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What Saturn Taught Me About Good Customer Service

Customer Service

Business experts have long debated whether GM’s Saturn Corporation was a success or failure in the automotive world. Today, several of the methodologies that the “Different Kind of Company” employed live on in other brands. One of the notable areas that Saturn excelled was customer service. Until the waning years of its existence, Saturn was a perennial Top 10 member of the customer service-rating list. For example, Saturn finished first in 2002 among a sea of luxury and near-luxury automobiles largely due to the dealership experience, according to J.D. Power.

I spent five years immersed in the Saturn culture as a sales consultant. Does the Saturn customer service model apply to other industries? Absolutely! Most businesses do not have the luxury of offering a free on-site car wash to their customers. However, businesses have many low-cost options at their disposal to produce positive customer experiences. At Saturn, we called these experiences – Moments of Truth. Generically, this term refers to anytime your customer forms an impression about you, your facility or your business. Follow these simple, low-cost suggestions for improving your customers’ experience and service.

The Welcome

An upbeat genuinely warm greeting delivered with a smile sets the tone for visitors entering a business. Addressing housekeeping details such as available beverages, coat racks and restroom locations will place people at ease and feel welcome. Refer to the person using their first name when appropriate. Is the reception area clean, bright, organized and well branded? Will your staff give directions such as “take a right at the coat rack and a left at the elevators?” Instead, have them guide a visitor to their destination. As the saying goes, “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Can You Hear Me Now?

Borrowing this line from a national wireless carrier is ironic. Put the cell phone away and give customers your undivided attention. There is nothing more disingenuous than dividing one’s attention between a personal conversation and a cell phone screen. Intently and empathetically, listening to a customer shows respect and it demonstrates character. Repeating or paraphrasing the conversation will illustrate that you are engaged, listening and understand the customer’s needs. You can learn more when you ask the right questions and hear the answers.

Setting Expectations

Building trust in a person, product or service requires time. Trust is earned by meeting or exceeding expectations. Often a gap exists between a customer’s perceived expectations and reality. Drawing upon my time at Saturn, a good example of this phenomenon was the buyer who expected to purchase a new, 8-passenger, all-wheel drive vehicle with leather seating, power options including a sunroof and an entertainment center for $300 a month with no money down. Oh, and by the way, Brian, could you throw in Saturn jackets for my family?

Although the above example is slightly facetious, it does illustrate that despite our best efforts, our products or services will not meet every consumer’s expectation (needs). Missing deadlines and over promising results will produce greater long-term damage to your brand than being up front with a customer or prospective customer. If you set a deadline, meet it. If you promise a level of performance or cost for your product or service, ensure that you deliver on that promise. Asking the right questions to determine a customer’s true needs will eliminate disappointment and the potentially negative word of mouth advertising that could result in the future. Resetting the dynamics of expectation with honesty and practicality will often translate to current and future business opportunities.

Thoughtful, Proactive Communications

Waiting for a reply to a voicemail or email can seem like an eternity. Did they receive my message? Is the person in town or travelling? Did l dial the wrong number and leave a message with the wrong person? Do I have the correct email address? Everyone has experienced this doubt and uncertainty after leaving or sending a message.

Consequently, be certain to update your voicemail and email “out of office” messages to reflect your true schedule. When out of the office for an extended period, do your messages indicate when you will return and leave an alternate person for customers to contact? If busy or otherwise unavailable, will you respond to messages in the same day or within 24 hours?

When leaving a voicemail message, speak slowly to identify yourself, include a phone number and a time you can be reached, and the reason for your call. Repeat your name and number again before ending the call. Be cognizant of the ambient noise around you. Driving your car at 70-mph with the windows lowered is not conducive to leaving an audible voicemail message.

Communicating a change in business hours is important. Update your website whenever there is a change in your hours of operation. Making a special trip to a business across town and surprisingly finding the doors locked is frustrating enough to send customers elsewhere.

Finally, business communications set the tone for the relationship you have with your customers. Slow responses, incomplete or confusing messaging or failure to communicate at all leaves customers feeling undervalued and frustrated. Customers find value in professionalism and attention to detail. Taking a few simple and inexpensive steps will enhance customer retention. Retaining the customers you have is far less expensive than acquiring new ones. Consequently, ask yourself, “Are we creating Moments of Truth or Missed Opportunities for ourselves and our customers?”

By Brian Sweigart, Business Development Coordinator


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