Michael Manners Associates, a consultancy focusing on performance improvement in the SME market, management development, psychometric assessments, recruitment processes and sales training discusses the importance of good customer service in the vehicle recycling industry.
The fact is that a number of overseas buyers, especially of engines, are reluctant to deal with UK vehicle recyclers because of their poor level of customer care. The UK is losing out.
Our industry failings include:
- Slow response to emails or emails ignored
- Screenshots of price lists instead of a tailored response
- Poor container loading leading to unnecessary damage
- Incorrect container contents not matching invoices already paid
- Careless dismantling causing unnecessary damage
- No one taking responsibility for errors
- Different staff involved each time a customer makes contact
- Poor record-keeping of engine mileage etc.
- Engines not properly cleaned and wrapped
- Careless handling, especially by fork-lifts
- Managements not on top of their game (the cause and the solution to all the above)
Before going any further let us define what is meant by customer care: it is to ensure that your customers always enjoy a positive experience so that they not only repeat buy, but they also recommend you to others. Customer retention is a process, not an event. Therefore you need to set the bar high at every stage and with every order, every time. Under promising and over-delivering is an established successful tactic. That said, it is important to set your service at a level that you can sustain every time; a one-off flash in the pan on the first order is no good. A lack of attention to customer care may be a widespread phenomenon across the UK vehicle recycling industry; if you are an exception to the rule please accept my apologies.
There are four elements to customer care, they are:
- Management supervision
- Raising the bar
It is the role of management to ensure that all personnel have the right equipment and environment in which to operate effectively. This includes well communicated and enforced systems and procedures, continuous and effective training, setting, demanding and getting high standards, and killing off any attitude towards a ‘scrapyard’ mentality when you are operating a recycling facility. Issues such as training and attitude are not one-off events – they are continuous and managers need to be on top of them at all times – it is relentless.
A mantra that you may consider is: we will deliver orders complete, correct, on time, every time. Then make sure you live up to it.
Management teams need to discuss and then create a ‘Circle of Success’:
You will have achieved success in good customer care when customers return time and again because:
Price: This does not mean you have to be the cheapest. What it does mean is that your product and service needs to compete in its market segment. For instance, both Ford and BMW sell cars, but they target different parts of the market which is reflected in their price structures.
Quality: The quality of your product and service must relate to the needs of your customers. To do this you need an experienced member of staff to have a full, frank and open discussion with the customer to establish their needs and be clear about any limitations on your ability to meet them. This then needs to be committed in writing to the customer for the avoidance of doubt with internal distribution as relevant.
Service: Your level of service, commitment and back-up must be exemplary. There is no place for poor service whatever the price or quality. Prompt and accurate communication is a vital ingredient.
Trust: This is built up by you and your firm with repeat customers over time. It is a precious asset that you are unwise to squander. Trust is slow to build and fast to destroy.
Reliability: The quality of your offering must be consistent every time so your customer can depend on it without fail. One other issue is you need the scope and numbers of parts (engines), possibly gathered over time, to make the loading of a container economically viable to meet shipping deadlines and avoid demurrage.
The basics of good service – going the extra mile:
The entire company is involved in customer care from those who physically handle the product, to sales, administration, accounts and credit control – every one of them needs training in the importance of impeccable service – especially managers.
The front line of customer contact will be the sales department. It is too easy in a sales role to adopt unhelpful practices which then become embedded and habitual. If you have fulfilled your quota for the day/week/month before the end of those periods do not put your feet up. Keep working and put your energies into going the extra mile for your customers – it pays dividends.
Forecasting is an uncertain art in an uncertain world. You cannot guarantee what the future holds, so bank goodwill while you can and capitalise on it today, today and today. Do not leave until tomorrow what you could achieve today. Your time has a cost and a value – make sure you use it to best effect.
In brief, going the extra mile includes:
- Always saying thank you for an order no matter how small
- Sticking to your firm’s procedures to ensure things go well
- Not stopping too early in the day or week or month but keep going
- Making contact after delivery to ensure that all went well
- Putting yourself out when least convenient to respond to customer’s demands
- Showing that you are always willing to learn
- Preventing others from making errors
When things go wrong:
We are all human and humans make mistakes. Sometimes they are small and relatively trivial but they can be large with serious consequences.
It is when things go wrong that you have a superb opportunity to show your mettle by facing up to the issues, taking all necessary steps to correct errors, face your customer directly and take their wrath. Never run away from problems. Always confront them, put them right and install procedures to guarantee that this particular error is a one-off.
The importance of delighting your customers:
The days of merely ‘satisfying’ your customers have long since gone. The ability to surf the net for the best deals has never been easier. It has instilled in all buyers the mind-set that quality, value and service are their basic rights.
The quality of products and services must be the highest achievable within your price range. Value is related to price, quality and service and all three sides of this triangle need to be as good as, and preferably better than, the competition. Service levels in a demand economy that wants instant gratification must be able to supply in short order without long lead times.
If you get the three fundamentals of quality, value and service right first time, on time and every time, then you can justifiably expect your customers to be not merely ‘satisfied’ but ‘delighted’.
Sound and lasting relationships are based on mutual trust and respect. Both trust and respect are built up slowly but can be lost in the twinkling of an eye when things go wrong.
Never make claims you cannot substantiate. Make sure that your customer can depend on you because you have proved yourself to be reliable, honest and trustworthy in the past. Build up a history with your customer over time that demonstrates your high level of service and commitment.
Do not attempt to curry favour with a customer at the expense of your employer. Always take a commercial decision that protects your firm’s interests.
It is true that there is a danger of becoming over-familiar and complacent when dealing with long-established customers. No doubt you have built up strong relationships, but take a few minutes to consider and answer the following:
If you fall short against any of the above, then you need to take effective steps to remedy the situation. Depending on how you answered the points above, be aware of the danger of ‘sales myopia’ – short-sightedness!
If you feel that:
- You have no need to constantly ask questions because you know their situation
- Nothing of any great significance will have changed since your last contact
- You do not need to probe because they have always been loyal to you and your company
- They couldn’t possibly do without your product or service
- They only want occasional courtesy contact
- You are always welcome
- They like you too much
Then do not be surprised if:
- Orders to your company suddenly dry up
- You find out – too late – that they have had personnel changes
- That the new team has imported its favourite suppliers
- That changes in their strategy render your service obsolete
- You, your products and your firm were not as popular as you thought
- They were not truly loyal, it was just inertia on their part
How to succeed in Account Management
Your Account Manager will be the ‘expert’ on your staff that you have appointed to be the main point of contact who will also co-ordinate all internal activities for that specific major buyer.
Account Management is the sales discipline concerned with maximising sales and profit opportunities with established existing customers so, unlike dealing with prospects or leads, the key tasks are:
- To keep the customer delighted with your products and service
- To keep their needs and wants under constant review
- To ensure they are fully aware of any improvements to your products and service
- To sell the benefits of new products
- To act as a troubleshooter when things go wrong and put them right
- To provide impeccable after-sales service
- To keep competitors at bay
- To sell across your range when relevant to this customer
- To ensure you do not rely on just one contact in your customers’ organisations
One of the best ways to protect a business is to have an army of loyal customers. Therefore you may need to decide whether your strategy is sell-sell-sell versus sell-retain-retain.
In summary, effective account management depends on:
- The Account Manager not becoming complacent by taking the customer for granted
- Making time for a sufficient number of times in the year to be pro-active and make contact
- Being prepared to continually negotiate
- Continually fact-finding to ensure you really know all that you should and not make assumptions
- Developing good relationships with a number of people in your customers’ businesses and not being dependent on one contact even if that is the owner
- Taking time out to think through issues and come up with creative commercial solutions
- Always being alert to external threats such as competitors stealing a march or the strategic direction of your customer moving away from needing you
This article also applies to all your customers, wherever they are. One-off customers deserve proper handling too. They have the power of social media to enhance or damage your reputation.
To contact Michael for further advice, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on 07710 056 354.