by Jim Boldebook
Power of Personal Touch!
In a recent visit to my dentist’s office, I overheard a telephone conversation between the receptionist and a patient. The patient was upset by the fact that the automated reminder system kept mispronouncing his last name. I listened to the receptionist explain the message is an ‘offsite’ automated system with which she has no control. The conversation continued until the receptionist turned to her co-worker and stated: “He hung up on me… He won’t come back here until we pronounce his name properly.” Some may think the ‘patient’ was being overly touchy about an automated machine mispronouncing his name. However, the issue was clearly important enough that the patient would threaten changing providers over it.
I pondered how difficult it was for the receptionist to understand the importance of this situation for the patient. The receptionist could have simply made a note in his records that he should not receive an automated reminder call. Maybe a personal call. Or a postcard or an email?
Connecting with customers
Recently, I shared a story of my shopping efforts at an automobile dealership, where I needed information on an advertised CPO vehicle. The phone number directed me to an offsite CSM, who, while very pleasant, could not provide the information. So I found the dealership’s number and eventually received the info I needed from a salesperson. In the meantime, I became bombarded with phone calls and emails unrelated to the information I requested. Sale offers, finance promos, testimonials, etc. Similarly, only hours after I took delivery of a leased vehicle at another dealership, I received a series of emails from a CSM service. The service was asking if the dealership had provided answers to my questions, and if there was any way they might earn my business. What a total impersonal disconnect!
Obviously CSM management systems have a valid role in control and process discipline for most dealerships, but they can also damage the personal loyalty connection. Recently, when I negotiating a leased vehicle, I asked my salesperson if he would give me both his personal email and cell phone. If I had a problem, I wanted a human being who would know my name and history so we would not waste any time. I also told the salesperson that it would encourage me to make referrals of friends, which I have done.
Most people I know like a ‘personal connection’ with the businesses and services they use. It saves time and cuts through the clutter. I have the cell phone numbers of my electrician, plumber, HVAC person, propane salesperson, lawn maintenance and doctor in my cell phone. For over 30 years my clients in the advertising business have had my cell phone and personal email as well. None of them have ever abused that information, but more than once has it helped solve problems quickly. We have even exchanged ideas in an informal and personal manner. To an extent, my clients are also my friends.
Success in Dealerships
Yesterday I had an enjoyable phone conversation with a dealer I’ve known for over 20 years. This man is a third generation owner who has made his family proud. He maintains an enviable personal touch with customers, despite growing to five locations and over 1500 vehicles a month. To this very day this CEO makes random calls to customers and insists that his general managers, some who are equity partners, do the same. He believes this process has helped solve any problems with sales and service quickly, and has helped to keep everyone alert. If a customer calls this dealer, they will get a return call, usually within 24 hours.
He told me of a situation where a long time loyal customer was unhappy about a service experience. The customer called while the dealer was on vacation, and to the customer’s amazement, he received a call the following morning. My dealer friend told him that he knew it must be important because the customer rarely calls. They had a pleasant chat, solved the problem at hand, and spent several minutes discussing golf. The following week, when the dealer was back at his store, the customer showed up with his son. “It’s his birthday and I’m buying him a car. I wanted him to meet you personally so he would know who to call when he had a problem.”
One of the most impressive personal touches I have ever experienced while on business was at a Marriott in Pittsburgh. When checking in, I received a personally signed invite to a VIP breakfast with the manager. During that breakfast, attended by 10 other guests, the manager thanks us for our loyalty to Marriott and asks to pick our brains on how they could improve. Wow! Not only a token of appreciation, but a chance to do valuable research and strengthen the bonds of loyalty with their VIP business.
Shortly after, I suggested this same concept to a group of dealers for their VIP service customers. During this breakfast, they should take the time to ask questions on their sales and service experiences. One of those dealers took me up on the idea. His general managers have now been doing this for the past 10 years with exceptional results. They attribute many sales to the events, as well as gaining valuable insight on marketing research.
Research shows us that the younger our customers are, the more influence word of mouth recommendations, personal ratings and referrals have. Trust in advertising claims has declined over the past 30 years. Yet, when customers of any age have their expectations exceeded with ‘a personal touch’, they respond with loyalty.
Share your success
The personal touch can actually become your marketing edge if you and your team embrace that power of this concept. Discuss it at your team meetings. What little things can you do to make each and every customer feel that they are an important individual? In all probability, your best and most consistent salesperson has mastered the art of the personal touch. This is the person who gives out his/her cell phone, makes personal appeals on social media websites, and reaches out to family and friends. You can have an advertising campaign that talks about ‘the personal touch’, with phrases like “It’s all about you”, and “….great attention to your personal needs…” but if your process is cold and automated, the personal touch will fall flat.
If you’ve discovered some ‘personal touch’ ideas that have worked well for you, Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to share them in a future article.