Editor's Note: This is the fourth article in a series on customer service. The first article, Creating Customer Loyalty: Are Your Customers Really Happy With Your Service, as well as the second, Bridging The Reliability Gap, and the third, Treating Customers with Empathy, can be found online at http://www.counterman.com.
In the brick and mortar world of parts stores, looking good is important. As the old proverb says, “First impressions are the most lasting.” You may argue that, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” but what customers see when they visit your parts business is often their perceived reality. If the customer sees a neatly ordered and well-kept store, then they’re likely to have every confidence in the competency of the staff and the organization. On the other hand, if the customer sees a sloppy disorganized store, then their impression might be, “If they don’t care about themselves, how much will they really care about me?”
This brings us to the last article in our series on customer service. The dimension I’m referring to are the tangibles. The researchers at Texas A&M define tangibles as, “The appearance of the physical facilities, equipment, your own physical appearance and the appearance of other employees.”
The weight of significance on the customer’s perception of service quality relative to this dimension depends on whether or not it’s the customer’s first visit or a repeat visit. In other words, a first-time customer with no prior dealings would be most affected by the business’ appearance and place more importance on its visual aspect. To repeat customers, tangibles are not as important, in their eyes, as are the other dimensions reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy. However, for these customers, tangibles take on more meaning when something goes wrong. Even when all previous experiences have been positive for this customer, if you happen to misplace a special-order part, suddenly a sloppy-looking store becomes the root of the problem.
As for its effect on day-to-day customer service, it’s no easier to quantify the tangible than it is the intangible. Appearance may be important to one customer and not to the other. But, make no mistake: If the customer can see it, smell it, touch it and taste it, then it is part of the service experience. Hence, tangibles are the physical part of the service experience that ties the perceived value of the encounter to its intangible aspect. When you manage your business’ tangibles, you give customers a positive touch and feel about the service you provide. At its essence, it is a non-verbal way to communicate that you care about your business and your customers.
Tangibles play a role in every stage of the service experience before, during and after. Think about a first-time customer deciding to do business with your parts store. As customers drive up to the store, they are beginning to evaluate the experience based on what they see. Is there convenient parking? Is the area around the facility kept clean? Is the facility in good repair and does it impart a safe feeling? Do the employees look neat and professional? Are signs well maintained and highly visible, and do they easily guide the customer around the facility?
As customers approach your store, they make more evaluations about what to expect. Is the parts store well lit, and does it look organized? Is the counter easily accessible? Is the counter area free from dust, grease and grime? (If a customer soils his or her clothing due to grease or grim, it’s highly likely you could say good-bye to that customer.) Does the store have any posters that are damaged, faded, out of date or in poor taste? Do the displays look current or do they appear to be out of date? Do the displays have a “neglected look?” Do the parts employees look well groomed, and convey a professional appearance?
As customers interact with the counter staff, they make more judgments about the service experience by the way the employees presents themselves. Additionally, customers observe how parts personnel interact with other customers and employees, and how parts personnel conduct themselves on the phone. If customers must order a part, they may judge you on how the special-order form is written. Is it hastily done with an unprofessional and sloppy appearance or does it demonstrate that the counter person thinks the information and the order is important? It is to the customer, so it had better be to the employee! Is the counter person attentive to detail and concerned about getting the information right so the customer ends up with the correct part?
As customers conclude their business, they continue to make further judgments about the visit to the business. Did the counter person hand the parts to the customer in a professional manner or just throw them on the counter? Was it up to the customer to figure out how to gather up and carry out the parts or did an employee assist with the task? Finally, as the customer left, did he receive a sincere ‘thank you’ for his business?
Looking good is part of providing a total quality service experience. As customers describe your parts store’s service to their families, friends and acquaintances potentially your future customers they are likely to describe the tangible qualities of the business. To turn your one-time customers into repeat buyers, and your repeat buyers into loyal advocates, you want to make sure that what customers see about your parts store positively represents the level of service you provide.
IDEAS TO IMPLEMENT
Here are some suggestions for improving on tangibles in your store:
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Never let a customer experience anything about your business whether tangible or intangible that would make you reluctant, embarrassed or upset if you were the customer and experienced it.
Have pride in your appearance and the appearance of the business.
Perform all tasks, particularly those that involve customers, in a professional and business-like manner.
Make certain that every area of the parts store that is visible to the customer especially those that they come into contact with (i.e. counters, displays, etc.) are free from dirt, grease and grime. This is particularly important if your store has a customer restroom.
Every so often, as you approach the parts store, try to visualize it through the customer’s eyes. What message about your service does it send? Is there anything that could or should be changed to cast a more positive image?