Tell Your Customers What to Expect and Deliver it Every Time
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Moving required finding a new place to service my car. A well-maintained auto repair business sat just down the street from our home, less than half a mile away. A neighbor, though he had never gone there, said they had a reputation for providing great service.
An Unexpected Twist
Before I could try them, however, another garage in the area mailed me a welcome-to-the-neighborhood coupon for a free oil change. This was a brilliant marketing move on their part. I figured I’d use the coupon and then try out the closer business, hopeful for them to become my provider of preference.
Though the second facility wasn’t as near, they were still only a couple miles away. They, too, had a nice facility—newer, larger, and more impressive than the one down the street.
I called for my free oil change, and everything proceeded as expected. New filter, fresh oil, and no bill. As a bonus, they performed a courtesy check of my car and offered a few suggestions for recommended maintenance. Their explanation of the additional work sounded reasonable.
I later dropped my car off for part two. It cost me a couple hundred dollars this time, but I accepted it as normal for an aging car.
They impressed me with how they integrated technology into their operation, not only to service my car but also to interact with me. Despite having paid them over $200 for what I had planned to be a free oil change, I left pleased with their service and the outcome. In short, they delighted me.
When our other car needed work, it was easy to return there—albeit not as convenient as going down the street. Again, they did their work as promised and met my expectations. Again, they had a list—this time longer—of additional work that they deemed urgent. This time the estimate was much higher. The explanation seemed less convincing. I walked away, not as happy, with the bill of several hundred dollars and only half the recommended work done.
Yet I returned the next time I had an auto-repair need.
They allowed me to schedule my appointments online, an option I appreciated given that I seldom remember to make my car repair appointments during business hours. Each time I booked my appointment, they asked for my preferred contact method: phone, text message, or email.
The first time I selected text message, but they called me instead. I figured it was an error on their part and overlooked it—mostly. From then on, I always selected email, but they persisted in calling. Once, when I didn’t answer, they followed up with a text. Never once did they email me as requested.
Another time I dropped my car off for repair and, not needing it back for at least a month (and causing me to wonder if my family really needed a second car), I told them there was no rush. “Just email me when you’re finished.”
A week went by and then two with no email (or phone call or text). Then a third week with no communication. Then a tersely worded letter arrived. If I didn’t pick up my car within 24 hours, they would charge me for storage. I went in, paid my bill, and retrieved my car.
I asked why they never contacted me about the completed repair. Their aloof customer service person offered no explanation, only a shoulder shrug.
I grew tired of going there. My first concern was that they always found something else to do. Too often I questioned the validity of their recommendations. Though they delighted me at first, they never repeated that feat. Instead, they provided mediocre service. This produced disappointment, such as not calling me in the manner requested or threatening to charge me to store the car I didn’t know was ready for pickup.
Aside from aggressive recommendations for additional work on my cars, their actual repairs were good. But the inconsistent nature of our interactions led me to seek a different alternative. Not knowing what to expect each time I interacted with them led me to disappointment most of the time. I knew they could delight me because they did once. Why couldn’t they accomplish that every time?
I gave up on them and, after much too long, contacted the garage down the street for my next oil change.
Upon arriving, the customer service manager greeted me with an engaging smile. She entered my information in the computer and made my appointment. I dropped the car off as planned, picked it up when promised, and paid the bill I expected.
Though nothing was exceptional with our interaction, it was decidedly better than average. After my recent experiences with the other garage, above average excited me. I returned. Again and again.
Every time I had an above average experience. Each time I looked forward to my next visit. They were that good. They provided me with consistently above average interactions. I appreciated knowing what to expect and receiving it every time.
Their predictable service pleased me. They didn’t delight me just once and then disappoint. They thrilled me on every visit.
I still take my vehicles there. I know that each time I take my car in I’ll receive quality work, a fair bill with no surprises, and reasonable recommendations for possible additional work. I rate my interaction with them as consistently above average—and that’s high praise.
I don’t recall another auto repair facility ever being this predictable. With certainty, none were consistently above average. Even a garage consistently average would surpass most of my combined experiences at other service facilities, where they seldom followed one good encounter with a second.
Too often my auto-repair experiences were like a roller coaster: up and down. I never knew what to expect. And unlike roller coasters where surprises thrill riders, being surprised doesn’t bode well for car repair.
Consistency is the key for ongoing success. This will earn you repeat business, time after time, year after year.
Customer Service Success Tip
Before you strive to improve your customer service, first aim to be consistent. This means uncovering the experiences that disappoint and eliminating them. Continue to address the low outliers to increase consistency in the remaining interactions.
Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.
Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.