Thursday, 05 April 2007 07:03

Inattention is the root cause of lost customers and profits

Written by Tom Franklin

Recently a local shop hired a very experienced estimator. Not only had she worked in many shops, but she had also worked as an independent appraiser and an appraiser for a major insurance company. One of her tasks was to check on the shop’s relationship with DRP directors and a local dealership, She was startled to discover relationships with a couple of the DRPs had soured a bit and the relationship with the dealership was all but lost.

What was the reason for the decline in these vital relationships? It was simply that key people were no longer getting the attention these relationships called for.

The overwhelmed shop manager
Devoting attention to everything that requires it can be all but impossible for the owner or manager of a busy shop, especially if the shop isn’t big enough to have a sub-manager for parts, one for production, one for customer service, etc. In a shop like this, often the owner is attempting to be certain estimators are writing accurate estimates — and getting the keys and the job every time. At the same time he may be making certain parts are being ordered correctly and for the right price. Plus he is answering phone calls and handling questions from workers in the shop, plus dealing with appraisers from various insurance companies. And while all of this is going on, he is also trying to attend to a wiring or other facility problem, a city inspector, an error in the latest bank statement, and a new advertisement that is being considered. It’s not surprising that more than a few things slip through the cracks. Worse yet, potential profits get left on the table.

Limited attention
Very early on, psychologists studied human attention to test its limits. It was determined at that time that the most a person could keep track of at one time was eight things. Many people could only focus on much less. Many students fail classes in school because they can’t keep their attention on the teacher or the subject matter. Marital relationships often fail because one of the spouses is so involved in business or other aspects of life that he or she fails to give adequate attention to the spouse or the children. All human relationships call for an enormous amount of attention.
Many aspects of life fall apart because of inadequate attention. Plants die without water or fertilizer. A stock in a shop owner’s portfolio dropped because the owner failed to keep track of the value and didn’t sell in time to gain a profit or prevent a loss. A physical condition that might have been treated and cured early on becomes life threatening because no attention was paid to the early warning signs. The list can go on and on.

Balancing demands
With so many dimensions of life and business to keep track of, a shop owner needs a highly efficient staff and systems to monitor and control it all. Estimating, scheduling, parts ordering, work assignments, cycle time management, insurance and customer notification, supplements, and more must be systematized sufficiently to free the attention of the owner or manager. Otherwise, he or she will never get around to putting attention on those external sources of business.
I talked with the owner of a shop that does nearly $12 million a year in business. He said his biggest problem was preventing theft and fraud. When the job of managing assets, equipment, parts, and financial transactions must be delegated, the ultimate responsibility to attend to them still falls on the owner or general manager. If the limits of his attention are exceeded, the leaks in the company structure that may occur could sink the entire ship.

{mospagebreak}Being the source of attention
Everyone likes attention. We seek out the restaurant where the waiters or waitresses know us by name and give us that special attention. We prefer the dry cleaner and the barber and other service people who favor us with their attention. In the people business, attention is the most valuable thing there is. Knowing this, you have the key to gaining all of the business you can handle.
Insurance agents, DRP coordinators, dealership owners, and other potential sources of business for your shop all enjoy attention like everyone else. And you have the power to give them that special attention when you have an opportunity to do so. You have only two tasks. One is to create those opportunities. And the other is to demonstrate special attention for your prospects.

Keeping attention real
Creating the opportunities may be the easier of the two tasks. Sincerely giving people your full attention may not come as easy. Every day we are bombarded with false and phony “attention.” The telemarketer who calls you pretends to be interested in you. The waitress may give you her smiling “attention” to get a bigger tip. Salespeople practice the art of ingratiating themselves to prospects all of the time. But after a while you become good at spotting phony attention. And you brush these people off.
There are some natural ways to come across as genuine that will usually work. You probably already use some of them. When you’re selling a customer on using your shop, you probably ask a few probing questions to see if you have something in common with this person. When you find it, you prompt them to talk about it and you listen intently. That’s always easy when you’re really interested in the subject. That’s all it takes. Now all you have to do is apply this same technique to your communications with those insurance agents, DRP coordinators, dealership owners, commercial prospects and other potential sources of business for your shop.
Why inattention causes failure
The opposite of receiving attention is being ignored. If you’re not staying in touch with insurance connections, dealership contacts, commercial relations, and prior customers, in effect you’re ignoring them. No one likes to be ignored. Today a program to stay in touch with every source of business is essential. If you are seeking business from these important referral sources and not communicating with them regularly, in effect you are also ignoring them. That lack of attention nearly guarantees you’ll never get their business. You need to call, write, email, visit and otherwise communicate on a regular basis to win them over. Since you can’t be everywhere at once and have limited time to give your attention to all of the demands you already have on your time, you have to find a way to leverage yourself. Somehow you have to multiply your avenues of attention.
How you do this will depend on what works for you. Some people enjoy calling on the phone. Others like to play golf and arrange ways to meet out on the course. Still others don’t mind making personal visits and can somehow fit in the time to do them. And some people even have the ability to stand up and speak to groups, and this is a very powerful way to leverage yourself and multiply the number of people you reach at once with your message. A monthly letter, newsletter, postcard, or email would be the least time-consuming and most leveraged way to communicate inexpensively.
However you do it, the key to becoming successful is to give abundant attention to those people who are most able to send a whole lot of business your way, and to give them that attention as frequently as you can.

Tom Franklin has been a marketing representative and consultant for 40 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 email: tbfranklin@aol.com.