There are business experiences that people enjoy such as a visit to Starbucks, a weekend at The Ritz-Carlton, shopping at Nordstrom, or a visit to the spa. All are examples of “happy spending”. Then there are businesses that consumers dread and wish to avoid. In fact, it frustrates them when it’s necessary to “waste” their hard-earned money on them. These purchases are called “grudge buys”. A grudge buy is something we need or must do but is the last thing we want to do with our time or money. Grudge buys can include going to the dentist, paying for car insurance, needing your car repaired, calling for technical support, or dealing with your attorney. They can feel like a bad customer experience before they even begin! Yet, there are advantages to being a grudge buy.
While businesses featuring grudge-buy services and products appear to have a disadvantage compared to customer expectations about, say, a luxurious spa experience, in many cases there is an advantage to this grudge-buy perception. The customer is at a point of vulnerability and stress, e.g., when experiencing a flat tire. Nothing creates a stronger bond and greater loyalty than when someone comes to the rescue when another person is in a vulnerable position. And few things influence future decision processes and purchase behaviors—for better or for worse—as much as customer service experiences.
Restoring the Rhythm of Your Life, After a Crash
Caliber Collision is the leading auto repair company in the U.S. They have over 1,500 locations and more than $5 billion in revenue per year. When asked the reason for their incredible success, former CEO, Steve Grimshaw shared, “Employees work hard for a paycheck, they work harder for a good boss, and they work hardest for a meaningful purpose.”
You can see Caliber’s purpose is the focal point of its mission statement, which is to be the collision repair provider of choice in every community (they) serve:
“When our customers come to us, their lives have been disrupted. They’ve been in an accident, which is a distressing ordeal. Then they experience the angst of having to find an honest and efficient repair shop. They are worried about insurance coverage and out-of-pocket expenses. Their work schedules have been upended, and they face the hassle of finding alternative transportation while their vehicle is in the shop.”
Caliber offers exceptional customer care when customers’ lives are chaotic, helping each one to get back on track and “restoring the rhythm of their lives”.
A Truck Driver’s Grudge Buy
Generally, a truck driver does not want to need to visit the truck repair center of TravelCenters of America (TA). If they do, it means something is wrong with their truck, which means their day is on the brink of disaster. TA has created an incredible training video titled, A Day in the Life of a Driver. It depicts a typical day for a driver who has not been home or seen his family for an extended period of time. It shows all the demands he has personally and professionally. His goal is to make it home for his son’s basketball game that evening. He hasn’t seen his son play, and his son wants him at this game. He finds out that more and more drivers he works with are being laid off, which makes him concerned about his job. He finally makes all his stops and is headed home to see his son’s game. Just then, one of his tires blows and he shouts, “Not now, not a tire!” And you hear his son’s voice saying, “You’ve got to make it home tonight. You have to see me play!” You realize he probably isn’t going to see his son’s game as a result of his flat tire. The last thing you see is the driver pulling into a TravelCenters of America truck repair location. It is gripping.
That is how a day-in-the-life-of-a-Customer video should end—like a cliffhanger. What happens next? Hopefully, the right employee, who got to see this driver’s day unfold, will be saying to his or her coworkers, “I’ve got this one, I’ve got this next driver coming in.” They are going to be determined to help him get back on the road and home in time. In the case of TravelCenters, that is every driver’s situation. No matter what they have going on in their life, no one wants to have a truck break down and be late for the rest of the stops and have to work much later than planned. And by now most of us are aware of the effects of stress on physical health. So, it is realistic that nearly every driver walking in has that similar state of mind as well as some fairly high customer service expectations.
Who is Going to Wear the Hero’s Cape?
TravelCenters needs its employees to empathize. Every one of the four thousand TravelCenters truck-service employees has seen the video, and every new hire watches it. It has had a major impact on how TA employees handle customers and the creation of loyal customers. Employees no longer take a driver’s frustration personally, and they realize that they have a unique opportunity to be a hero to nearly every customer who comes in. Every one of their customers is in need of help, someone to come to their rescue, saving the day. How many of us have the opportunity to be a hero to our customers? Empathy is built into the training process. TravelCenters has repositioned the employees’ mindset to, “How can I be a hero today?” Who is going to put on the Superman cape and come to the rescue?
Captain Q-Force to the (Consumer) Rescue
One of the highest awards you can win at TA’s annual awards gathering is the Captain Q-Force bobblehead, which goes to the employees who truly demonstrate the spirit of coming to the rescue for their customers on a regular basis. “The video had a major emotional impact on our front-line employees and managers. It really sensitized them and changed their perception and stereotypes of our customer, the over-the-road professional truck driver,” says Ara Bagdasarian, former executive vice president of truck services. “It put them emotionally in the shoes of our driver and made them realize how hard their job is and that they are fathers and mothers with family challenges just like them. Nearly all employees, including former drivers, had a tear in their eye after viewing this, and our service levels began to improve almost immediately.”
Including this feature in customer service training—a brilliant way to create emotional connection ahead of employee/customer interactions—all but guarantees that most of their customer stories are good ones. Not only has TA’s employee Service Aptitude gone up dramatically, so have TravelCenters’ driver-satisfaction score, employee morale, and sales; they cannot keep up with all the customer (driver) praise of “above and beyond” stories that continue to come in. For a TA customer, a bad experience is rare.
A Clear-Cut Customer Service Strategy
When dealing with customers in high-stress industries, ask yourself:
- Did we brighten their day?
- Did we lighten their load?
- Did we ease their suffering?
- Did we make them feel loved?
With grudge purchases in particular there is a direct correlation between offering empathetic support on a deeper level, consumer behavior, and business growth. Because after all…being human is good business.
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