Sunday, 30 November 2003 09:00

Failing to get a response can cost you

Written by Tom Franklin

I recently stopped by a shop that was caught in an awkward dilemma. A customer's car had been completely repaired and repainted - at least so it seemed.

Then it was discovered that some small prior damage dents on an adjacent panel had not been repaired but had been painted over. From the insurance adjuster's point of view this was fine. Those dents were not part of the collision damage his company was paying to repair. The only problem was the owner of the shop had promised to fix those dents at no charge - but this fact hadn't been communicated to the production people and so it was never done. 

Philip Crosby, author of several books on quality control including "Quality is Free," and "Quality Without Tears," says manufacturing companies spend 25% of sales revenue making mistakes, and service company errors cost closer to 40%! What percentage of the revenue in your shop would you estimate is lost due to mistakes? Even if you're well below these averages, that lost revenue is money that could have been devoted to marketing and growth.

Energy flows along a closed circuit

Further studies on quality control have found that most mistakes are the result of misunderstood communication, communi- cating incorrect information, or simply not communicating at all. The prior damage error was the result of no communication at all to those who needed it.

The problem of inadequate communication in companies has been known about for many years and systems have been put in place to try to solve the problem. The best systems resemble an electrical circuit. We're all familiar with electrical circuits. We know for electricity to flow, there must be a complete circuit. The word "circuit" comes from "circle" and refers to a closed path that always returns to the starting point. We know that a "circuit breaker" is a switch that stops the flow of electric current in an overloaded electric circuit.

In a shop environment, the flow of communication is the energy flow that brings in new customers, gets customers to leave their cars and their keys, gets jobs assigned to the right technicians and parts orders to the right suppliers. Communication gets the job done and the money collected that keeps the business thriving and growing. A "circuit breaker" on any of these flow lines will interrupt the circuit and stop the flow.

The importance of "closing" the circuit

Typically a circuit breaker is activated when a circuit overloads. Failing to get a response or an answer is like flipping the circuit breaker switch and interrupting the flow of electricity. The lights go out and the power is cut off. A response or answer completes the circuit and allows the flow to continue on.

Many of the errors that arise in a shop come about as a result of communication overload. For some shops, half the week's work comes in on Monday morning. Unless a good communication system is in effect, mistakes will be made. A good system will require a response to every instruction, every order, and just about every communication that calls for some action to be carried out. If the instruction to repair the prior damage on the adjacent panel had been written in duplicate, with a copy on the owner's desk in a "waiting for a response" basket, it's unlikely that error would have occurred.

The importance of getting a response

The process of communicating breaks down to putting a thought into words, hoping that your listener will interpret those words sufficiently to form the same thought in his or her own mind. The more clearly you communicate, the better the chance of having your listener duplicate your thought in his or her own mind.

So how can you be certain your communication has been understood? Obviously the best way would be to have your listener repeat back what he or she had understood you to say. When you're traveling in a strange state or country and ask directions on how to get to a specific location, it's likely that you'll repeat those directions back to be certain you've understood them correctly.

In ordinary daily conversation, you'd probably feel a little strange asking someone to repeat back what you said. Nevertheless, in giving instructions, it would be a very wise practice, but an even better practice would be to put it in writing and require an acknowledgment.

The frustration of "no response"

More than likely you have, like me, called various insurance executives or other sources of potential referred business and never gotten a response to your call. And you may have sent letters, faxes, e-mails and more, all with the same result: no response. What can be more frustrating? It's like talking to a corpse, only with a corpse, at least you know he's dead.

If you meet a friend on the street and say "hello" and he or she doesn't respond, you feel you've either been ignored or insulted. Or perhaps you may wonder if you've done something wrong to make this person stop speaking to you. Look at all of the uncertainty, confusion and perhaps even distrust that can occur simply because of a lack of response to a communication.

Marketing, sales and advertising are activities that are notorious for getting no response. Mailings are lucky to get a one percent response. Telemarketing calls are more likely to get hostile responses than acceptance. Advertisements are often lost in the corner of a page of a publication that is rarely seen, and responded to even more rarely.

Trying to get a response from promotional efforts can be more than frustrating, and generally only very skilled professionals have any idea how to do it successfully. The best professionals tell us every call and every ad should prompt a response. Every promotional effort should provide a way to track results. In effect, all advertising and promotion is an effort to get a response.

Using repetition to get a response

In the advertising field, professionals use a simple tactic to try to get a response. They play the same ad over and over, hoping that eventually it'll sink into your mind and get you to respond by trying their service or product. That's why you'll hear the same commercial repeated over and over on the radio or TV. Direct mail companies mail the same piece of mail over and over. For those of us who aren't interested in their product, this is just junk mail, but apparently enough people do respond to make it worthwhile. Otherwise they couldn't afford to keep doing it.

How can you use this tactic in your own marketing? While it would be unwise to send the same piece of mail over and over to an insurance executive or other volume business prospect, sending a variation of your letter every month could eventually get a response.

The same tactic can work in giving instructions. If you have children, you've probably experienced asking your son or daughter to do something, only to find out later that it hasn't been done. You probably also know that if you persist and keep giving the instruction until it's done, you will get a result. As frustrating as this process might be, it does work.


Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops," and "Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth." His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by E-Mail: tbfranklin@aol.com.