The primary business of business is business!

May 3, 2011

As Kermit the Frog says, “It’s good to be green.” It’s good to be environmentally responsible. It’s good to support schools, charities, Little Leagues, the American Youth Soccer Organization, etc. It’s good to be aware and supportive of the wide variety of good causes and needs in your community.

It is, however, the primary business of business to serve the community at large and customers individually with the products and services that the business provides.

To do this effectively, a business must be prepared and focused.

There are some businesses that have no business being in business. These businesses tend to operate outside of good, solid business principles, so their days are numbered.

Let’s look at an aspect of good business that is very detail-oriented, yet yields great returns. The subject is: “preparedness.”

Chance favors the prepared

Louis Pasteur is quoted as saying, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” That makes sense. The chances for success in any given endeavor require some degree of preparation. The Lunar Landing is the classic example of preparedness and planning. Just a few degrees off at any point in the execution, and the mission would have become a failure.

I was visiting an independent tire dealer in central California a few weeks ago. While there, I witnessed a sales team serving customers with relative ease. Customers were greeted, advised, sold, written up and cashed out with a rhythm that was inspiring.

As a former district manager and regional vice president for the company, I was not surprised at the smoothness and efficiency which was demonstrated customer after customer, phone call after phone call.

This team was prepared! Their preparedness was evident everywhere. First, the outdoor merchandising was clean and fresh. Banners were hung straight and with care. The tire barrel stackers were new, not sun-faded and dirty. The double entry doors were not littered with stickers; simply push/pull decals, with the store hours prominently displayed.

Once inside the store, the large sales area, with a black-and-white checkered floor, was buffed clean. The merchandise was properly displayed and categorized by vehicle type. The store manager and district manager pointed with pride to a new off-road display they had just built with the latest wheels and tires.

The day I was there they were in the process of upgrading their waiting area and media presentations for customers waiting on their vehicles.

Of course, the overall feel of the store and the environment was pleasant, to say the least.


Improving the customer experience

Unfortunately, however, many stores look nice, but function poorly. This team was prepared beyond the visual aspect. As I have said in the past, and firmly believe, “If it doesn’t work at the counter, it doesn’t work.”

First, the sales counter was neat and orderly. As I watched the counter team in action, they were able to answer the phone and customer questions with ease because the information they needed was at their fingertips.

On several occasions, the sales team made outgoing calls. The frequently used numbers were permanently affixed to the countertop for easy reference. Behind the sales counter was another counter that acted as a support to the activities of the main sales counter.

In the early 1990s there was a concerted effort by most retailers to improve the customer experience at retail locations. Articles were written and promises made regarding easy return policies, fast, knowledgeable clerks, etc.

Today, however, it is rare to experience what I witnessed at this dealership — smooth, seamless, friendly, professional service. These guys were literally “handling the business of handling customers.”

Let me expound on the details a bit. This is a high volume store, not because it enjoys a large footprint with ample parking and multiple service bays, but because it is prepared for volume.

Not only is the counter orderly, with current tire and wheel information readily available, there are extra pens for customer use on the counter. It also seems that every transaction in our business requires a stapler to complete. There were three fully loaded staplers ready for “the business of doing business”; one on one end of the counter, one in the center, and one on the other end. These are little details that I know is not a mistake or random because I know the team, I know how they think. They are prepared.

No fumbling around for pens or staplers or warranty forms. Each day the printers are stocked and fully loaded for printing invoices. The layout of the showroom is conducive to efficient presentations, and current brochures are readily available.

This business is in the business of doing business!

This business has the largest market share of any tire retailer in the areas they service. They are the recognized leader.

They are prepared!


Telephone etiquette -- First impressions matter to callers

There is nothing more important to building and sustaining a business than proper phone techniques.

Yes, customers research on the Internet. Yes, they shop around. Yes, you may not have their particular tire in stock. None of these do you have any real control over. You do have control over the phone, how it is answered, and the tone and professionalism with which each customer is addressed and handled.

First, what’s everybody in a hurry about? Secondly, stop answering the phone like a scripted robot. And lastly, remember that some phones in your dealership should not be used to take incoming calls.

Certain stores answer the phone so fast that you cannot understand what the person is saying. I’m not exaggerating. I call it “the big syllable.” They answer the phone with one blast of words so fast that it sounds like one word, and it’s impossible to understand. “HELLOTHISISABCTIRECOMPANYHOWCANWEHELP?”

It’s just plain rude to answer a phone in this manner. The customer feels like an intrusion rather than a welcomed caller. Take a full three seconds and answer the phone properly.

The second worst phone technique is “the robot” or “the recital.” It goes something like this: “Good morning and thank you for calling Big Regional Tire Co. How may I be of assistance to you today?”

To the customer it sounds like this: “I’m sorry I have to say all these words every time you call, but my company says I have to say them so here I go. ‘Good morning and thank you for calling Big Regional Tire Co. where we meet or beat every single price on every single tire every single day how can I help you? Oh, and my name is George.’”

After listening to all of that, nobody is going to remember your name, nor the name of the company. This is so canned it’s unnatural, it’s not friendly, and it sounds uncaring and corporate.

And the last no-no is a tire store classic: Answering the phone in the noisiest place in the shop. All the customer hears is the whining of the air gun or the air chisel hammering away. They can’t even hear you say, “Hang on while I get to another phone.” Answering the phone in the noisy service bays cannot be a necessity; it just shows poor planning.

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