The old adage,
"You can’t please all of the people all of the time,"
is a valid response when dealing with difficult customers. But,
too often, this convenient excuse is directed toward those customers
perceived as always difficult: senior citizens.
In many ways, senior customers are the most challenging
you face, but you must still make every effort to retain them.
Get With the Times
Ask any service manager, parts-counter person or service advisor
to come up with an anecdote about those "old fogies"
that interrupt their daily routine, and you’re likely to get more
stories than you care to hear. In some people’s minds, there’s
always a Mr. Jones who shows up only when he has a coupon (one
that’s out of date, of course). Then there’s Miss White, who’s
always hearing strange noises in her engine. And many a manager
will tell you about Mrs. Doolittle, the elderly lady who stops
by every other week to have her digital clock reset because she
has again hit the wrong button.
In the ’60s and ’70s, one retail muffler distributor built an
entire ad campaign around an older gentleman who kept coming back
to the shop to take advantage of the lifetime warranty on his
Model T. Unless you are dressed in a polyester leisure
suit and still living in the ’70s, you must know that today’s
seniors wouldn’t respond well to those stereotypes. Still, we’re
all guilty of viewing our senior customers through similar stereotypes
– a serious error by any service provider.
Taken as a whole, seniors make up a large part of our market –
a market that’s growing and will soon explode as the baby boomers
age. Applying the aforementioned stereotypes to such a large segment
of your service market could eliminate your chances for business
success. To avoid that, a change of attitude is necessary.
One for All and All for One
In general, seniors are often members of groups – church groups,
fraternal orders, service clubs, veterans organizations, consumer-advocacy
groups, AARP, American Automobile Association, etc. When you’ve
disappointed one senior customer – one member of that very large
group – you’ll find that many potential customers will hear about
your poor service.
Of course, deliver a great job with attentive customer service
to a senior customer and the same rule applies. Those networks
will spread the word about your service and will help you to win
a loyal customer. Once you’ve established a bond of trust, that
loyalty can translate into even more loyal customers – and even
To deliver the kind of customer service that will result in many
loyal customers, we, as service personnel, must avoid talking
down to our customers. It’s true that cars have changed radically
in the past few years, but many seniors have read their owners
manual cover to cover. They may have also read "Consumer
Reports" or any number of technical periodicals even before
they purchased their car.
Don’t assume that any customer is too "dumb" or too
"old fashioned" to know how antilock brakes or fuel-injection
systems work. If you do, you may be the one who gets embarrassed
– and you’ll definitely lose credibility.
If you take the time to extend the courtesy of asking customers
if they understand a system before you begin rattling off your
diagnosis, you will have shown them that their opinion and knowledge
are valued. When you take the time to explain a technical problem
or to make a simple diagram, customers will appreciate the attention
you’ve paid them. They’ll trust your opinion and be more likely
to follow your advice.
The Economics of It All
Money is the customer’s bottom line, and most people will resent
spending money on a car they feel they’ve already spent too much
Seniors – especially those who live on very tight, fixed incomes
– are concerned about the cost of repairs. Still, this
concern often takes a back seat to a more important concern: vehicle
dependability and safety. Seniors will spend money, regardless
of the hardship it might present, if they believe their vehicle
might fail and strand them along a road at night or fail to start
when they have to get to the hospital or to the doctor’s office
in an emergency. Every time a senior brings in his car with a
problem, his confidence in that car goes down. Your ability to
make the proper repair and to restore his confidence level is
essential to keeping him as a customer.
It also seems that some seniors are forced by economics to keep
their vehicles longer. Sometimes they are faced with expensive
repairs that equal or even exceed the value of the car, but they
can’t afford the replacement cost of that vehicle.
Some folks will come right out and tell you they’re going to die
soon, so why spend money on a new car. They want to fix the old
one and make it last a few more years. In some cases, making those
repairs is like tossing money down the drain. In other cases,
the condition of the vehicle justifies a substantial investment.
Either way, the trust you have built with the customer will control
your success in advising him about the repair.
Many seniors worry to an extreme about their cars. A radiator
fan that continues to run after a car has been turned off may
seem like a minor thing to a busy service advisor, but to a senior
customer who never noticed it before, it can be a very worrisome
problem. Even the most minor needs must be addressed and resolved
to keep up the customer’s confidence in his car and in your service
Others, for one reason or another, may overlook the importance
of servicing those same needs. How many times has a senior customer
of yours brought in his 1995 sedan with 3,100 miles for what he
called its annual checkup – his first visit to the shop for any
maintenance since the vehicle had been put in service a year and
a half ago.
As a service provider, your reaction should be to show serious
concern without creating any fear in the customer about problems
that may have occurred because of the lack of maintenance. Carefully
explain the various ways in which time between service calls and
mileage driven create the same demands on a vehicle. You may be
on a tight schedule, but it’s important to take adequate time
to educate the customer.
Whether you’re taking the time to listen to your senior customers
repair concerns or to educate them about your repair concerns,
improving senior-customer service skills can and will produce
great success with an expanding
Check It Out
The focus of automotive service – both today and tomorrow – is
to meet or exceed the needs of all customers. To achieve
that goal when you’re dealing with senior customers:
- Reject all stereotypes of senior citizens, and treat them
with the same respect as you do all other customers.
- Recognize that seniors may have special needs and that safety
and peace of mind may rate higher than the mighty dollar.
- Remember that seniors are members of multiple service groups
and social organizations. Within those organizations, the word
– whether it be a good one or a bad one about your shop – gets
- Listen to the needs of your senior customers. Have a sincere
reaction to all of their concerns, no matter how trivial they
may be to you. Work to calm any fears they have to restore their
confidence in their vehicles.
- Instead of hurrying senior customers through the repair process,
spend more time with them. Slow down your sales presentations
and don’t patronize them. A little understanding goes a long way.