Written by: Lauralee Schmidt, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
No matter what kind of service you provide, or retail business you work in, you are selling a product/service to someone. And how you address that someone is incredibly important within your business culture. There are fine details and nuances inside of business, and one of those things is recognizing your patrons part in your daily business role. To many, the patron is just a customer. Personally, I loathe the word Customer, and I hear it so many places I go. I find the word to be flat, with little to no emotional attachment to it. There is not a lot of honor or glory in being a customer; it sounds transactional. You see, I am a Customer in a lot of places I go. I am a Client in certain places. And I am treated as a Guest in a handful of places. For me, there is a direct correlation to those business models and the amount of money I spend in them. So I think about this often in regard to my business, auto care.
I know there is some deep psychology on terminology and the mindset it ensues of a consumer, but I’m not a psychologist so I won’t get super technical on that end. I know when I am taking a quick trip to the gas station or pull-thru at my local fast-food joint, no one will roll out a red carpet or call me by name. I am simply a customer, another dollar sign coming in their door—a conversion number. There is nothing that makes these businesses special to me, and I am not special to them. We are interchangeable to each other, and it’s solely a functional consumer relationship based in sustainability and ease. And that’s fine, we need customer-based businesses to keep commerce moving along at a consistent pace. But you never feel special as a Customer, and so for my family’s business, I loathe that word. You will never hear the word “customer” in my business. I don’t believe in the “customer experience.” I believe in an exceptional experience.
For years, I sat comfortably with the word “Client.” I was a professional makeup artist and most of the people who hired me were also professionals, so “Client” fit nicely. I gave them the makeup service I was hired to do, but not much beyond that. I kept my Clients at arm’s reach for years. At that time of life, my business was balanced on shallow relationships based solely on financial transactions. I think a lot of service industries fall into this category. Especially those that play inside the luxury market. I don’t hate engaging with businesses that treat you like a Client. I know I will more than likely be treated with respect, someone will probably know my name, and I will feel comfortable releasing the amount of money I need to for the services rendered. There is a certain ease in being a Client because it feels better than the places that treat you like a Customer. There is a certain luxe feeling to being a Client. However, as I evolved into different businesses, and aged as a consumer, I felt “Client” was ok, but there had to be something that elevated beyond that.
It was in a management training class in California that an auto shop owner stood up and said, “I treat all my guests with great care.” Now that sentence probably sounded cliché to everyone in the room, I imagine, but one word vibrated in my soul; Guest. I knew the moment I heard it drop from that owner’s mouth, an evolution was going to occur inside my shop’s verbiage and culture. I heard nothing else that went on in that meeting because I immediately started writing lists on how our team could start hosting a guest. I went back to the shop and told the service team we would no longer be using the word Client. That we were now serving guests. And with that, I wanted a guest experience like no other. I’m lucky to have a very flexible team that aligns quickly when a new facet is brought into our shop culture because from that day forward, we serviced Guests.
Think about what it is to be a guest. When you are at a friend’s house you are comfortable to grab snacks and a drink if you want. When you are visiting your parents’ house, you kick off your shoes, grab the remote, engage in conversation, and relax. When you are someone’s guest, you feel comfortable. And if I’ve learned anything over the last few years in auto care, it’s that auto care can be an uncomfortable business. There are days when the conversations are hard, and the parts are moving slow, and a Guest is anxious about their potential repair or loss of time with their vehicle. It’s why my shop goes the extra mile to make sure curbside service is offered, and a loaner car is available, and why we have a guest room that is cozy and loaded with amenities. We want our guests to feel comfortable from the moment they walk in, till the moment they leave. We want them to sit down, make a hot tea, and ask the questions they have, while knowing they will get answers to feel confident in their repair decisions. Sometimes those decisions are heavy and unexpected, and it takes a friend to help navigate that. We want our guests to see us as friends because we are. Friends trust friends, friends can talk openly to friends, and I think business relationships should be based on trust and communication for solid longevity.
Every business has a reason why they started and a base of consumers they are pitching it to. We could easily be a basic shop and offer basic car repairs and average service. But we wanted something different. We don’t work on cars because we have to. We do it because we genuinely love to. And when you love what you do, you want to treat the people you do it for the best you possibly can. Our team decided a long ago, we did not want our business's greatest testament to be the car repairs we did, but it would be the way we treated people.
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Lauralee Schmidt, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Lauralee is a cosmetic guru turned auto care goddess. Her years inside a cosmetic education role with a Fortune 500 company armed her with knowledge and skills that paired perfectly with her passion for branding a business and educating a client base. Her goal is to educate women in car care, change the stigma that surrounds the auto industry, and be a guiding post for branding and business development. From international beauty campaigns to underneath a car, she has successfully navigated the world of business and branding.