The Customer Is Not King

sales Jul 19, 2019

By Jason Servidio

Every expert or guru I have ever encountered all say the same things, like “the customer is king’, or worse yet “the customer is always right.” They say you must have a “customer-focused business” and the worst, most incorrect one of all “the customer is really the one paying your bills or income.” Let’s examine this principle with some real-world experience then see who is really “paying the bills or our salaries.”

First, let me say that I believe in treating customers well and want to wow them at every step. I just don’t believe they are the most important part of the equation or deserve the lion’s share of the attention in the business. As an example, let’s say you have a great key dropping, high-spending customer named Mr. Jones. He comes to you for everything, every time. You send him Christmas gifts, special VIP offers and have even told all your employees who he is and to take extra special care of him when he comes in. When something goes wrong you err in his favor no matter how upset it makes the advisors and technicians and no matter what it costs; because losing him is not an option. Now, after a few years of counting on his business, something outside of your control happens; perhaps he meets the girl of his dreams and moves away forever. What do you have now? What are you left with? What did you get for your investments in him? If you are a “customer- focused business” the answer to all of these questions is, nothing. If you are a salesperson focused business, then you are left with a very talented, happy service advisor that can simply create another Mr. Jones; over and over again.

I will go to my grave believing that company time, resources and dollars are better spent on sales training and employee happiness programs than they are in customer acquisition, customer satisfaction or even customer retention programs. All of these things happen naturally when you have highly trained service advisors who know how to build a personal relationship, use empathy, proactively update customers and know how to utilize real sales techniques and closing skills. Investing in your service advisors will give you much higher return than investing in your customers. Think about a sports team. I live in Colorado so will use my beloved Broncos as an example. The Broncos do not go out and look for fans who are their customers. They don’t need advertising or special offers to get fans interested in their team or to choose their team over another city’s. Instead, they put all of their resources into creating the best winning team that they can. They know that if the team just wins, the customers/fans will come on their own. I have noticed this year as the Broncos go on the road, into once hostile cities, that a huge portion of the audience are Broncos fans. Did the team advertise to these people hundreds or even thousands of miles away? Of course not, there are more Bronco fans around the country because they won the Super Bowl recently. Put together a winning team of employees in your shop and the customers will come on their own!

The “customer is always right” principle applies if you are running a regular retail business. As we all know, ours is anything but.. In retail, if 100 customers are good, then 1,000 are better; any type of customer will do as long as we get more of them. This leads to the mentality of “treat all customers like they are right no matter what”. Well, in automotive, if you fill your book of business (otherwise known as your database) up with the wrong people, you will go out of business. Unfortunately, in automotive the customer is usually wrong and has to be told so. A service advisor needs to be able to do this without a battle, without challenging the customer and without embarrassing them. That’s an art form.

Finally, here is why the customers are not the ones paying your bills… It’s because you can’t stay in business by simply giving customers only what they came in for. If you can, you are probably broke. That’s called order taking.

Your business, like mine gets healthy by upselling. I know there are more politically correct and customer-friendly ways of saying this but, let’s just call it what it is; upselling is not a bad word, because it does not imply selling something that’s not needed. Selling other needed work or maintenance on top of what the customer thinks they need is what pays our bills. Therefore, it’s our salespeople that pay our bills and make the difference between surviving and thriving. If a customer that came in for a fuel pump left with only a fuel pump, our company simply could not afford to pay for my position. Maybe the company could limp by, providing a small income for the owner but the company could never move to the next level; the owner certainly could not afford to put together a team that wins month in and month out. My job literally exists from the extra dollars created by service advisors who understand that they are really salespeople and upsell every day. If you start to look at your or another key employee’s income and position the same way I see mine, you will then see that an investment in your salespeople, in the form of training, benefits and a happy empowered work environment pays you back better than an investment in the form of discounts and concessions to your customers.

Customer loyalty is at an all-time low while good customer service practices are at an all-time high. If you run your business in a way that shows clear favoritism for the customer over the service advisor it can lead to an awful, unhappy work environment where truly talented salespeople just won’t stay. When your good customers lose loyalty for things outside of your control you must have motivated, happy, top talent at the counter to create another Mr. Jones.