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Customer Service: Getting Back to Basics

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Jason Stahl has 26 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 14 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

Ball position, check. Feet and shoulders square to target line, check. Grip neutral, check. Hands slightly pressed forward, check. Muscles relaxed, check. Lock and load.

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Anyone who’s a golfer will recognize this checklist. These are the things you want to make sure are proper before you swing the club. They’re the fundamentals, really, upon which a solid, repeatable golf swing can be built. Without them, the chances of hitting the ball straight and true are slim and none. As they say, if the foundation  isn’t built properly, the whole house will crumble.

I couldn’t think of a better metaphor for running a business. Like the golf swing, you must do the fundamentals right to give yourself a chance of succeeding. But sometimes we get sloppy and lose sight of those fundamentals, and before you know it, our businesses or golf swings are out of sync and we’re left scratching our heads and wondering why. A quick check of these fundamentals, however, would provide us with the “Aha!” moment and get us back on track.

This is exactly the basis for Hank Nunn’s new series of articles that kicks off in this issue of BodyShop Business (pg. 70). Aptly titled “Back to Basics,” it will examine six fundamental areas that all collision repair facilities could stand to improve upon: marketing, sales, damage analysis, production, financials and customer service.

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We’re all so preoccupied with transitioning to a lean business model, but how are we answering the phone and treating customers? How does the exterior and interior of our shops look to customers? Are the marketing tools we’re currently using working, or do we need to try other methods? Are we actively and aggressively “selling” to customers or just stapling a business card to the estimate and telling them to call us when they’re ready?

Nunn, a consultant and frequent speaker at industry events, describes how, as he was traveling across the country and visiting shops, he noticed that shops weren’t doing these fundamental things very well. He was shocked when he sat in the lobby for a full 15 minutes at one shop before being acknowledged. He witnessed a lot of things that got him thinking that shops could use a refresher on some of the basic duties they need to do not just well but extremely well in order to conquer today’s challenging business environment.

I don’t know if you’ve ever attended one of Nunn’s presentations, but they’re incredibly informative and entertaining. I popped in to one at NACE and ended up staying the whole three hours, captivated by the keen insights and practical business improvement advice he was doling out. But like he says, it’s basic, common sense stuff that we don’t spend enough time on. And often, this leads us to leaving big money on the table.
 
Back to the golf swing. Sometimes, it seems you’re feet and hand positions are okay, but then you play golf with your buddie and, right before you swing, he says, “I hate to tell you this, but you’re aiming at those trees to the left.” And here you thought you were aiming straight. My point? Sometimes, it takes an outsider with a fresh pair of eyes to really tell you what’s going on with your business. Consider hiring a consultant
or asking friends, family, customers, vendors, bankers and competitors how they view your business. You’ll be amazed what you find out.

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I hope you enjoy this new series of articles. It will remind us that we can’t lose sight of the basics, the “small details” that we sometimes take for granted but, when executed poorly, can have devastating effects to our bottom lines.

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