'The Only Thing That Matters is the Perception of the Customer'

‘The Only Thing That Matters is the Perception of the Customer’

Customers, those incredibly complicated, frustrating, inscrutable and often times maddening individuals who make all of our lives possible, are not all that easy to figure out.

In most of the customer relationship management work I do or have done, there is always a point at which I find myself espousing what has become my own personal CRM mantra:

“Perception is reality… Feelings are facts… The only thing that matters is the perception of the customer.”
When you are in a service business like mine, you either know that intuitively, experience an epiphany somewhere along the way and accept it or die a long, slow, agonizingly painful death.

Customers, those incredibly complicated, frustrating, inscrutable and often times maddening individuals who make all of our lives possible, are not all that easy to figure out. Unless of course, you get out from behind your desk, put yourself in their shoes and cross over to their side of the service encounter in order to experience just what it’s like to do business with you and your company from their perspective. Or, you ask them.

We’ve been asking our clients that for years: “What’s it like to do business with us, with our company? How hard do we make it do business with us? How hard do we make it to tell your friends we’re terrific?” And, of course: “How can we make this experience better, easier, more satisfying?”

We’ve asked our customers another question as well, a question I believed to be critical in fact until just recently. That question was: “If you could start from scratch and re-invent automotive service, what would it look and feel like?”
I used the term “believed” above because everything I know and have learned about human nature over the years suggests the majority of us are incapable of doing anything that even remotely comes close to that.

Most people think about the relationships they share solely in terms of the relationships they know. In other words, we define automotive service relationships in the context of all the other automotive service relationships we’ve ever experienced, or have witnessed others experience. And they have pretty much done or continue to do the same thing.
Consequently, we keep doing the same things we’ve always done just about the same way we’ve always done them because that’s all we know, all we’ve ever known, all we want to know.

We “tweak” things from time. We introduce a new “wrinkle” here or there, an enhancement or a reward. But for the most part, we’re doing things the same way our fathers and their fathers did with little or no exception.

What if you were able to go to a different time or a different place and create a system by which personal transportation vehicles – whatever they might be and however they were powered – could be serviced, maintained and repaired, completely from scratch?

Knowing what you know now about the system we have today with its obvious shortcomings, inefficiencies and waste, would you come up with something that looked the same?

What if you resisted the urge to “fine tune” or modify, and instead decided to analyze the wants, needs and expectations of your clients and then design a delivery system guaranteed to not only meet those wants, needs and expectations but one that would exceed what we now have in every possible way.

Don’t get too excited too quickly. It isn’t all that easy. If it was we’d be enjoying the benefits of that system right now. As I mentioned earlier, I ask my clients what they would change about what we do and the way we do things all the time. I ask them what automotive service would look and feel like if they could wave a “magic wrench” and create the perfect system and they can’t answer.

They can’t do it because even the most intelligent and articulate among us can only communicate what they know and all they can really know is what they have personally experienced. The question that is begging to be asked is what do we need to change in order to change what they know? What do we need to change in order to create a totally new and different experience?

Is there anyone asking these questions in your company? Is there anyone questioning the way you interact or relate to your customers? Anyone struggling to find a new way, a better way to define who we are and how we interact?

If there isn’t, there should be! Unless, of course, you are willing to allow someone else to redefine these relationships for you and then find yourself a prisoner of someone else’s new and more effective paradigm. And of course, lose some valuable customers in the process.

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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