Gaining a Competitive Edge

Editor’s Note: The following is part two of a piece written by Barry Himmel, senior vice president of Signature Worldwide. In the first installment, published in the January issue of Rental Product News, Himmel explained how promoting effective customer service can generate profits for your rental business. In part two, he outlines how to get employees on board.

Rental equipment companies having a customer-focused staff excel and capitalize on opportunities created by their team’s effort. The end result is a happy customer, leading to repeat business and an edge over the competition.

But creating a customer-focused culture takes time and effort. It’s not simply about pushing sales and services. It’s about teaching employees to ask the right questions and providing them with the knowledge to answer even the most difficult questions. Providing "legendary" customer service requires building a unique culture focused on meeting and exceeding the needs of your customer every time.

To help your team build a culture focused on customer experience, keep the following important details in mind:

Cement a great relationship. Make sure your employees know that a customer-focused culture means not only increasing sales but providing excellent customer service by anticipating and acting upon your customer’s needs. Many employees, especially those at the counter, feel pressure when they hear the word "sales." Managers have to focus on overcoming negative perceptions about selling. Teach your employees that selling is actually "helping people to buy." This approach works better with employees, and you will find yourself surprised at the excellent results as technicians and inside sales staff discover your client’s needs, offer helpful solutions and provide customers informed decisions about what products and services are needed.

Hire and retain the right people. You must actively create a team focused on providing excellent customer service and build it into the culture by finding the right employees with the right skills and the right attitude. When recruiting, look for candidates with great interpersonal skills and customer service experience. During the interview, explain that being an integral part of your team will be pertinent to their success. Job candidates interested in working together as a team and building relationships with customers will be an excellent addition to your company.

Next, test the candidate’s skills by asking key questions such as:

  1. Describe a time you really surprised a customer with great customer service.
  2. Have you ever disappointed a customer? How did you correct the problem?
  3. What is your definition of selling?
  4. How do you feel about selling?

Candidates uncomfortable answering these questions might not be right for your company’s culture.

Teach your team to do great work, all the time. Lead your team by example. Seeing you act in a manner that is focused on your customer will show them exactly what you expect from them. Motivate them with interactive and dynamic training seminars and reinforce their newly learned skills with ongoing measurement, coaching and recognition. Make certain all employees know you cannot compromise the level of service you provide your customers.

Although most new hires have to focus on learning technical and operational skills at your rental business, it’s equally as important to teach them the proper way to treat customers and acquire the sale. The best way to ensure this is to encourage your employees to connect with the customer or prospect.

They should learn to engage the customer in a conversation and ask the right questions to discover what needs the customer is looking to meet. Teach them to show initiative and ask probing questions about the customer and their needs while listening intently to their responses.

After all of the important information is gathered from the customer, the employee then should be able to build value by matching the customer’s needs with services and equipment that work best for the job. This will please the customer, while also providing the opportunity for your employee to ask for the sale.

Employees following this strategy focus their attention on the customer, not just on making the sale. Employees should be encouraged to use their own style so the customer interaction is genuine and natural.

Be sure to allow employees to practice their new skills before setting them off on their own to interact with customers. Role playing will allow them to practice, while also enabling you to work on areas they need to improve upon. It also reduces their stress and apprehension about changing their behavior. The role plays also will help define your role as a mentor and coach who is committed to their success.

Reinforce the improvements by creating an ongoing program that measures their performance. Consider mystery shops to catch your employees doing things right. Use customer’s surveys to determine where you stand in terms of your service and culture. These results can help you understand and manage performance with data, similar to the way in which you manage financial performance.

Lastly, recognize those on your staff who perform well, and be sure to set minimum performance standards. Coach those who struggle with the skills and help them to implement them into their natural behavior. This will reinforce the positive culture you are looking to create.

Creating a customer-focused culture is important to the success of your business. Customer service is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Your employees need to understand why they should apply their new-found skills. Make your training program fun, and share with your employees the importance of consistently providing great customer service to your business. Make sure they understand that their service affects the entire company, including their job security and your profitability. Understanding how their actions directly affect sales can help motivate them to excel.