Management Retail Service

Managing customer expectations

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Managing customer expectations

It’s not unusual for me to have ideas. I’ve often said, “I have good ideas I haven’t even thought of yet.” However, every once in a while, I’m flooded with a tsunami of thoughts or ideas related to a particular subject. I’ve learned to write them down because as fast as they come, they go.

I’m always thinking about customer service. Several weeks ago the idea tsunami hit me and here’s a few of the results.

  • You either win or you discount.
  • People want to help people.
  • Don’t just convince me; show me... over and over.
  • It takes more than good intentions.
  • It takes good intentions done well.
  • If you’re average, you’re toast.
  • Everything about change is changing.
  • How you sell what you sell matters.
  • Success and survival is the same thing today.
  • Good conversations lead to good customers.
  • Every conversation is part of a larger conversation.
  • Lack of genuine concern has consequences.
  • Crisis as a management style is not sustainable.

Every one of these ideas/statements is woven into the larger idea of excellent customer service, counter intelligence, if you will.

The art and science of service

To achieve high levels of customer satisfaction requires both giving and receiving. As a front-line, customer service sales agent, as a counter intelligent agent, you must give yourself over to the craft, to the art and science of servicing both cars and customers. Cars don’t fix themselves and customers don’t just go away happy; this is the real work of the counter individual. You must submit yourself to the craft. It’s not for everybody.

I don’t have to tell you that customers will threaten you with negative posts on social media. You can be doing your best and all of a sudden it gets ugly; it feels as though you have actually been set up to fail. You and your company cannot afford negative comments hanging around the digital world, posts that may be undeserved, but yet end up on the Internet nonetheless. This requires more skill than in the past; it requires more skill in managing expectations and in negotiating with unhappy customers.

When I worked for Parnelli Jones, the world famous race car driver (Google him, an amazing man), his name was on the building and he demanded customer satisfaction in his stores. If he received a call from a customer (rarely), they were going to get all their money back, period, plus whatever it took to make the customer happy. As a store manager, it behooved you to do the work up front so the customer didn’t get in touch with the home office. It was time to cut your losses and make the customer happy. As a result of Parnelli’s commitment to 100% customer satisfaction, the counter staff was better than most at resolving differences; it became part of the DNA of the company. You have to have a personal DNA that’s committed to resolving the challenges of the retail sales counter.

Excuses are lame — you better get better, then better again. I’ve worked in an environment that required high levels of customer satisfaction. It takes a commitment.

AAA service

Let me relay a story about commitment to customer satisfaction. We are all aware of the AAA Roadside Assistance Program. AAA is committed to assisting their members during difficult times, and they have worked hard over the years to build and retain a reputation for excellence. They have millions of members and many have been a part of the AAA network for decades, including me for nearly 40 years.

Recently a close friend of mine had a run of bad luck with flat tires, and as a result, had exceeded his AAA coverage limits. After receiving a bill for additional services, he decided to call AAA. A very well-intended service representative was not giving my friend the special courtesy he was expecting and the conversation turned difficult. My friend is an easy-going guy, but the answers and the tone were not to his liking.

Two hours after the unsuccessful phone call, another AAA representative phoned to thank him for his many years of continued membership (a simple technique to acknowledge his value to AAA) and asked how he may be of assistance. The original phone call had been recorded, and several key words triggered their system (based on a desire for customer satisfaction) to recognize the unsatisfactory exchange and make the follow-up call. My friend was so impressed he called me right away. Their commitment lead to a system being put in place that leads to genuine customer satisfaction. It goes back to my list of ideas at the start of this article.

Chances are the commitment to excellence is going to take more than you want to give.

Do it anyway!   ■

Wayne Williams is president of ExSell Marketing Inc., a “counter intelligence” firm based in La Habra, Calif. He can be reached at

For more articles by Wayne Williams, see:

It's never just about price

Quoting prices is a delicate balancing act

Mastering the fine art of pricing

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