Service Tips: Make that first impression

Maintenance takes care of your customers.

By Keith Kocourek 
While the ounce of prevention cliché is certainly true, it’s really the relationship with your customer being maintained and prolonged. Broken equipment can be fix or replaced, but a lost customer is often permanent.

First impressions aren’t based just on following a recommended maintenance schedule. They’re based on the outward appearance of your equipment, facility and the level of genuine care you provide. Imagine being handed the keys to an outdated car when you rent a vehicle – it doesn’t matter how mechanically sound the car is because you’ve already developed an unfavorable opinion. It’s important to keep your facility and your equipment as presentable as possible at all times.

Rental equipment doesn’t have to be off the showroom floor-fresh, but it should be well maintained. Are any engine controls broken? How about dented or damaged panels? Is there debris or oil seepage accumulation? When washing equipment on its return, look for cosmetic defects that could create a bad impression.

Function test
When customers experience an operational problem with equipment, your ability to duplicate the fault determines your ability to repair it. Unfortunately, small shop space can make it hard to function-test equipment.

While urban shop locations may not have the space; use some creativity to come up with a function test space. Think about how trade show vendors turn parking lots into miniature construction sites. If your location has the resources to function-test equipment, it can provide an added advantage over your competition because it allows you to show customers first-hand how to operate equipment.

Seen vs. unseen maintenance
Customers can’t see a maintenance schedule record unless you proudly show it. A good example of “seen” maintenance is the Service Performed sticker in your car’s windshield. Without the sticker, would you know service was actually performed?

Personalizing serviced equipment with a technician’s name provides a higher level of ownership for your tech and a higher perception of care for your customer. Consider a checklist or placard that can be attached to your equipment upon completion. This performs double duty by showcasing maintenance efforts and also reminds customers to routinely check critical fluid levels and service points.

Seeing OEM-branded replacement parts can also increase customer perception compared with non-branded aftermarket parts, especially oil filters in highly visible locations. Small equipment often doesn’t come with an hour-meter, but installing one is inexpensive and helps track customer use or service intervals. It is an inexpensive example of seen maintenance.

Air, oil, and fuel
Replace air filter elements based on visual inspections rather than a timetable. Depending on operating conditions, some equipment may struggle to make it through the day with a single air-filter element. Consider providing a replacement element for rentals known to work in debris-heavy environments. This may serve as a customer reminder to check and service it. Blowing out filter elements or other efforts to clean them can increase the risk of debris bypass, which can quickly damage the engine. Be leery of aftermarket filters that may not fit or filter properly. Quality OEM filters are very affordable when compared with the cost of preventable engine repair or replacement.

Not all engine oils are equal. Automotive oils are formulated primarily for emissions and fuel economy, with anti-wear properties being secondary. Your equipment needs a formulation for anti-wear and anti-heat; small-engine specific formulations are designed for this criteria. Using OEM-specific fluids is always the safest bet and reduces the risk of the wrong or an incompatible fluid being used.

Consider additional labeling or decals to indicate the equipment uses DIESEL or GASOLINE. It’s common knowledge the importance of only using gasoline no greater than 10 percent ethanol (E10), but customers may not, and if they refill equipment before return, they are likely to purchase less-expensive fuel. Not requiring a refill may create less fuel-related issues. It’s wise to visually inspect the fuel tank contents upon return or perform a simple sniff test in hopes of identifying any contamination.

If you use YouTube for how-to videos, be sure to illustrate refueling with the appropriate-colored fuel container and fuel specifications. Instruct customers on proper fuel shut-off practices, especially for transport.

Record keeping
Being proactive with maintenance and repairs requires consistent record keeping and regular monitoring of these records. Combining maintenance records with booking or scheduling software can reduce the risk of equipment being rented that needs repair. These records can be connected to barcode or RFID (radio frequency identification) technology used for equipment management and tracking. The ability to attach images to maintenance records can quickly assist with identifying new damage. Whatever system you choose, be sure to allow room for it to expand and evolve as your needs change.

Work smarter
When the inevitable issue occurs, use technology to your advantage; a smart phone video can provide helpful information, potentially saving a trip to a job site. It may allow you to determine whether tools, parts, better operating instructions or replacement equipment is needed to resolve the issue.

Operating instructions available on YouTube that are posted on your company’s web site can prevent a phone call from a frustrated customer. The customer can watch the video several times for clarification, whereas they’re less likely to ask for repeat instructions out of embarrassment.

Can your customer reach you by phone, text, or email if something goes wrong? Do you have spare equipment or a back-up plan? Studies have shown that customers who experience an issue that was resolved often become more loyal than customers who never experience an issue at all. A well-resolved issue requires planning so implementation can occur without additional delay or frustration.

One could say it’s helpful to plan for the worst and hope for the best, but hope has no merit in a preventive maintenance plan. When equipment that looks poorly maintained fails, your customer will think, “I knew it!” When equipment that looks well maintained fails, your customer will think, “That’s odd!”

From their perception, your equipment is either well maintained or it isn’t, and they’re either going to be productive or they aren’t. Give them reason to believe your equipment is well maintained based on outward appearance, followed up with solid maintenance practices they may never see. 

Keith Kocourek is a senior service specialist for Kohler Engines and previously worked in the automotive repair industry as a technician, service writer, and service manager.