Image Truly is Everything

When someone tells you, “image is everything,” is your response to roll your eyes and respond in a manner that’s, “Tell me something I don’t know?” If so, no worries. Up until a few weeks ago, I was right there with you. I have been involved in multiunit management and/or ownership since 1995. I have always been focused on customer service, curb appeal and the image of my centers and my employees. It wasn’t really until the recent scandals with a certain airline that I really began thinking about this new concept of image.

In the old days (which I really hate to say because I don’t feel like I am that old), we focused on image because we didn’t want to lose a customer. We didn’t want a customer to come in to our store and see an employee with a rag hanging out of his pocket, with a cigarette behind his ear and a tattoo across his forehead that said, “hate customers.” We also didn’t want to risk offending a customer by having poor curb appeal, weeds growing, dead grass or unkempt lots. For the most part, our worry was confined to the four corners of our lot.

In all of our lobbies, we had a poster with some customer service message and some comment cards that a customer could pick up and fill out. They’d pick it up, take it home, sit down at their kitchen table and write out some comments on the card. When they got around to it, they’d go and drop it in a mailbox and a week or two later we’d receive their comments. More than 99 percent of the time, these comments were good, positive feedback. For those that had complaints or concerns, I’d sit down at my desk every Friday and type up a response letter and apologize and/or offer a solution to the guest’s problem. I’d drop those letters in the mail on Monday, and a week or two later, the customer would have a written response.

I remember back in 2000, we rolled out our first internal, online guest feedback survey. We spent somewhere north of $20,000 to develop the system, which, in essence, you can now get for free with many online survey companies. The point was, we now allowed our guests to tell us about their service within minutes of leaving the center if they so chose, and it allowed us an avenue for a pretty quick response through email and/or phone. Gone were the days of checking the mail for the comment cards or sitting down at the desk to type out letters.

It is surprising how many businesses still process feedback in this manner. We send out a survey code, we wait for a guest to tell us how their service was and then we respond. It is truly a reactionary approach to customer service. Generally speaking, managers wait for a complaint and then act on that complaint to address an issue with image or service. This has become such a trend in our society that, at some point as business owners or operators, we need to step up and find these issues before they become a customer issue.

Why has this become the way we need to operate today? Let’s just take the example I used above with curb appeal. A potential customer who drove by our store 15 years ago and decided not to stop in because the weeds were overgrown or half the sign was unlit probably drove down the street to a competitor and didn’t say anything to anyone but maybe one or two friends. Otherwise, the damage was minimal. Fast-forward to today. A millennial drives by one of our stores and sees something that offends him/her, well, it’s game on: A picture is snapped, a sarcastic, descriptive caption is put on the picture and onto social media it goes. Probably something like this, “Look at these bleeps over at Lube Lube, they can’t even mow their own lawn. Why would I trust them with my car?”

Big deal, right? Someone posts a snarky comment about our ability to mow our lawn — what does that really have to do with car repair? Unfortunately, it doesn’t really matter. Everything is free game in this day and age. An employee that looks like a slob, a bathroom that hasn’t been cleaned all day, a coffee pot that is empty, a hand written note taped to the TV that says, “it’s broke” — all this is fair game to customers and/or potential customers. This just means we need to look at our service centers, employees, lobbies, service, etc. through the eyes of millennials.

One of the most eye-opening experiences for one of my managers was a Saturday that I decided to visit one of our service centers with my then 13-year-old daughter. It was a rainy day; I needed new wipers and decided to stop in and get them swapped out real quick. I handed my daughter a notepad and a pen and told her to just go around the store inside and outside and write down everything she noticed. I didn’t have her do this to embarrass anyone or to go on social media and blast them, but to give our manager a fresh set of eyes and some feedback on the appearance of the store. Some of what my daughter pointed out was trivial, but most were valid areas that could improve the look or feel of our store: Posters on the wall crooked, magazines that were torn and old, corners of the lobby floor that had been missed by the mop for weeks, greasy handprints on the doors, paint peeling off the front of the building, cigarette butts in the landscaping, window sticker backings on the front lot, etc. We know all these things should be done better, yet they were still being experienced by our Saturday guests (and quite honestly probably those for the full previous week).

For those of us who truly care about our business (and really who doesn’t?), we have an opportunity to adjust our processes and business to meet the standards of this current generation of customers. My suggestion is that we need to remain focused on not only delivering great customer service, but also presenting our centers and ourselves with the highest regard to image.

One last piece of advice I have, which may contradict that advice given to you by others, is that you own your social media. By that, I mean you take ownership in the good and bad things posted on social media regarding your business. Don’t hide from the negative, don’t ignore the negative and, by no means, don’t antagonize the negative commenters. Own it. Address it. One of the biggest mistakes most companies make is getting defensive about negativity or making the “no comment” remark. My suggestion is completely the opposite.

Let’s go back to the weeds and half burnt out light — say you got that comment and photo on your Business Facebook Page, I know many business owners would hide the comment and ban the user. Well, that’s one approach. I also know many that would just ignore it and leave it. That’s another approach (probably the worst). Neither of those would earn any respect from your followers or the customer in question. Instead, what if you owned it? What if you posted a picture of yourself mowing the grass and repairing your sign with the caption: “Thank you for pointing out our lack of attention to detail. I agree wholeheartedly, and that’s why I went down today and took care of the situation myself!” Mic drop.