Don't Drive Your Customers Away

Don’t Drive Your Customers Away

There are too many people waiting to steal your customers.

It’s hard to tell when what might seem like the most innocuous of phrases to someone else will be enough to send you into orbit. It isn’t like there is a countdown being called off in the background, and there is rarely a warning:

“Hi, Mitch… I just wanted you to know that the next time you call, someone from our company is going to say something so totally outrageous, so thoughtless and inappropriate; so off-the-wall, in fact, it’s likely to raise your blood pressure 30 points, or more! Don’t be alarmed… It isn’t personal. We just wanted to see what it would take to provoke you!”
It sounds absurd, doesn’t it? It is.

But if it does and if it is, you have to ask yourself why it happens as often as it does. And if the same person is responsible, and responsible more than once, then you have to ask yourself why that person would be allowed anywhere near a telephone! But, that is exactly what happened, and has happened to us. There are serious implications if you think this is something you can ignore, especially if there is unrest or uncertainty in the marketplace. And in our industry, you would have to ask yourself when isn’t there uncertainty or unrest in the marketplace.

There is an inherent danger in the belief that this is a game you can play and win — you can’t. There are too many people waiting to steal your customers.

These customers are being given away, if not driven away. The real question here is, how can you blame a competitor for making it easy for one of your customers to leave when you’ve made it almost impossible for them to stay? Case in point, we have a client who started out driving a bread truck. Actually, he drove a bread truck until he was able to expand the route. Then he bought a second bread truck and hired a driver — two routes, the “American Dream.” Finally, he expanded the route more still and subsequently purchased a third truck.

We take care of his existing “fleet,” and got the call to inspect and make roadworthy his most recent purchase — a 1999 Freightliner, MT 45, walk-in van. He purchased the van at a great price, which after a thorough inspection translated into lots of work for us. We are not a truck shop and we don’t handle a lot of fleet business. But we do take care of a lot of trucks for a lot of longtime, regular customers. We called our primary supplier ($6,000 to $9,000 per month) and got one of the managers on the phone. By this time, we had a substantial list and started by asking for price and availability on front and rear shocks.

Before you start shaking your head, we did not expect these to be “stock inventory.” We know not everyone is likely to have heavy duty truck shocks on the shelf for an application like this, but we did expect to be taken seriously. Perhaps this is what made the manager’s response quite so astounding: “Can’t help you. (Translate as: Don’t have ‘em… Ain’t gonna get ‘em! Time for you to move on!) I guess you’ll just have to keep fishin’…”

And cast a line into the water we did!

There is a new “gun” in town, a new dynamic thrown into the mix. This is a large, aggressive company with an insatiable desire to succeed and a history of accomplishing their objectives. They are focused on increasing their wholesale footprint in our market and have been doing everything, and I mean everything, they can to convince us they are serious about our business. They did what they were supposed to do when confronted with an odd or unusual request like ours. They asked for a few minutes with a promise to get back to us and get back to us they did.

They didn’t have the part. They could get it, but not in time. So they did the impossible, or at least, the unexpected. They told us they called another store down the street. They didn’t have it either, but they were willing to order it and have it the next day. They told me they could have ordered the shocks and then picked them up for us, but they would have had to add “margin” to the cost of the shocks and felt that wouldn’t be right. So, they just passed “the deal” over to us so that we could call direct, satisfy our customer, save a couple of dollars and still make a couple of bucks.

Think about that for a moment. A “fourth call” (not for long) called a “third call” (not for long either) and made arrangements for us to get what we needed while our “first call” told us to “keep fishin.’” The “third call” didn’t complain about why we hadn’t called them first, or even second, for that matter. They just did what they were supposed to do and got the parts.

I’m not going to say another word. I’m just going to ask you to think about what just happened here and then guess how our future calls are likely to be distributed. You don’t have to think about it this minute, either. There’ll be plenty of time after one of your customers suggests it may be time for you to “go fishin.’”

Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider’s Automotive Service in Simi Valley, CA. Readers can contact him at [email protected]

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