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A Small Request that Lost Thousands of Dollars

It was a simple question served up to the customer service guy at the dealership I've gone to since buying a car there three years ago. It was time for routine maintenance and I had enough time to make the drive for the appointment.

"I was driving into the sun this morning and noticed the front windshield is kind of foggy. I know this isn't a typical request, but would you be able to have someone spray a little Windex on it for me?"

With only a brief look up, while typing on his terminal and flipping paperwork from other customers, he replied "I don't have a single person here who is able to do that. I'm sorry."

Though unstated, I couldn't help but ask myself, "Seriously? Not a single person? No one? And by the way, your sorry didn't really sound sincere!"

The back story: There's a new dealership for the same manufacturer that is at least 15 minutes closer to my home. I've held off on the shorter drive out of some sense of loyalty, I suppose. I'm comfortable with the people there. They have free wi-fi, coffee, and donuts. If that's not enough, I get a free car wash coupon from them. So for a year I've been willing to drive longer.

Whether you're a business owner or project manager or team member, it's worth asking the question: "Why do people choose us? What is it about what and how we do our business that causes people to choose us?"

After a while, most dealerships look the same. Their training is rather similar and their prices are all too high. :)

"Do I look pretty much the same as the next guy? What is it that we do that stands out.... that keeps people coming back when an alternative provider might just be more convenient?"

When I got home I found a coupon in the mail from the dealer that would have saved me money on the maintenance I received just that morning. Not a lot of saving, mind you, but that's not the point.... If the guy was customer focused, could he have offered the deal to me, since it's obviously available to the public?

Sometimes it's the little things in life. Times when we are tempted to say "No", when going just a little out-of-the-way for a customer or stakeholder with a "Yes" strengthens the ties of loyalty.

I facilitated a "lessons learned" meeting for a client yesterday. There was nothing written into an agreement that I would type up the notes, put together a summary, and include recommendations. I did it anyway, knowing my main contact is a very busy guy.

His response this morning: "Thank you for going above and beyond by typing up the notes." For an extra half hour of work, I deepened a relationship with a client.

I won't be returning to my old dealership, at least until I try the new place out. Over time, it's the little things left undone that will cost that dealership many thousands of dollars.

Watch for the little things you can do today to let your customers and stakeholders know they are truly valued. If necessary, grab the Windex yourself and you just might gain an even more loyal customer for the years ahead.

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Comment by Andy Kaufman on November 24, 2010 at 7:51pm
Those are wise words, Robert. Thank you for sharing the car story. May it invoke fear in every car salesman (and project manager)! :)
Comment by Robert Brown on November 24, 2010 at 6:58pm
I had a very similar experience buying a new car once. The sales manager refused to fill-up the tank, so I ripped up the paperwork and told the guy to keep the car.

The art of doing the little things has been lost. Everyone expects to do the big, visible tasks, but those same people feel it is beneath them to do the little tasks. More often than not, it is the little things that garner the most appreciation.
Comment by Andy Kaufman on November 17, 2010 at 7:50pm
Hi Craig! Hey, thanks for the comment! I'm a major fan of John.... I had him as a guest on our podcast earlier this year (http://www.PeopleAndProjectsPodcast.com). QBQ has been very influential in my personal and professional life. Thanks for the comment and the shout out for John!
Comment by Craig Blakeley on November 17, 2010 at 7:01pm
Andy, good advice. Do you follow John Miller? (http://qbq.com/) His teaching is all about personal accountability, and the Question Behind the Question (QBQ). It's exactly what you are saying. It's all about the little things.

Thanks for the reminder.

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