“We’re in this business because we want to be people’s heroes,” Lateiner continued. “We keep them safe and treat them respectfully. That’s how we compete with dealerships; we care so much about our customers, and that shouldn’t have changed even though COVID has raised the stakes and the stress level.”
Because most people are under increased stress, Lateiner emphasized the importance of ensuring service skills are well-honed. She reminded attendees customers have never been excited to come to the shop.
“People are scared of being taken advantage of. They come to you with baggage from past experiences and stereotypes about the industry, but with less financial security in the current crisis, people are even more stressed, so you need to approach them with empathy and realize they are experiencing a whole range of emotions that you can’t predict," she said. "We never knew what was going on for our customers, but now, everything is exaggerated.”
Lateiner said the only opinion that matters is that of the customers. People are divided on believing the pandemic is real or a hoax, but a shop owner’s job is to recognize this divide and adapt their business practices to accommodate those customers who are terrified for their lives.
“Your opinion doesn’t matter,” she said. “It’s not about you, it’s about your customer. Your customer’s perception is your reality.”
Despite the changes caused by the pandemic, the essentials of communication haven’t changed. It’s important to carefully choose words and monitor tone to build trust.
“During high stress, listening skills are non-existent,” Lateiner explained. “A stressed customer isn’t thinking clearly, which increases the chance for missed communication, which is the cause of 99% of customer problems.
"All customers have one thing in common: their humanity. They need help solving a problem, but they come to you with thoughts and feelings of their own. People want respect and appreciation, to be valued and heard, so it’s more important than ever that you are present, listening actively and suspending judgment.”
Communication begins being 100% present to completely hear what the customer is saying and pick up on any non-verbal cues. Next, practice active listening, encouraging customers to fully express their needs. Finally, suspect judgement.
“Judging a person doesn’t define who they are; it defines who you are. People don’t feel heard when they feel judged,” Lateiner said. “You don’t know what’s motivating their decisions, but you need to respect them.”
Shops should get creative in their communication, employing ways to make customers feel comfortable. Adopt new policies as needed, then communicate how the shop is taking care of its customers. Communicate alternatives to avoid person-to-person contact, but with fewer customer interactions, it’s important to make each one count.