I know you will agree with this statement: There is no greater feeling of satisfaction than having a customer choose your shop to service their vehicles. What’s even more satisfying is a customer who has been with you for multiple decades.
Imagine this: 30 years ago, you’re working on a mid-80s Caravan, installing a cruise control unit for a brand new customer. They called because the shop they were dealing with didn’t have time for them. Their lack of interest in assisting the customer conveyed a “we don’t care” attitude that, in turn, caused them to look elsewhere for service. When they came to our shop, there was a hint of urgency as they were scheduled to take their young family to Disney World; they had a 1,000 mile trip ahead of them and cruise control would be nice to have. That was the beginning of a 30-year relationship with the Andersons, because we chose to go the extra mile in finding a factory unit to install, well in advance of their trip. It bought us the opportunity to earn their trust and patronage over many years.
Here’s the most rewarding part — as the years and vehicles passed by, we developed a great relationship with the family. My wife and I attended both family graduations and weddings. We became “family” to them, and I am sure many of you have experienced that same thing.
So, what did we do different? It’s all in the small things that we sometimes take for granted. Sure, we fixed their broken car; that’s what we do in our profession. If you step back and ponder this for a moment, don’t all auto shops look the same to a customer? We all have ASE-certified techs, and we have bays, lifts, service advisors, a waiting room…you get the picture. So, if we all do the same thing, the same way with the same people, why and how can we separate ourselves from the rest of the shops?
The why is to stand out among a crowded field and to give us the best chance of success and prosperity in our chosen profession.
The second component, the how, is a lot simpler than we think. First, we have to deliver consistently on the customer experience; from the time we answer the phone, all the way to delivery of the completed vehicle. Maya Angelou summed it up best, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” How does your customer feel when they have their car at your shop?
Lou of Murante Auto Repair has operated his shop since 1979. In serving the Nazareth, PA, region for 40 years, he has his share of multi-generational customers. I asked Lou to share some of his secrets that have led to his success in retaining these lifelong customers.
Lou said, “Our customers know we care about their cars, but, more importantly, they know we care about them personally.” He talked further about how he and Thomas, his service advisor, make their customers feel upon their arrival at his shop. Lou explained, “We treat every customer like a guest in our home. When they walk through our door, we greet them with a smile, welcome them and ask how we can help them today.”
Lou puts the customer experience and transparency as the cornerstones of Murante Auto Repair. He said that his customers love that they utilize digital inspections and take pictures to show the state of a component that is recommended for replacement. “The pictures are what aids in the transparency,” he said. “Now, a customer can see what we’re seeing when we are talking about their vehicle’s needs.” Murante also looks up recalls on each repair order. “We’ve had a car with an engine failure and found a recall on it. The customer took their vehicle to the dealer and a replacement was installed at no charge,” he explained.
Lou also expressed that his customers return the love they get from taking their vehicles to Murante. “They’ll bring treats and Christmas gifts for the Murante team; and I put every Christmas card we receive up in our reception area,” Lou explained. “We get so many. I wish we had more wall space!”
Dan Amundsen of Expressway Auto in North Pole, AK, echoes what Murante said and adds a little different twist. “We pay attention to the customer’s needs and desires throughout the process,” Dan explained. “We also replace light bulbs or wiper blades if we are in the middle of a big job. Our advisors let the customer know that it was done complimentary. They really appreciate it.” Perhaps the most important thing, Dan said, is “we send a handwritten thank-you note after every repair. It lets our customers know how important they are to us. At Expressway, our business with our customers is more relational than transactional.” This is one of the reasons why they received the NAPA Auto Care Center of the Year award for Alaska.
While keeping a customer for life might seem unattainable and a lot of additional work, I assure you that putting in place a few of the suggestions discussed above will improve your customer retention rate. Keep in mind that expecting to keep 100% of your client base is a recipe for disappointment. The best shops in the U.S. shoot for and retain more than 50% of their customers over the life of their businesses.
If you wanted to put a dollar figure on it, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical customer spends $849 per vehicle on maintenance annually. The average customer has two vehicles and if you keep them for life (40 years), each customer will spend $67,920 over their lifetime. (Two vehicles x $849 x 40 years = $67,920 lifetime spend, not adjusted for inflation.)
Take a moment and ask yourself, what could we do to enhance the customer experience? Put those things in place, refine them and don’t hesitate to add more. When it comes right down to it, you’ll find that your efforts are worth it. The little things you do will set your shop apart from our competition, putting it in prime position to be the shop of choice.