-O-S-H-O-L-L-E-K (I know, it’s a tough spell, however, if you hadn’t lost the appointment we’d be done by now).
SW: Can’t find you. What’s your address?
DK: (WTF!?) 4-4-4…
SW: Oh! Here it is. What did you want again?
DK: I need an alignment. It wanders a little and the steering wheel isn’t centered. (C’mon! This is ridiculous. No wonder there’s no one in the parking lot.)
SW: OK — give me your keys. You gonna wait?
DK: No, I’ll be back in an hour (I need to go work off my frustration).

Sound familiar? This sort of unnecessary rudeness takes place thousands of times a day, and for what reason? Too busy? Not my guy — it was dead slow the day I was there. Hate customers or the job? Not my guy — he actually tried to start up a friendly conversation when I returned to get my truck, but at that point, I just wanted to get out of there. No, the main reason customers are greeted rudely boils down to absentminded ignorance.

Service writers and parts pros don’t realize what they’re saying or how they’re saying it — they just go into robot mode when customers show up. Rude greetings piss off customers, and now it’s an uphill battle to establish the friendships that are so important to doing business in this relationship-driven sport.

Here’s the deal. It’s easy to start off nice, and there’s no harm doing it. It’s as easy as using the following one-liners and follow-up questions:

Welcome to XYZ Honda. How’s the weather out there?
Good to see you. How have you been?
Howdy! I see you’re riding a (insert make and model here). How do you like it? Hi there, ride far today?
Hey there! How was the traffic riding in?
Greetings! That’s a great jacket. Where did you get it?
Thanks for coming in today. I see you’re a (insert sports team here) fan. Did you catch the game last night?
Hi, I don’t think we’ve met, my name is (name here). What’s yours?
These greetings and follow-up questions are designed to accomplish the following:
Break the ice and establish an atmosphere of friendship
Get the customer talking about themselves
Make the customer feel they are more important to you than the sale Earn the right to talk business.

Earning the right to talk business is hugely important to capturing the business customers had in mind when they arrived, not to mention growing the sale by learning the customer’s unspoken wants and needs. When customers feel you care about them on a personal level, they relax and get talkative. That’s when you’ll learn about their hidden wants and needs. If you’re a sharp cat, you’ll come up with all kinds of ideas to upsell additional products and services. In the process, you’ll personalize the interaction and make it fun — and that’s the point. Most of us work in this industry because it’s fun. Many have left higher-paying jobs to work in a shop because their old jobs were emotionally unfulfilling. Why turn a dream job into something cold and emotionless with a lousy greeting?

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews November 2011 issue.