What My Mechanic Taught Me About Customer Service

My first car was a 1983 Ford Laser with burnt orange paint and purple tinted windows. The manual choke required a peg to hold it in place, and the previous owner had installed a comically out-of-place “sports” steering wheel, meaning the horn was moved to a tiny button on the dashboard.

I appreciated having a car, but I never loved it. I didn’t name it or mourn its untimely passing after a grumpy painter crashed into it. All I’ve ever wanted from a car is for it to start when I need to go somewhere and continue working without much effort or cost on my part.

The Ford Laser and every one of my subsequent cars has been serviced and repaired by the same mechanic, Peter Ttoullounge, who was the local mechanic where I grew up in The Shire (the one without Hobbits). He looked after all our family cars; my parents still take their cars to him today.

There are many, many other car mechanics to choose from, of course. Some are more conveniently located, some offer you coffee, some are cheaper, and some even make repairs at your home. But I have never considered using another mechanic.

When I call Peter and book in my car for a service, he remembers me. He asks about my children and tells me what his grandkids are up to. He’ll ask some questions to make sure he knows what needs fixing, and he’ll suggest things he can check to save me some money.

If there’s anything unexpected, Peter will talk through what he’s found, what the options are, and how much they’ll cost, and he’s even tracked down quality secondhand parts to cut down the cost.

When I pick up my car, I’m greeted by an honor guard of unidentifiable used parts and the empty boxes of their newly installed replacements. Peter knows I have no idea what most of those pieces are, but he shows me every time, pointing out the worn or broken element.

In an industry with a reputation for taking advantage of customers, it’s part of his routine for establishing trust, and it works.

If only every tradesperson I dealt with was as consistently reliable and trustworthy!

When I answer our customers here at Help Scout and when I write about customer service, I often reflect on how Peter treats me. He’s not flashy, he doesn’t provide “wow moments,” but he has given me consistent and reliable high quality service over decades.

I doubt Peter has ever created a “customer service strategy,” and to him, NPS is more likely to mean Nippon Parts Supply than Net Promoter Score, yet he’s still providing great experiences for his customers every day.

So what is he doing that has his patrons so happy? After years of going to Peter, I’ve narrowed it down to four core principles that describe Peter’s approach to customer service.

Customer centricity is a catalyst for growth and a competitive differentiator.

Peter’s 4 principles of customer service

  1. Treat your customers as individuals. A customer is a person, not a resource to be mined. It’s okay to share stories with your customers while you’re helping them out.

  2. Consistency beats the unreliable wow. Before you spend energy on trying to amaze people, make sure you’re solving their problem every time. Be reliable, be on time, and reduce unpleasant surprises.

  3. Show and tell. Explain to the customer why you did what you did, and show them how, rather than just telling them it’s fixed. Even if they don't know as much as you, they will value honest communication, and you’ll reduce any fear that they’re being ripped off.

  4. Go the extra mile for your customers. If you’re already reliably handling their basic needs, step up your customer service game. Anticipate what else they might need before they ask. Do the dull job so your customer doesn’t have to.

These days I drive a much more staid family wagon. The purple tinted windows and sports steering wheel have been replaced with dismembered Star Wars figurines and slowly decomposing cereal. Peter doesn’t judge. He just does an excellent job the same way he always has.

I just hope that by the time he retires, we've worked through some of those Star Trek transporter...issues.

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