Parts professionals are a curious bunch. Many of us don’t want to be considered “customer service representatives.” And many don’t want to be known as “salespeople” either.
Funny thing is, we’re both.
Essentially that is what we do: we sell. Our pay depends directly on our ability to sell, does it not? I went to the Web to find some definitions for “customer service representative” and the best one I could find was this: According to www.answers.com a “CSR” can be defined as an employee responsible for maintaining goodwill between a business and its customers by answering questions, solving problems and providing advice or assistance in utilizing the goods or services of the organization. Sounds a lot like what we do.
We have to understand that we are CSRs! We are still salespeople, marketing analysts, product experts and many other things. Our first goal when a customer enters our store is to meet and greet them. In the olden days, it was “Three Steps or Three Seconds.” This is when our job truly begins. Our greetings are usually the same all the time:
“How you doing?”
“Hello, I’ll be right with you.”
“What did you tear up today?”
With any of these greetings you have just become a CSR. The customer will tell you what their problem is. Most of the time they would not be in our store if they did not have a problem. When this happens, we must use all the tools at our disposal to build the relationship between our organization and the customer. Once we have bridged the gap and the customer has explained their dilemma to us, we further utilize the tools at our fingertips to decide what the solutions are and present them to the customer.
Often, it is as simple as selling them a water pump. But what if it is the “evap emissions” trouble code that turns the check engine light on? That is when we earn our keep. Really and truly, who knows what code p0440 means? Even the best of the best technicians cannot say so; who are we to answer the question? We do know one thing and that is no one knows and there is no shame in that. The customer would much rather hear; “no one knows and we could sell you a bunch of parts that may or may not fix it and then the light might still stay on,” instead of us selling them something they don’t need.
A lot of what we do is sales, but it has to be the right sale. We are CSRs because we care about customer relations and solving their problems. Selling the customer a $50-plus EGR valve may help. O2 Sensors, maybe. Throttle position sensor? Sure. The sales add up but, will the customer come back happy? Sales are our livelihood but, common sense plays a role in our business as well. If we can learn to be great customer service representatives, we will be great sales professionals as well. I did a lot of research to get a consensus on what’s generally considered the skillset to be both. The following list is in no particular order:
Listening: Listening is our most used skill, but it is our most overlooked when we consider what we need to do better as a CSR or a salesperson.
Patience: What we wouldn’t do to learn to be more patient with everyone and everything around us. As the old saying by Reinhold Niebuhr goes, “God grant me the serenity to accept the thing I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.
Product Knowledge: A true parts professional will never accept defeat, especially when a new product hits the counter. That’s when a parts pro knows they must take on the role of student and learn, learn, learn.
Smile: Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote a very long poem called “Solitude” and the opening lines are: “Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone.” A smile will open a door and will help the customer to feel like you care about what is going on.
Assessment: This means we have to be able to read the situation at hand and consider what the solution to the problem might be. Assessing the solution is also important as it may be necessary to modify it as well.
Retentive Memory: This is a new one, but it had to be considered for the list as retaining information that the customer is conveying to us has to be important. The importance cannot be overlooked or forgotten when considering the most needed skills to be a great CSR.
Attitude: We can all have flashes of what we would really like to say to the irate or unreasonable customers. We have to control the only attitude we can control and that is our own.
Keep Your Promises: Keeping promises is more than just doing what we say we will do. It has to do with integrity, trust and a commitment to taking care of the customers needs. Those character traits ensure that our ability to be a great CSR is more than just a job but a part of who we really are.
Consistency: Sometimes consistency is anything but that. Consistency does not have to mean solving a problem the same way each time. It means consistently taking care of the customers’ needs so much so that a customer knows that they will consistently be taken care of whether there is a problem or not.
Golden Rule: Some say the golden rule is, “those with the gold make the rules.” It’s a pessimist’s way of describing how they view the world. In an optimistic view, the rule is “treat others the way you would like to be treated.” Company rules and regulations can dictate the outcome of a situation, but any successful company has policy and procedures in place that protect both the customer and the company. In the end, the right thing to do is always the right thing to do.
Gerald Wheelus is general manager of Edgewood Auto Parts, Edgewood, Texas.