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Are Your Customers Really Happy With Your Service?

By Gary Naples


These days, customers can obtain quality parts at good prices from a variety of sources. However, people still buy from people. What sets you and your store apart from the competition, now and in the future, is your quality of service.

You have a well-stocked inventory, and what you consider to be a competent staff. Yet, your business remains flat, you struggle to attract more business or you find out that long-time customers are now patronizing the competition.

Where do you focus your energies to uncover exactly what it is that might be holding your parts store back, or for that matter, contributing to an exodus of customers? The first place to start looking is your level of customer service. Are you absolutely certain that it's the best it can possibly be?

While researching my second book on managing a parts business, I grew increasingly interested in customer service research conducted at Texas A & M University. Researchers identified what they termed the five "serviqual" dimensions for consistently providing exceptional customer service.

These five dimensions, listed in order of importance to customers, are:

  • Reliability

  • Responsiveness

  • Assurance

  • Empathy

  • Tangibles (Store's physical appearance)
Of the five "serviqual" dimensions the researchers found reliability to be the most important.

The least important was tangibles (the business' physical appearance) - but only when it involved existing customers. What does this mean? Simply this: Since reliability is most important, if you lacked it, no matter how you performed in the other four dimensions the customer would likely not do business with you in the first place or do repeat business with you.

Furthermore, they also found that if any one of the dimensions was deficient to any great degree, it negatively affected the customers' perception of the overall quality of service provided by the business regardless of performance in the other four.

Along with quality products, customers expect quality service. Do customers know you and your staff as professionals who do what they said they will do when they said they will do it? Do customers trust you and your staff's judgment? If customers don't know what they need, can they count on you and your staff to help them make the correct choices? When something does go wrong, do you and your staff treat the customer with understanding, while quickly producing a solution favorable to the customer, then to your organization? Does your appearance, your staff's appearance and the appearance of the parts department demonstrate professionalism to existing customers and first-time customers? Who you are and how customers perceive you is as important as the quality of what you sell and how much you sell it for.

Where can you begin in your quest to provide superior customer service? The first step is a good honest self-evaluation about you and your staff's commitment to quality customer service and willingness to help the customer make the correct buying decision. One potent way to realize your effectiveness for delivering exceptional customer service is to ask yourself this simple question: If you were a customer, would you do business with you? The Customer Service test on page 122, which I developed based on the research conducted at Texas A & M, will help you with your evaluation. As you complete the questions, keep in mind that the term "service," where used, implies the level of customer service provided to customers by you and your staff, not service to their vehicles. As for rules, there are only two. One, you must be able to answer the first two questions with a definite, indisputable and irrefutable "yes;" and two, you must be completely honest with your answers.

If your parts store is going to seriously compete for the customer's hard-earned cash, you have to recognize one important thing: Customers are your business' most important asset. It's easy to lose sight of purpose, especially when the pressures of daily activities become overwhelming. Yet, this is when good customer service becomes most vulnerable. With today's fickle customers, not to mention their abundant choices, one wrong customer service move or one bad customer service decision can send a once-loyal customer to a competitor. It's easier and cheaper to keep customers than it is to attract new ones. Marketing research shows that the cost of attracting new customers versus retaining existing customers is five-to-one. To be more specific, for every dollar spent to retain a customer, it costs five dollars to attract a new one.

As Dr. Leonard Berry, one of the leading Texas A & M University researchers said, "Customer expectations of service organizations are loud and clear: Look good, be responsive, be reassuring through courtesy and competence, be empathetic, but most of all, be reliable. Do what you said you would do. Keep the service promise." That's some good advice.


  1. Based on your past experience with customers, from the buyer's point of view, would you say you are reliable, doing what you say you will do for the customer when you said you would do it?

  2. Do you consistently deliver on service promises you made to customers?

  3. Have your customers increased their effectiveness and profit performance by doing business with you?

  4. Aside from your business dealings, could you say that most of your customers think of you as a friend?

  5. Are you responsive- do you do things in a timely fashion with the needs of the customer in mind, not your own?

  6. Are you effective in helping to solve customer problems?

  7. Do your actions assure customers they are doing business with a well-trained, skillful service professional?

  8. Would you describe your image as one of honesty, and straight-forward sincerity?

  9. Is integrity the most important word in your vocabulary?

  10. Do you recognize your customer's emotional state in order to help you determine the best way to effectively and professionally provide service to them?

  11. As often as possible, would you say you handle customer complaints to their complete satisfaction?

  12. Does your physical appearance (grooming, dress, personal hygiene, etc.) and appearance of work area convey professionalism and organization?

  13. Would most of your customers continue dealing with you, even if a competitor approached them with slightly lower prices?

  14. Do you view serving customers as the most important function of your job?

  15. Can you honestly say your customers receive special benefits from dealing with you that they would not otherwise receive from others?
SCORING: Multiply the total "yes" answers by 10. "No," and "don't know" answers receive no score.

If you achieved a score of 130 or higher, your customers love doing business with you. A score of 110 to 120 is commendable, but there's room for improvement. A score of 100 or less requires immediate attention.

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