Free coffee and fresh cream
By George OlahFeatures Business Intelligence
During conversations at the hospitality suite after a recently attended event, it became patently obvious that rental stores have little control over external factors that impact both them and their customers.
During conversations at the hospitality suite after a recently attended event, it became patently obvious that rental stores have little control over external factors that impact both them and their customers. One such external influence is the ever-growing list of Ontario’s propane safety requirements. Safety is of paramount importance and the regulations and standards must be rigorously followed. However, it appears the new safety requirements make continued use of propane cumbersome and costly compared to other fuels.
The problem is that the customer faults you for requiring government-mandated Records of Training (ROT). Worse yet, the customer blames you for making them pay to be trained to safely use the equipment before renting propane-fuelled products. As a service provider, it is up to you to educate the customer on the benefits of the new requirements.
Training costs money and time for both rent shop and customer. But it is a competitive world, and more often than not, one driven by dollars per BTU and least cost use, in turn driving customers to use alternative fuels other than propane. No ROT is necessary to use gasoline or diesel.
As the evening progressed in the hospitality suite, a rental colleague, fuelled by distilled grain products (no ROT required thus far), remarked that the majority of his customers were idiots. I wanted to retort, “But how will you earn any money without any customers?” His bold statement bothered me, because it echoed feelings espoused by other frustrated business managers.
My supplier friend failed to realize that the relationship between businesses and their customers works both ways: many customers similarly feel that certain businesses have no place in the marketplace. Businesses not meeting customer needs or perceived standards eventually lose out to competitors, ultimately resulting in bankruptcy. It is a give-and-take relationship that takes time to foster and nurture so that both sides feel satisfied.
First and foremost, a customer must feel comfortable dealing with you. When a customer comes into my showroom, free fresh coffee with real cream and sugar and ice-cold water is always available. My customers rely on this complimentary service and have grown to expect it. It’s simple Customer Service 101. Practically every business has its own way of managing customer relationships.
Some spend all their time and efforts pursuing any customer who would buy whatever product they are hawking under the guise of a special. These types of marketing campaigns attract one-time, one-shot bargain hunters, never to be seen again. It is key to retain the customers you have already invested time in. Existing customers tend to spend more than new customers. A satisfied customer will also recommend you to other customers. Word of mouth is huge. Look for new customers, but don’t forget about the existing ones, or you will be continually looking for new customers and sooner or later there won’t be any left.
In the rental business, the buzzword is service. Good service means knowing your products to confidently recommend equipment that will meet the needs of your customer. Customer service also entails providing competent repair service and training, whether specific to the equipment use or due to regulatory requirements.
It is essential you listen to your customer’s praises and complaints to understand what you are doing right or wrong. Listen if they tell you your prices are unreasonable. Don’t be afraid to respond directly and honestly. A good business deal must be a win-win situation for each party.
We always make sure that our pot of coffee is fresh and hot, the cream is genuine and sugar is plentiful. Customers do not want to feel that you don’t care about them. Ensure that every customer complaint is resolved and resolutions found quickly. In this very competitive market, someone else will gladly assume the caring role you have neglected, and sadly, you will have lost a customer for good.
And occasionally, you may have to up the ante and provide chocolate chip cookies with that complimentary double-double.
George A. Olah is presently the General Manager of Operations at ABCO Equipment & Supplies, a family-owned rental company located in Weston, Ont.
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