Ask Questions While The Answers Still Matter, Part 1

Timely questions can save a client relationship and pay years of dividends to your business.

By MARK RIFFEY for the Flathead Beacon

In November, my wife hit a deer at 70 mph on a four-lane divided highway on her way to work in the pre-dawn hours a few days before Thanksgiving (she’s fine, thanks). The next nine weeks provided a number of takeaways for business owners, and in particular, point out the importance of asking questions while the answers still matter.

Takeaways from the process:

  • If you make your customers do your job, they are going to be frustrated, or they are going to expect a great price. Set expectations up front.
  • When a situation clearly has the potential to frustrate a customer, a little extra effort on the part of your team goes a long way.
  • Give your customers a good reason to make the choices you want them to make.
  • Having technically adept people on the phone who also understand and empathize with a customer who lost use of a car (and has a bunch of questions) is a big plus.
  • If you care about survey responses, make sure the surveys are sent at the proper time. Automation handles this kind of stuff in its sleep – if it’s automated with the right data. “Ask questions while the answers still matter” also means don’t ask too soon.
  • Wording on a direct mail piece matters as much as it does in tweet or email. The assumptions you make can make your marketing piece all but invisible.
  • Don’t all dealers have at least one factory-certified master technician? If you have them and you know the other dealers don’t, why isn’t your advertising letting people know this important detail? This isn’t solely about car dealers.
  • Filling the tank was not required and not expensive, but it was a nice gesture when returning someone’s car after over two months. What “not required and not expensive” things can you do to show your clients that you care?
  • Systems work. While the efficiency provided by inter-company systems produce a time and cost savings benefit to the insurance company, body shop and dealer, these systems are also a benefit to customers.

The experience:

Body shop – Great job, both on the work and as an advocate for me when dealing with the local dealer. Slower than expected, but three holidays and the shipping time for multiple parts orders were out of everyone’s control. At times they seemed surprised that I didn’t take out my frustration with the situation on them. I didn’t because they kept me informed, set reasonable expectations, and were clearly playing the role of advocate for me when dealing with the dealer’s service department. Key: They didn’t make me do their job.

Local dealer – They had the car for over three weeks. I wonder what would have happened if that factory-certified technician hadn’t been traveling through our area twice while our car was being diagnosed. I got the impression that this guy was the savant who twice rescued the dealer’s service department from throwing up their hands and giving up. Imagine if a random customer had been dealing with the dealer instead of a peer in their industry. The body shop guys tell me that they still believe in the dealer’s service department, so that goes a long way. The dealer should appreciate that they were held to the body shop’s standards.

National claims office – Outside of a slow start with the tow (which added a week) and the adjuster (which added another week) and one episode of snark on the phone, they performed as expected.

Local agent – Was a non-factor in the process. Agent missed a substantial opportunity to create a relationship and show how they care for clients.

Next time, we dig deeper, but here’s a summary to process in the meantime:

The sales experience was a telling precursor to the in-claim experience we had. If you have an admin with little or no domain knowledge make the initial sale, review what they sell to your customers. Call or email me and suggest any changes based on your experience, what you know about me, or tell me you did so and have no changes to suggest. Follow up regularly with customers who have damage claims. Consider what carnage and inconvenience has been introduced into their lives. Don’t make your customers do your job.Don’t be an order taker. Instead, have a documented process for your team that’s over and above what the national carrier forces upon you.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site, contact him on LinkedIn or Twitter, or email him at


2014-08-20_0819Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site, contact him on LinkedIn or Twitter, or email him at