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Philibuster: Service sells

Good service isn’t a cost, it’s an opportunity.


March 2, 2022
By Phil Lewin

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To me, to service to one’s customer is perhaps the most critical area of the complete package required for success. First, what do I mean by service? In fact, virtually everything done for your customer can be defined as service, but for the moment I want to focus on those services that relate to product.

Let me start with a true story. I was training a neophyte sales rep who had gone out on his first solo cold call trip and was debriefing him on his return. He was somewhat puzzled at one interaction he had in the field. A dealer sat down to talk with him and asked him the question, “Who is your sales manager?”  The young rep had replied with my name. The dealer responded, “Well, that’s a good start.” The sales rep wondered what had just occurred.

Years before, when I was working at a different company, I received a panicky call from a customer who had just unpacked a large combination window, only to find a crack in the frame. Unfortunately, the old window had already been removed from the opening and destroyed. If the damage had been to an internal part of the window, he could have installed it and come back later to replace a part but with the frame damage, this would have been monumental. I went into the factory with some paperwork and had a new frame made. I jumped into a pickup with the frame and drove over an hour away to the site. The grateful dealer had no issue with reusing internal parts from the original window and with minimal disruption, the problem was solved.

I had long forgotten the incident, but, as I realized from the salesperson’s report, the dealer had not. In this regard, your customer, whether dealer or homeowner, has a long memory. Create bad memories at your peril! I learned to drive around as both a salesperson and executive to carry a full complement of tools and spare parts in my car. I’ve lost count of the times I walked into a situation where a frustrated dealer only wanted to talk about a small outstanding service for which they were owed a large sum of money because the customer was not paying for the whole project until the repair was complete. Before even trying to talk about new products, my solution was to go with the dealer to the customer’s home and fix the problem. Then the relieved dealer would be happy to sit down and discuss my agenda. A joke between the actual service person and me was that I might have had a better parts inventory in my trunk than was in the service department. (Actually I still have the odd spare part kicking around my house, so if you need one of those universal replacement tilt bars, let me know!)

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Carrying tools and parts had another significant benefit in another part of my professional life when one of my primary functions was to bid on and sell projects. How many times was I on a condo site with the property manager when a homeowner would notice we were looking at windows and doors? The homeowner would approach us and ask the manager if I was there to fix something with one of his windows and the manager would start to explain that I was from a different company. (It would be obvious to me that the previous supplier was not providing good service and that was why I was there in the first place.) I would offer my services on the spot to at least look at the problem and, if it could be done with my tools and parts, offer to fix it on the spot. Now, a question for you: do you think I ever lost a project after fixing another company’s window? It would be pretty clear to the manager that if I was even willing to fix another company’s window, the manager would not have to worry about me coming back if there was something required on mine later.

There can be a tendency to see after-sales service as an unfortunate reality. I always have seen it as an opportunity to show exactly why a customer made the right decision to deal with me and the company I represented. You never know when down the road someone is going to tell your salesperson, “That’s a good start.”


Phil Lewin is technical director of SAWDAC.