Important Lesson from Joe and Pat

November 2, 2010

Customer Service

I tend to be a good shopper. I was taught well. Look for deals, use the internet and look at most purchases as a business transaction. For most purchases value is defined for me as a low price. I actually have a lot of pride and get significant satisfaction when I find a deal.

Although not always…

What I have been thinking about lately is why on occasion I make purchases (products and services) where I don’t follow my own rules. Situations where I don’t lean on the lowest price, don’t scrutinize the details, travel further than I have to, on and on and on…  If I am a savvy shopper and this happens to me then understanding why and more importantly how to replicate this would be a valuable business exercise.

Last week I was finalizing business travel to a conference I am presenting at in Chicago next month. As you fellow business owners know a dollar saved in travel whether it is on airfare, hotel, or rental car is a dollar that goes to the bottom line (aka me). It’s amazing how your perspective changes when it’s your own company and your own money. Well let me tell you I was ecstatic when I found that by purchasing my plane ticket through Travelocity I would get a package deal on the hotel – the very same hotel of the conference – for $80/night less than the already discounted conference rate. What a deal and by my standards a tremendous value that Travelocity provided me.

The very same day I scheduled a repair for my car at an independent auto repair shop 45 minutes from the home whose prices are average. Why?

So here’s the thing. I have been bringing my car there for several years, have never believed their prices are the lowest, the location is not very convenient and they never wash the car after the service. This got me thinking.

Customer service and customer loyalty are a complex combination of science and emotions. While we may believe we align our purchasing criteria to unemotional and static measurements a certain way all the time, the reality is that in some cases we don’t. We can rationalize why we might not follow our personal value-based buying rules and often we just can’t explain it but underneath it we make decisions based on a complex combination of compromises and requirements against a set of values. These values are in a large part based on the level of customer service we receive,the likelihood of this continuing and the tipping point of price against that value. As an example studies show people consistently buy from companies like amazon.com because of the ease of doing business and the seamless experience. Prices tend to be very competitive so it becomes a safe bet. Costco is another company that fits this description. Prices and quality are always good. Both companies offer an experience that is both good and ones that you can count on again and again.

So why do I drive 45 minutes to see Joe and Pat for car repairs at Sports Car and Collector in Tempe? Now my car is neither a sports car nor a collectable so we are not talking about any special requirements. Sports Car and Collector’s lobby is small. No free food or drinks (sometimes there’s candy in a bowl), prices – just OK. The building is old and not fancy in the least.

I have been looking at why would I continue to bring my car to them and wanted to share my thoughts because if you can figure this out for your business, results will be measurably better.

It doesn’t matter what business you are in or what industry you are part of. Great customer service is demonstrated through process, quality and people.

So back to Joe and Pat.They don’t advertise and business is good. While the economy has impacted most of us Joe and Pat are doing fine. So what do they do?

For me it started when I had a nagging problem on my car that I couldn’t get fixed. Through a Google search I found Sports Car and Collector, told them about my incurable car problem and they said to bring it by. They were up to the challenge and Pat (the mechanic) was willing to investigate the problem. Joe is the primary customer interface person and Pat is behind  the scenes as the head mechanic.They are brothers yet totally opposite. Joe is more dynamic, communicative, and what you would refer to as a people person. Pat is quiet, reserved, a bit of a perfectionist, and conservative. Both are sincere. There is an interesting dynamic between the two and a constant demonstration of mutual respect for the role each plays. So I drop my car off and 2 hours later I get a call from Joe- I am shocked – my car is fixed. Joe puts Pat on the phone and he explains – an intermittent bearing problem in the front. Pat said he got a little lucky and $80 later good as new. As I had had the car looked at many times prior and spent a few dollars along the way this was great news.

Here are several that stick in my mind that Joe and Pat did

- There were no bold claims of “guaranteeing a fix” prior to bring the car in – appropriate expectation set.

- They communicated what they would do and when they would call me

- There was a confidence around solving the problem and references to their experience and solving problems like mine.

- They spent the right amount of time to get to know me. They are very good at defining what the relationship needs to be–not too much and not too little.

-There was never any (to this day) bad mouthing of the other mechanics who couldn’t fix the problem and in fact Pat believed that the work they did helped him isolate the problem faster.

-I paid fairly – I paid for what they did, nothing more or less

Sports Car and Collector while being very far from my home happens to be really close to the airport. About a month after the repair I had some other work required on the car and had to figure out the logistics of dropping the car off and getting a ride home and back to get the car. I happened to be flying out of town and figured I would drop the car off and get a cab to the airport. I mentioned this to Joe as I was flying out really early in the AM and wasn’t certain how easy it would be for me to get a local cab. I needed to drop the car off at about 5:30AM. Joe’s response, “I’ll meet you at the shop at 5:30AM and take you to the airport. What would you expect? Remember I am the guy they didn’t know a month ago who paid $80 for a repair that lived 45 minutes away. You see Joe normally goes to the gym early, and on this day, would go to the gym after dropping me off at the airport. It was no big deal to Joe. He didn’t make it a big deal. For him it was the right thing to do as for him he was not inconvenienced at all. It hasn’t been a big deal for Joe for the following 8 or so times he did the same thing.

And just today I had a transmission switch to replace. This is something I can do myself so I go out to the garage and take the shifter apart to expose the switch and then I get stuck. I can’t figure out how the switch comes out without breaking something else. I look on the internet and no help there. So I call Sports Car and Collector. Joe answers in his usual high energy voice and after I say hello he says “Hi Frank”. You see Joe knows my voice and I would assume the voices of many other customers.We get caught up on what is new and he hands me off to Pat who after a little discussion about “our” problem says he has to get to the service manual and find out what the process is to change the switch. 30 minutes later Pat calls me back with the 4 step process on how to remove and replace the switch. He asks that I call him back either way so he knows how I made out. I replaced the switch and of course called Pat back to let him know it was a success. He was sincerely interested and happy that it worked out. I never felt like I was bothering him and considering he didn’t make a penny off of me I could understand if he pushed me along a little faster than he did.

What I learn from Joe and Pat is compelling. Who can argue with what they do.  Makes sense to me. What really distinguishes Joe and Pat is how and why they do what they do. They do it from their hearts -no hidden agendas. Just good old fashion customer service. I would imagine client wallet share for Sports Car and Collector is pretty high as well as referral leads and sales. As price is less of a factor I would assume their margins are decent. I am not certain Joe and Pat would relate to these business metrics the way some would. For them taking care of the customer just makes sense and keeps them smiling. Why not for them business is good. Lastly they are very good at what they do. They fix broken cars extremely well and tackle tough problems. They reach out for guidance and include the customer in troubleshooting. They approach problems as a challenge and an opportunity to put a smile on their customer’s face.

About Frank Picarello

Frank is a well-respected leader in providing technology services to small and medium-sized businesses. He is currently COO for TeamLogic IT, Chairperson for CompTIA's Small Business Owner's Group, and a member of CompTIA's Unified Communication Committee.

View all posts by Frank Picarello

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