Communication is 85% of everything!

June 30, 2010

Last month we discussed the idea that the retail tire and service sales counter is the most exciting, challenging and rewarding place in the entire industry.

Also, that the retailer plays the most significant role in delivering the correct tires and service to the end user.

I defined “counter intelligence” as a balanced combination of preparation, training, access to information, genuine concern, follow-through and communication.

For decades now, I have participated in and witnessed thousands of exchanges between retailers and consumers. I have seen retailers greet customers, talk tires, recommend repairs, sell services for every type of vehicle to every type of customer for every imaginable amount. Like you, I could write a book. I have witnessed the stupid, the smooth, the dishonest, the best, the worst, and everything in between. My conclusion is this: “Communication is 85% of everything. The rest is presentation.”

Communication is a two-way street

I don’t care how clean or dirty the store is, or whose name is on the building. I don’t care how many years a person has been in business or how many stores a dealer has. It doesn’t matter how cool the Web site is or how many brands the dealership offers. If the communication is broken, the store is broken, period. Poor communication by an untrained or ill-prepared sales staff will do more to ruin a business than anything I can think of, short of outright dishonesty.


Webster’s Dictionary defines communication as the “giving and receiving of information messages by talking, gestures, and writing.” As we know, communication is a two-way street; giving and receiving.

One of my favorite communication stories goes like this (a true story): The first customer of the day enters our showroom and walks to the counter. He presents an oil change coupon that was recently mailed to his home. Before the customer can say anything, the salesperson starts a rant, “This tire store is not set up to do oil changes in 10 minutes like quick lube places, etc., etc.”

The customer replies, “I wanted to leave my car all day and pick it up before you close. What time do you close?”

This is an example of a salesperson “giving” before “receiving.” He is giving an answer, an assumed answer, before being given any information; this is poor communication.

The story continues. Can anything else go wrong?

Well, it was awhile before we saw another service customer that day, so the service technician decided to give the vehicle a “once over.”  Around noon, the salesperson calls the customer. “Mr. Jones,” he said, “we gave your vehicle a complete safety inspection, and you need over $500 worth of work.”

Well, Mr. Jones was not very happy. The first thing he heard that morning from the salesperson was, “We don’t have time for you or your oil change today. Go away!” The second thing he heard was that store personnel violated his privacy by tearing apart his vehicle so they could climb into his wallet; he missed the point about the “complete safety inspection.”

Mr. Jones then asks if the oil change is done because he needs to leave the office a little earlier then anticipated. You guessed it. The service he came in for was not done.

There is a lot of giving and receiving going on here, a lot of communication that is going way beyond the words exchanged. Healthy communication is more than the giving and receiving of words, it’s an exchange of thoughts and ideas that lead to understanding and, ultimately, to trust.


Proper customer care

There is always room for improvement when it comes to communication. The salesperson’s words communicated his negative attitude toward oil change coupons. In effect, he said, “If you’ve got one of those stupid, cheapo coupons my stupid company keeps mailing, then get out, please,” or, “If you’re a cheapo, we’re too busy.”

How we say what we say is critical! What if our salesperson had said, “Thank you for coming into our store today. My name is Bob, and yours is?” (shaking his hand).

“I see you have an oil change coupon,” (begin writing the sales ticket or work order and casually ask): “Is there anything else we can help you with today?” followed by, “When would you like to pick up your car?”

After Mr. Jones surrenders his keys and prepares to leave, Bob should say the following (I’ve seen this used by the best of the best with great success. Each word is important.): “Mr. Jones, with your permission, and only with your permission, we would like to perform a thorough vehicle safety inspection. It’s best to do this so we can give you an honest and accurate assessment of your vehicle’s condition. We’ll review with you our findings without any obligation or pressure.”

When properly presented and genuinely delivered, Mr. Jones is likely to give permission. Of course, then a thorough inspection must be done and the results communicated in a friendly and professional manner.

Proper customer care is all about communication!

Until next month remember: Communication is 85% of everything; the rest is presentation!   ■

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