I hadnt really been thinking about customer service that morning as I drove my Jeep toward Pittsburgh along the Parkway West.
On that Wednesday, I faced a blinding sun, wet pavement and the usual stampeding herd of rush-hour road warriors. With that kind of stress, I didnt need to think about the fact that I had lost all hope in good customer service, that businesses just didnt seem to care anymore about making sure their customers were happy.
Service with a smile, in my estimation, had been replaced by service with a huff. Businesses found it easy to exceed customer expectations because customers expected little. And customers could expect guaranteed satisfaction only if they purchased the extended warranty policy. I tried not to think about it as I dodged the mad rush on my way to the office.
Then it happened.
As I crested a hill, squinting to avoid the glare, the car in front of me braked suddenly. That, of course, is when I braked suddenly, which threw my Jeep into a bit of a fish-tail. A van swerved around me, only to catch my swerving front end. Before we knew it, we both were parked along the side of the road like caged zoo spectacles, exchanging insurance information.
This being my first real accident, I wanted to cry as I thought about the aggravation that lay ahead. I could imagine fighting with the auto body shop for a month as it waited for the right parts and to make sure the workers painted my vehicle correctly those nightmares you hear about frequently. And I would face delay after delay, steep car rental payments and plenty of excuses. Then, with a final huff and a demand for payment, I finally could pick up my vehicle within a half-hour time slot convenient only to the body shop.
In my cynical world of customer service, thats what I could expect. Just thinking about it made my tear ducts ache.
That is, until I met the Wolbert brothers.
Don, Bob and Greg Wolbert, in some miraculous way, managed in one week to instill in me an entirely new hope for customer service and everything its supposed to stand for.
The Wolbert brothers have been running Wolbert Auto Body & Repair in Crafton since 1972, mainly, Don says, because of their love of cars.
We enjoy automobiles, says Don, the always-smiling, low-key president of the company.
You could see that by the years of toil and grease etched into their calloused hands. You could also see that by the work they did on my Jeep. But I dont believe thats what has allowed these lifelong Crafton residents to build a local service that employs 21 workers and generates roughly $2.1 million in business. For these brothers, its simply about treating people right.
My experience began with a short wait in a waiting area with free coffee, plenty to read and a gurgling fish pond to watch. The Wolberts painted the walls a light mauve color, Don says, because through reading articles, I found out that women are doing most of the shopping for estimates, so I wanted to have a waiting room that was appealing to women. OK, fine.
Then Don took me to the garage, where he made his assessment of the damage. The accident proved costly, but he assured me the work would be done in about a week. And it was. He also told me what the insurer would and wouldnt allow.
When the customer walks in the door, you have to do whats in their best interest, he tells me later. Its about educating our customers to what the possibilities are.
The day I came for the Jeep, I hardly recognized it, and not just because the front bumper no longer was tied to the frame with a piece of rope. The shops workers had buffed out most of the scratches that had adorned the doors from a few off-road excursions. Better yet, the half-inch of gravel, mud and other debris collecting on the floor inside had been swept clean. The vehicle even smelled new again.
Then Don made a visual inspection of the vehicle as I stood there and found a small problem under the fender a problem I never would have noticed. His brother Bob promptly corrected it. When I drove off, I realized an electric window and door lock didnt work. When I called the Wolberts, Don, seemingly embarrassed, offered several humble apologies and asked me to bring it in. I did the next day, and his team repaired the problem as I waited. After more apologies for any inconvenience, I was sent on my way, wondering what had just happened.
With such customer service, I didnt quite know how to react. Thats when I decided to write about it. After all, Im never afraid to rail against bad customer service, which abounds. How could I ignore this seeming phenomenon?
So I went back later that week to ask one simple question: Why bother? All three brothers say they live in Crafton and would hate to have to worry about dodging dissatisfied customers every time they run into one in the local supermarket. And besides, they say, Wolbert Auto Body & Repair couldnt survive without such customer service.
It can be a burden to do that stuff, but it makes the customer happy, Bob admits. It gets the person back.
But perhaps Greg says it best. It means everything to business. Without customer service, you have no customers.
As for this customer, I almost cant wait for my next accident ... I said, almost.
Daniel Bates, a customer service cynic, is editor of SBN Magazine.
In the March issue of SBN, the name of the woman in the Women in Business series profile was misspelled. The correct spelling is Antoniette Paliotta.