The Department of Motor Vehicles hates me. As soon as I walk in, amid the aura of inefficiency and sugary snacks, I sense a silent plot to send me away empty-handed to retrieve nonexistent paperwork. I feel like the new guy on the jobsite sent for a left-handed hammer. I imagine the scene:

“Mr. Hudson, you’ll need to bring back a form verifying you came in here without it.”

“What form is this?” I ask nervously.

She barely contains herself as her cubicle mates’ shoulders begin to flinch in contained hilarity. “Well, it’s the form called, ‘The Form I Previously Forgot.’” She pauses to bite her lip. “And, of course, it’ll need to be signed by your dentist.”

I appear puzzled. She shouts over my shoulder, “Next!” and as I slink away, the entire department rolls on the floor, laughing uncontrollably.

Yet this week, it was different. After being dismissed for various invented reasons, I walked right into another branch office and surprise, surprise … I found just a little inconsistency. Oh my.

Let me back up slightly.

I was “kinda-sorta-not-really shopping for another car,” which is the official description I gave my wife. Turns out, a car actually materialized in my garage. Since someone has to take care of it, I headed to the DMV for a tag.

I have my bill of sale, signed title and a folder full of officially official documents. I await my turn, then Cruella Coupe de Ville calls my name. I dutifully hand over documents rumored to produce a tag.

She studies the stack, then points to something meaningless and frowns. I promise, this ensues:

“Mr. Hudson, this title release isn’t on official letterhead.” She peers over her pointy glasses, barely clinging to temples pulsing with denial.

“Well,” I begin, realizing I’d mistakenly handed her a document from the two previous owners. I cut to the chase, “The Wisconsin title wouldn’t be signed to me unless it had been released.”

“That may be,” she mildly concedes while scanning the other documents, “but the date on the bill of sale doesn’t match the title.” I thought I detected a small flame — like the last one left in a Bic disposable — leaving her lips.

“See, I agreed to purchase the car on the date shown on the bill of sale,” I said, pointing to the date. “But, of course, they didn’t sign the title over until the funds cleared.” I thought this would do it, but she was going for the kill.

“I see one price shown as ‘Suggested retail,’ and then another one here says ‘Selling price.’ Which is it?” she said, resembling one of the mean teachers from Hogwarts.

Barely containing my inner smart aleck, I said, “It’s the selling price. That’s what I paid.” Yet, her next comment is a contender in the “I can’t believe you just said that” Hall of Fame.

“I think I’m supposed to charge you tax based on the higher figure,” she reached for the calculator, “unless you want to get all this corrected.”

I was in awe. “You mean, you’re suggesting I pay tax on an amount I didn’t pay?” I fumed slightly. “Tell you what, I’ll just get these issues cleared up and come back.” She’d won. Control freakanomics consumes idiot taxpayer. Almost.

I left and immediately went to a different DMV branch, with the exact same documents. I handed them to a nice lady who appeared to have met competence and reason. She studied them carefully, matched numbers, perused dates, entered the information and 11 minutes later handed me my title application and tag.

She only said, “Your transaction date is officially recorded as that on the title, since it is the document of transfer precedence, not the bill of sale.” I nodded understandingly as I signed the receipt.

“How long have you worked here?” I asked, noting her efficiency.

“Twenty-eight years,” she said. “I’ve had practice. Enjoy your car. Have a great day.”

And that was that. How does this scenario affect you? Tremendously.


Confidence killer

It’s been correctly said, “No confidence, no sale.” If you agree, then inconsistency shatters confidence.

Think about it. You get a good steak and good service one time; the next time, it’s cold and undercooked, and the service is slow. Will there be a third time? Will you recommend without warning?

Please note that not one level of your service experience should be left to chance, to whim, to the mood of the person on the other end of the line. Though we all love to hate McDonald’s, it is the consistency of the service experience that drives sales for it, as well as Amazon, Apple, Disney, Nordstrom’s, Ruth’s Chris and a million other places that are usually met with a “level of expectation.”

As I thought of why I had previously been a fan of a local plumbing company and then a staunch avoider of the same, it was because my earlier experiences were pleasant and professional. (I said nothing about the price.) My last three visits were borderline rude, with a complaining technician and no follow-up call (which I had received before).

Somebody got lazy in hiring, training and implementation, and it cost them.

It’s about process. What is the goal of your process and how effectively do you practice it? Make it consistent.

Your continued pursuit of service consistency is a barometer of your success. Take a look at this Contractor Consistency Checklist:

Your marketing platform.

Theme, look, branding, voice. If it’s haphazard and/or random, what do you think your market feels your service will be?

Your phone greeting.

If it’s “Whatever they say” and not standardized, you send a message of inconsistency. Get a standard message. Practice it.

Your CSR scripting.

An ordered level of service response questions garners the ability to access repeated info from regular customers.

Email correspondence.

Standardized emails that can be adjusted per customer but never left to chance, whim, awkward wording, risk of typos or incomplete information.

Technician service sequence.

A standard approach, greeting, diagnostic query, paperwork, form completion, service completion and cleanup, which triggers follow up.

Installation sequence.

Same as above. But with “How to operate” as part of the sequence.

Follow-up service sequence.

Customer “Happy call/email,” prewritten and pre-scripted as part of the transaction, not as the CSR remembers.

Customer retention program.

Lack of customer retention is still the No. 1 marketing mistake in the contracting business. A consistent program of customer retention gives customers something different, something to expect and, most importantly, something they’d lose if they went elsewhere.

If you question that consistency is directly related to your sales, take a look at how many times you consistently purchase from an inconsistent provider.

And you can rest assured, though the money goes to the same place, I will never enter that offending DMV branch again. Guess I’ll have to get another car to prove it.


 This article was originally titled “Consistently inconsistent” in the September 2015 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.