At least once a week, I try to spend an hour or so making coffees for people while they wait for their cars to be serviced at our family owned motor dealership, Paradise Motors Mazda. I do this almost anonymously. Most people think I am a failed author or part-time philosopher making a few bucks as a barista at the local car dealer.
The truth is, I love this experience. I get a great insight into every aspect of the business of the car dealership but the real value for me is to understand the importance of the customer. It helps me to be grounded. It teaches me a lot about customer service. It helps me to remember who is important.
In 1956, shortly before his 22nd birthday, my father Reg purchased a small workshop and petrol station amongst the Torrens Valley market gardens on the north east fringe of the city of Adelaide. Rich clay soil and access to water made this land a gardeners' utopia and the area, known as Paradise, eventually became a suburb of Adelaide.
Dad worked in the business as a motor mechanic before he bought it. The business was semi-rural in its nature, fuelling and fixing tractors and market garden trucks. It also did very well out of repairing the tyres of unsuspecting travellers who had run over horse-shoe nails or shards of steel from the tramlines at the Paradise tram terminus "at the end of the line" just some 300 metres down the road!
Within a few years of buying the business, Dad decided to start selling cars. Slowly he built a substantial new car sales business as the surrounding market gardens were subdivided and sold as housing blocks for young families moving in to the new suburb.
Other car businesses came and went across Adelaide but my father's business built a reputation for ethical business standards, commitment to the community and, above all else, exceptional customer service.
In many ways, he seemed to have his priorities the wrong way around by normal business standards. He seem to be worried about the little things and not about the big things. There were times when, I am sure, his contemporaries would say that he wasn't paying attention to costs or making as much money as they had been able to at the time. He really wasn't focused on driving efficiencies or profit maximisation. And yet, he seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to speak with customers, give them flowers when they took delivery of a new car and drilled his team to answer the phone quickly and politely.
As it turned out, he was really playing the long game!
There is no doubt that his business has, to this day, accumulated a significant amount of brand equity; an outstanding reputation for customer service that sets it apart from its competitors. You can see this when you make coffee for the people waiting for their cars. They have a very high expectation of service. When that expectation is met or exceeded, they are visibly delighted. Customers become satisfied customers. Satisfied customers become advocates. Advocates for your business become an integral part of your marketing fire-power.
Certainly it has been a successful strategy; a strategy based on customer service. Yet I have known this business all my life and here, I believe, is the secret to the success. I believe that my father never set out to use customer service as a strategy for business success. I believe he wanted to run his business in a particular way; in a way that put the customer relationships at the heart of what he did. It was the essence of his business.
To read the paper in full, click here: Make people coffee and learn about customer service