Expert Advise: Owner-Customer Engagement

Many shop operators pride themselves on the personal touch they’re able to provide customers. It’s common for small shop operators to spend time shooting the breeze with customers and creating friendships. While those efforts can be beneficial, they’re also draining on your time.

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Rosann Kramer, business development director for Axalta Coatings Systems, offers a few simple tips you can implement to strike a balance between customer interaction and all of your other daily duties.

There is an anti-corporation sentiment these days among consumers nationwide. One edge that small businesses can leverage is the ability to offer more personal styles of service. Customers appreciate developing relationships with places where they do business, and independent shops have several daily opportunities to foster familiarity and comfort with the business beyond the financial transaction.

Some shop operators have elected to do that through direct owner-customer interaction. Some of them spend a great deal of time interacting with customers, greeting them at the door, shuttling them to and from the shop, and answering the phones. Direct owner-customer face-time is one way to add a personal touch to develop trust and relationships.

Those efforts are extremely time-consuming, though, and not the best use of your energy. Owner-customer interaction is manageable with small shops, but becomes increasingly difficult as your business grows. Owners simply don’t have time to interact with every customer in order to effectively manage the rest of the operation. Owners who are too focused on customer interaction and allow it to consume too much of their day have a hard time overseeing other elements of business.

Shop operators should look for ways to provide customers with that same personal experience without wasting huge chunks of time during the workday. Here are a few simple tips:

Train your staff. The biggest reason why customers enjoy owner interactions is due to a perception of receiving drastically higher levels of service. Customers don’t always believe they will receive desirable treatment from shop employees, and feel they will have to jump through several hoops to get the answers they want. Many customers think owners will most likely offer the best, most professional assistance.

For example, some shop employees operate robotically. They’re focused on the tasks required to get the job started, and forget about the relational element of customer service. Meanwhile, owners tend to be more friendly and personable with customers by asking questions and getting to know them.

Every staff member should be trained to interact with customers in a way that conveys the same messages and comfort that you would as the owner. You can do that by ingraining your company mission, vision and values within your staff. Those ideas will help your staff consistently deliver the same unified messages, personal touch and professionalism that customers require. There should be no need for owner-customer interaction if every employee replicates the owner’s habits.

Make follow-up calls. Call 10 of your customers each week directly. Ask a series of three questions, and spend a few minutes speaking with each person. That allows you to verify the level of service your staff is providing, and gives regular opportunities to connect with your customer base. That only requires about 10 minutes each day if you make two calls daily.

Be transparent. Transparency is huge right now among American consumers. They want to know everything. Add your personal email address and cell phone number to the business card that’s handed out to each customer so they can contact you any time.

The purpose of that is to deliver a message that you’re constantly part of the business and always available to provide assistance when necessary. Customers won’t call you for frivolous things. In fact, most owners who do this rarely receive any calls. Customers just feel more emotionally at ease knowing they have the ability to get your attention if a particular situation arises

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