Good communication makes happy customers

One lesson at last year's Marine Dealer Conference and Expo that I think surprised a lot of dealers was the importance of getting back to online leads immediately — within minutes if possible — when they ask a question.

By Mike Davin, online editor, Boating IndustryOne lesson at last year's Marine Dealer Conference and Expo that I think surprised a lot of dealers was the importance of getting back to online leads immediately — within minutes if possible — when they ask a question.

During the same presentation that stressed that point, some dealers were also a bit embarrassed when Bob McCann of Channel Blade revealed actual e-mail responses generated in a secret shop of their Web sites. Several e-mails were clearly dashed off quickly, looked like they were tapped out carelessly on a phone, and provided little or no helpful information for the customer.

If you inquired about a product online, how would you like to wait days only to hear back: "sorry boat sold. but come by and well get you hooked up!" (That's not a verbatim response from the presentation, but unfortunately it's pretty close — including the lousy punctuation.)

I was reminded of that secret shop after a recent interaction I had with my gas company. To make a long story short, we discovered a leak outside, which the company promptly came out and fixed. (I don't give them any special credit for that. It was a gas leak after all, they'd better get there quick!) The lesson I took came from what happened next.

Because of the location of the leak and the fact that winter weather had kept us inside for months, it was pretty hard to determine exactly how long we'd been losing gas. We thought our bills seemed high recently, so I wrote the gas company asking if we could get some kind of credit on our account.

Their response did not thrill me: Nope, you can't. However, two things caused me to respect it.

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1) It was prompt — I wasn't left waiting a week for a reply.

2) It was thorough, polite, and well-written. The responder walked me through the history of the property and its energy use, and in the end, I couldn't really argue with their decision not to offer compensation.

Solid communication is so vital to good customer relations that it should be a no-brainer — and a huge priority. Unfortunately, as the MDCE secret shop demonstrated, too often it is not.

I went back and looked at Bob's presentation after my experience with the gas company. The first two e-mail fundamentals he listed were "Fast Initial Response" and "Professional Response." I couldn't agree more.

I would not have been happy to wait two weeks and then open an e-mail from the gas company to find: "sorry credit denied. but if you need more gas well get you hooked up!"

Neither would you — and neither would your customers.

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