Most people hate to wait, but even more than that, they hate to be ignored. I wasn’t a customer. I was there to make a sale so I didn’t mind waiting. But this guy was clearly a good potential customer and his business was lost because of an enormous sales error.
The fact that this guy walked into the shop and wasn’t instantly turned off by an offensive smell, loud noise, or chaotic appearance so that he immediately turned around and left, means he was already half sold on using the shop’s services. When a potential customer walks into a shop, he or she is the end result of many possible marketing efforts. He or she might have been one of many who saw the shop’s advertising and was responding. Or he may have been referred by one of the shop’s prior customers. Or a dealership or insurance company could just have sent him. Or possibly he saw the shop’s signs and decided to come in. But whatever brought him to the door, he was the one who responded. Dozens of others who saw ads, signs or referrals didn’t come in. The fact that he did come in made him an incredibly valuable prospect. Losing that one customer wasted all of that marketing effort. And worse than that, since existing customers can be a shop’s best source of new business, all of the additional prospects this customer could have referred are also lost to the shop.
There are three things people hate when it comes to contacting a business: inattention, waiting and interruptions. There is a difference between waiting and inattention. Waiting is generally a finite length of time defined by some observable element, like a line of people. The phone company will generally tell a caller how many calls are ahead, or how long the wait will be until one’s call is handled. Inattention feels like one is being ignored, as though they are not even there at all. The guy with the BMW got that impression. Shops should take a tip from doctor’s offices: When you come in, they hand you some forms to fill in. They may not tell you how long you will wait, but at least you know you’re in process. Many shops are already remiss in not getting customer information forms filled out to provide future marketing information. Someone coming into a shop should, at the very least, immediately be given a form to fill in.
Some businesses have become aware of how much customers hate interruptions. In a clothing store, a sales lady is waiting on a customer when a rude shopper interrupts her sales presentation asking a question. A well-trained sales lady will immediately say, “You’ll have to wait a minute. My customer has priority here.” And that customer will be highly gratified by that courtesy, treated with the respect and dignity deserved by her being there first. A shop estimator who accepts phone calls and other interruptions while writing an estimate for a customer sitting there, risks alienating that customer and losing the sale.
No matter how good a shop’s marketing may be, a customer who is unhappy with the sales process when actually in the shop never says to herself or himself, “I don’t like the way they’re handling me, but I liked the advertising and marketing so much I’ll stay here and give them my business.” There are several phases to marketing, but the last phase may well be the most important of all. When a prospective customer comes in, or at least responds, this final phase of marketing begins. Assuming just because the prospect responded or came in means the sale is done, is a dangerous assumption. This is the time the real sale begins. Every effort has to be made to welcome the prospect and overcome any doubt or skepticism that he or she has come to the right place. In stores, prospective customers walk in and turn around and walk out all the time. Stores expect shoppers like these to come and go. But a collision center can’t afford to lose prospects that come in. The price of getting them this far is much too high and the loss of having them leave without buying is far too costly. No one comes in and buys just because they liked the advertising or marketing. They have to be sold.