Automotive Training & Consulting

How Product Knowledge Can Affect Customer Service

In recent discussions with colleagues, we have talked about the importance of effective product knowledge in providing good customer service.

One example I gave was a concierge in a hotel, who may be extremely polite, considerate, enthusiastic and eager to help. However if he/she doesn’t know the hotel and its facilities, doesn’t know the local area, doesn’t know the right restaurants to recommend based on guests’ needs, doesn’t know what shows and movies are playing in town, then his/her ability to deliver customer service is extremely limited.

I’ve read on other motor industry websites that several manufacturers are engaging concierge trainers to train their salespeople in customer service. This is a great step in improving customer service skills as long as the salespeople have the product knowledge and associated skills to match.

An enthusiastically helpful service person or salesperson who doesn’t know his/her ‘product’ can be an infuriating waste of time for a customer.

The BLT with Gluten-Free Bread

Product Knowledge for Customer Service

My partner is coeliac. Like other coeliacs, her immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats). So eating normal bread (which contains gluten) makes her sick for several days.

Having breakfast with friends in a cafe recently that had several gluten-free (GF) options on the menu, including gluten-free bread, my partner ordered the BLT with the Gluten Free bread.  Fifteen minutes later, the waitress brought out a BLT (made with normal bread) and a side order of Gluten-Free bread.  The service was prompt and friendly but the waitress (and, it seems, the chef) had no understanding of why they had gluten-free items on the menu and why customers would need gluten-free food.  Naturally , the BLT was sent back and the ignorant waitress seemed a bit put out.

My partner had to wait for a new sandwich to be made (correctly) and got the right sandwich, fifteen minutes after everyone else got their breakfast orders.

So the end result was a below-average customer service experience.

A Motor Industry Example of Poor Product Knowledge = Poor Customer Service

Relating this ignorant customer service experience to the motor industry, I recall the story of the buyer of a brand new 4WD, printed in an Australian motoring publication a few years ago.  The new 4WD buyer had recently upgraded his old four-wheel drive to a brand new model.  He seemed to assume, as did his salesperson, that he was already familiar with the brand and the model so little time was ‘wasted’ on product knowledge and a ‘deal’ was done.

What both of them missed was the fact that the very old model 4WD that the customer was trading in was old enough to not have Anti-lock Braking System (ABS).

Naturally, the new car did have ABS but the customer wasn’t aware of what it did (and didn’t) do and the salesperson simply supplied a car for a price.

On his first weekend drive in his new 4WD, the customer was driving along a gravel road. As he approached a bend in the road, he braked heavily. The ABS activated, but did not slow his vehicle as quickly as he’d expected with his old 4WD and he ploughed into a tree. He blamed the ABS and the vehicle for his misfortune.  His blame would be better placed with the salesperson.

I recall reading a survey of Australian motorists years ago and, among other things, it revealed that over 60% of the survey respondents who drive cars with ABS had no idea what ABS did. Around that time I was training a large group of salespeople with a prominent prestige brand, so we started training one morning with a product knowledge quiz including a multiple-choice question on the function of ABS.

Almost 90% of salespeople gave the wrong answer on the function of ABS!

We quickly amended subsequent training to focus more on this and other important product information.

Product Knowledge Must Solve a Customer’s Problem

In his book SPIN Selling, from a comprehensive study of 35,000 sales calls, Neil Rackham shows how effective product knowledge is in sales, as well as the most effective way to provide product knowledge to a customer.

Furthermore, Rackham identifies a vital focus of customer service: What customer problems does it solve? If it doesn’t solve a customer’s problem, your product and your product knowledge are of little value.


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