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Wagon WheelsWhen my youngest was 7 she said, “I can’t remember – is it the boy or the girl peacocks that have the bright feathers.”

“It’s the boys.  In the bird world, the boys have the fancy feathers to get the attention of the girls.  With people, girls are the ones that dress all fancy to get the boys’ attention.  Boys just need a cool car.”

“Dad, you don’t have a cool car.”

“Well, I’m not trying to get girls’ attention.”

“It’s a good thing.  You’d need a convertible, a different haircut and all new clothes.”

Ouch.  There’s a perception gap there, and, sadly, hers is closer to reality than mine.  So how do your customers perceive you?  The answer to that question can be elusive.  In my experience, most businesses base what they think their customer’s perception is by the complaints they receive.  The problem with that is that can be very misleading.  Let’s say 10% of your customers don’t like what you do in a particular area.  Our natural tendency is to devote tremendous resources into “fixing” the problem to make those 10% happy – a case of the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  We want to do everything we can to eliminate the probability of failure.  But what if we neglect the things that are working at the expense of fixing a few problems?  That leads to our probability of success shrinking to the point that there is no way we can fix enough problems to succeed, because the very elements of success are no longer there in the quantity required.

I once inherited an office that had a little sign on the inside of the door.  It read “The Worst Wheel Makes the Most Noise”.  Compare the number of people you know who always give a compliment to those who always complain.  I find it takes more courage to offer a compliment than to make a complaint.  It’s often the cranky and troublesome that have the loudest voice.  So why then would we craft our service offering based on the squeaky (worst) wheel?  And, perhaps more importantly, how do we find out what people really like about our business?

Of course you want to address things that you could do better, but think of it this way:  how bad would it be if that 10% of customers that don’t like what we do went away and were replaced by those who are attracted to what we do well.  That’s a formula for growth.  But in order have a plan to accomplish that, you first must know what people like about your business.

From the beginning, we’ve called our customers to see how we’re doing – good and bad.  We try to keep perspective: with over 7,000 product installations we track the complaints to see if they are isolated or if they constitute a problem that we need to address globally.  We truly want to improve our automotive video programming, but we find it challenging to get constructive criticism from our customers – they generally think our products are meeting their needs.  It’s tempting to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done – after all the guys who write the checks are happy.  But we want to stay six steps ahead of the competition.  So we also talk with the end users: men and women who consume the Lobby TV and Web Tools programming.  Now things get interesting.

Like the automotive professionals, consumers like that they are learning to take better care of their vehicles.  They appreciate the level at which technical information is taught.  They find our third party presentation to be very trustworthy, definitely adding to the credibility of the service advisor.  However, they have very definite preferences for how they receive the information – the style and format of the educational video segments does make a difference to them.  We use this information to evolve our products.

Now look at your operation, at everything that touches your customer: phone greetings, on-hold message, condition of your parking lot, your lobby, how you take work orders, delivery of inspection reports, mailers, your website, Facebook page, email – everything.  You’ll be a good judge of the “content” that needs to be conveyed: it’s how it’s conveyed it that you may need additional perspective on.  Hey, if your customers were just like you they’d fix their own cars.

You may want to do what we do: talk with your customers, hold “focus group” meetings with consumers and see how they feel, send out surveys, etc.  Of course there are a lot of fine automotive service consultants and trainers that have made it their business to help professionals in your position increase CSI on the way to improved profitability – well worth the investment.

Whatever you do, have a deliberate plan that addresses both the obstacles to success as well as how you can leverage your strengths.  Don’t let your business plan be driven by The Worst Wheel.

Lance Boldt is Vice President and a Co-Founder of AutoNetTV Media Inc.  AutoNetTV produces automotive video and animation tools that are used in Automotive Lobby TV, Digital Signage, Digital Menu Boards and Automotive Internet Video applications.