Does Your Service Shop Give you an Edge?

Your service customer brings with him an overriding need for someone to take control of his problem and solve it — promptly, responsibly, reasonably and respectfully. The operative words are “take control.” He is in some business other than fixing boats. That’s where you are supposed to be the master.
Dealerships and boat yards providing uniquely good customer service discover how to create in the customer’s mind a feeling that they have received a bit more than they have paid for. Further, customers leave impressed with their value to you and your business. They feel they are deservedly “special” customers.
Unfortunately, this discovery must be made over and over. No two customers are really alike, and a given customer seldom approaches you with the same needs or moods each time. What worked a few minutes or a few months ago is only a guideline to maintaining your shop’s edge. If you don’t invent a variety of tools for good customer service and keep them close at hand, you will have a really tough time keeping the edge.
There are, fortunately, a few techniques that help you discover these tools. I am a big list maker — particularly as my short-term memory recedes with my hairline. There are a few of these lists that would be valuable for all service facilities to make:

1. Record all the current customer services you provide. Get some help and make it as complete as possible. You will hopefully be amazed at how nice you are.

2. List all the services that you used to offer but that have fallen by the wayside. Do this with an eye toward resurrecting any that shouldn’t have been dropped or are now more pertinent.

3. List all you have dreamed of offering but never got around to. Maybe even ask some key customers what they think you have missed.

4. List all services that your competition or friends in the business offer, even if they are remote from you geographically.

You can’t possibly offer all of the possibilities on these lists. Dump the ones that are downright impractical, but make an effort to see how many could be adapted to your operation. Implement the ones that seem really brilliant and keep the rest on an “active consideration” list. Your current offering (with any new additions) plus the active consideration bunch constitute your tools. Make sure your people are up to date on the current offering. They are no good if only you know about them. Discuss the active consideration group with your key service folks. Let them know what could be added. They will tell you if they see a winner.
Above all this, make sure everyone at your dealership or boat yard knows that your company firmly believes in “taking control” of service problems for the customer with any tools available. “Not our problem” is not the customer-winning attitude. Some careful questions directed to both shop employees and customers may reveal a dichotomy between what the customers feel they are getting and what your employees think they are providing.
Remember that the happy service customer is much more likely to buy a new boat from you than somebody else. Repowering, electronics and other profitable major installations are yours for the asking if the relationship is right. And don’t forget to do the right things with your facility in terms of cleanliness, security, appearance, convenience, welcome, etc. It’s hard to get to the finer things if you blow the basics.
One excellent approach to the tool search is the marine industry’s dealer certification process. A checklist and how-to-do-it on all the necessary basics are part of the process. Since most service yards also wear a dealer hat, don’t think you aren’t eligible. The process, as well as interaction with your companions on the certification path, will provide a wealth of ways to get and keep that edge with your customers that only really good service affords. Couple that with attendance at the November Marine Retailers Association of America convention, and you are well on your way to “Top 100 Dealer” status. An increase in profits usually comes along with the general perception of good service, too.

John Underwood is CEO of Lockwood Marine on the Georgia coast. He has served as chairman of the Marine Retailers Association of America (2001 and 2002) and on boards for the American Boatbuilders and Repairers Association and American Boat & Yacht Council. He can be reached at

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