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Should we look at customer service differently?

I’ve blogged about the importance of good customer service many times. I’ve always focused on the importance of fast response and quick solutions to customers’ problems. However, those factors notwithstanding, could it be that we’re looking at customer service from the wrong direction?

We’d probably all agree that “taking care of the customer” is how we define good service. What that means to us is concentrating on whatever the customer perceives to be his problem. In essence, it’s an after-the-fact view. When the customer has a problem, we react. But what about before the fact? Can good customer service take place before the problem?

In a word, yes. Although no customer service seminar I ever attended preached about it from that perspective. What the after-the-fact focus indicates is that we spend our time thinking more about what we need as dealers (pray it doesn’t break down in the first place and fix it right if it does) rather than what our customers need (a hassle-free experience with our products).

So what I’m suggesting is we kick off our shoes and slip into the customers’ sandals when we’re considering our customer service plans. That means before the problem. And good customer service should be a plan.

For example, we should be asking ourselves this: What do we know as dealers that would make our customers use of our products better, more hassle-free, for them if we only told them about it? I’m not talking about some major factory recall issue here, but things we find out can or will happen to the product that we can share with our customer and that he might mitigate himself before we’re into the after-the-fact scenario. Call it proactive customer service.

When dealers head for annual dealer meetings, suppliers traditionally do a great job of training us to sell their products first and there’s nothing wrong with that. But only after “selling” has been totally exhausted will the importance of good customer service be addressed. Sadly, it’s always in the context of doing a good job solving customer problems — after they happen, of course. Why not a plan to do it before?

Here’s a personal illustration. If you read this blog regularly, you know I run a Pursuit 285. Let me say up front that I’ve owned a lot of boats and have never experienced a customer service department that responds faster or better. That said, it’s possible Pursuit and/or my dealer could have eliminated my problems before the fact.

Example: The small lid to the bait station freshwater nozzle was installed in a way that, if you raise the stern seat to get to the fishbox, you’ll whack off the open plastic lid, which I did. Solution: simply rotate the housing 180 degrees. Now, perhaps I’m the only customer that’s wiped out his lid. But if Pursuit’s computer showed they were selling a number of replacement housings, an email from Pursuit or my dealer telling me to simply rotate the housing would have made my life better.

I could give you more examples, but my point is made: From a customer’s perspective, good service can clearly mean keeping me from having to deal with an after-the-fact situation whenever possible. Fixing me up fast is good, helping me avoid it is better.

Dealers (and builders) taking sufficient time to focus on what the customers might be experiencing should be the foundation for a solid customer service plan. Right now, we concentrate on dealing with problems when they happen. It seems to me we could go to the next level by helping our customers avoid problems we might know about, rather than just boasting of great customer service because we respond well after the customer has faced the hassle.



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