Vendor Practices Personalized Service
The Connection manager John Harshaw sells parts to auto recyclers only, ensuring the policy by checking salvage licenses.
PHOTO: ANTHONY PROVEAUX
While auto recyclers spend significant portions of the workday helping their customers find auto parts, they are oftentimes parts customers themselves. One of the most important things an auto recycler considers when it's time to refill inventory, is which vendor will best assist in acquiring the needed parts.
Andrew Gray, who purchases auto parts for Doug's Auto Recyclers in Coldwater, Mich. (DougsAutoRecyclers.com), prefers buying from vendors that ensure quality products, are down-to-earth and don't press too hard to make extra sales. He stated he has had the best experiences buying from The Connection (PlatinumParts.com).
"In the salvage industry, we don't normally make cold calls to body shops trying to push our products on them; we let them call us," he added. "So, I prefer that same kind of relationship as a customer. The worst experiences I've had with manufacturers are when they are pushy or bother me too much with constant calls. I never have those issues with [The Connection]. Their customer service is top notch."
Research from the International Customer Service Association (ICSAToday.org) shows companies that make customer service a high priority see 12 times the return on sales versus companies with a low emphasis on service, and 68 percent of customers will stop doing business with a company because of poor service.
John Harshaw, who manages the Mesa, Ariz. office for The Connection, said one reason the company's customer service plan works is because every customer has an account manager to keep track of purchasing history.
"Every individual business talks to the same person every time they call," he explained. "We can tell them what they have bought and what they haven't bought. If the account manager feels a different product might be needed, they can suggest ideas the customer might not have thought of."
Gray said he talks to his account manager, Robin Kaye, on a daily basis and has received helpful advice from her.
"I was trying to order some power-window switches, and I normally veer towards getting the cheaper parts for the benefit of the customer," he said. "Robin knew this, and caught on that I was trying to order the more expensive parts. She called me back and asked me if I wanted to buy the cheaper ones. Of course, I did."
Tom Lusk, owner of 79 Auto Salvage, in Scottsboro, Ala., prefers The Connection because there is no requirement to speak with anyone to place an order.
"The Connection keeps it simple, and has a quicker, cheaper and bigger selection," he noted. "I can do everything online and I don't have to talk to anyone."
The quality of a company's products is another factor in customer retention, and the main reason Tim Edwards, who purchases auto parts for Complete Auto Recyclers, Inc. located in Brownsboro, Ala. (CompleteAutoRecyclers.com), buys from The Connection.
"We know the quality of parts it has, and it is always consistent," he said. "We go to The Connection because it can handle anything aftermarket that we want to sell. It is also timely and price efficient. It's a win-win situation."
A reliable way to measure product quality is by the business' return rate on sales. According to Harshaw, The Connection's return rate is 1.8 percent. An Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AftermarketSuppliers.org) survey, taken from 40 of the association's members, estimates the average return rate at 5.9 percent.
If there is a rare occasion where a customer needs to return a part, however, The Connection responds quickly.
"If there is a problem with a product, we take care of it, no questions asked," said Harshaw.
Another reason The Connection is popular with auto recyclers is that it doesn't compete with its clientele. The Connection's entire client base is auto recyclers.
"We don't compete with auto recyclers for customers," Harshaw explained. "We want people going to the salvage yards to buy their parts. Our competitors sell to auto recyclers, but will also sell parts on eBay, which bypasses the auto recycler. We don't sell to anyone who isn't an auto recycler. We even ask for a salvage license to ensure this policy."
The Connection has sales offices in Mesa, Ariz. and Rockledge, Fla., distribution centers in Warsaw, Ky. and Portland, Tenn., and has headquarters in Colmar, Pa. Jim Brannigan, Harshaw, Brian Kemble and Joe Wright share management duties.
The Connection sells more than 200 different part types. Exhaust manifolds, headlights and taillights, intake manifolds, window regulators and window switches are some of its most popular products. Roughly half of The Connection's orders are made online; the other half are sold over the phone with the assistance of account managers. Before the company sends a part to the auto recycler, a team of engineers inspects it thoroughly.
While The Connection is known for its excellent customer service, Harshaw said it still works to improve.
"We're going to continue to bring new products to the marketplace," he added. "We have a team that asks auto recyclers what they're missing, and we come up with that product for them."
It's no secret that customer service is crucial to a business' survival. Research conducted by Bain & Company (Bain.com), a global business-consulting firm, found that a 5 percent increase in customer retention could increase profits by 25 to 95 percent.
There are several ways a business can improve its customer service performance. According to Susan Friedmann, The Trade Show Coach (TheTradeShowCoach.com), there are 10 customer service commandments.
- Know who is boss. You can only serve your customers' needs if you know what they want, so listen to them. Remember they make your job possible.
- Be a good listener. Identify customer needs by asking questions and concentrate on what they are really saying. Be careful not to make assumptions.
- Identify and anticipate needs. The more you know about your customers, the better you become at anticipating their needs. Communicate with them regularly so you are aware of upcoming necessities.
- Make customers feel important. Treat them as individuals by using their names and complimenting them, but be sincere.
- Help customers understand your systems. If customers don't understand your systems or products, they can get confused, impatient and angry. Take time to explain how they work.
- Appreciate the power of "Yes." When customers have a request, as long as it is reasonable, find a way to fulfill it. Always do what you say you are going to do.
- Know how to apologize. When something goes wrong, apologize. The customers may not always be right, but they must always win. Deal with problems immediately. Make it simple for customers to complain and value their complaints.
- Give more than expected. Elevate your company above the competition. Give customers what they cannot get elsewhere.
- Get regular feedback. Encourage and welcome suggestions about how you can improve your business. Check back with them regularly to see how things are going. Provide a method that invites constructive criticism.
- Treat employees well. They are a business' internal customers. Treat them with respect and chances are they will have a higher regard for customers.
By keeping their customer service standards high, The Connection has earned the dedication of a growing list of auto recyclers, including Gray.
"I usually order anywhere from five to eight parts at a time, but sometimes I'll get as many as 50," he said. "Robin [Kaye] treats me like a normal person and I appreciate that. Employees like her keep me coming back. You buy your salesperson first, company second and part third."