By Joe Marconi
As business people, we often get too caught up in sales numbers, gross profit margins, car counts and average work order dollars. Those are the numbers of your business, but what is the heart of your business? What will drive your business for generations to come? The answer: Customer Retention, and that can only be accomplished with a sound marketing program and through creating the ideal customer experience. Take care of your customers, give them a memorable experience, and the rest will fall into place. Your marketing programs must be consistent with your brand; the culture of your company.
Let’s take a look how marketing differs from advertising. Advertising is part of marketing and effective marketing is vital to customer retention. To simplify matters, advertising is everything you do to get your name out to your market area in the form of ads, radio announcements, TV commercials, bill boards, coupons, etc. Think of advertising as inviting consumers to try your product or services through different forms of media.
Marketing is how customers perceive your business. Marketing consists of everything you do with respect to the customer experience. The customer experience is the most important step in the sales process; it makes or breaks the business-to-consumer relationship. For the customer to want to return, the experience must be positive. And, I’m not only referring to quality repairs; that’s a given. I’m talking about how the customer was treated on the phone, at the front counter, the look of the waiting area, the condition of the bathroom, as well as the look of your facility….The Experience.
Advertising may get new people through your front door, but marketing will keep them returning over and over again. A bad experience will result in a one-time customer, which wastes valuable ad dollars and hurts future sales. Remember, advertising gets the phone to ring, but how the customer is treated on the phone will determine if that person actually comes in. Or, how that person was taken care of once he or she arrived at your service counter will determine whether the customer returns.
Marketing is the key; it’s the difference between building a business and failing. It’s where many businesses drop the ball. Everything you do once the customer drives into your facility must be somehow related to getting the customer to return. Marketing goes beyond sales programs and promotions.
Marketing consists of what your staff does on a daily basis that makes the customer experience nothing less than outstanding. For example; who’s answering the phone at your shop, is it a technician, a porter? Are they trained in customer service? This has to be the first step in your marketing plan. The wrong person answering the phone can kill your business. At my shop, only service personnel answer phones. They are trained with the proper skills to handle issues, problems and scheduling. Call your business from time to time, or have a friend call. Make sure the people you have on the other end of the line are saying the right things in a warm and friendly manner.
Who’s on the front counter greeting customers? What impression does the customer have as he or she walks through your front door? Are your counter people well groomed? Are they enthusiastic when they greet customers? Do they smile? You’ll have a tough time selling if your service people don’t have the right attitude toward the customer. If you want your customers to return, make them feel “special.”
How’s the look of your facility? Is it clean and orderly? Can customers see junk engines or tires piled up in the back? Is your parking area clean? How’s the waiting area? What does the customer bathroom look like? Clean bathrooms and waiting areas are a reflection of your business. The customer doesn’t always see the repair, but they DO see how well-kept your bathroom and waiting area are. You need to take a long hard look at your facility and make sure it has a look that invites people, not one that turns people off. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to insure that your facility is clean and neat. The condition of the facility will leave an impression in the customer’s mind, and if your place is a mess, the customer will take this as a sign that maybe your work is a mess too.
Car delivery is another great opportunity to strengthen your relationship with the customer. Review the work order; ask the customer if there are any questions. Thank them and shake their hand. Walk them out to their car or hold the door for them. Anything that tells the customer you really appreciate the trust they have in you and want to see them return.
Book the next appointment. Your dentist does it, why not you? Your customers will need another oil change service, right? Let it be your shop; book the next appointment during car delivery before the customer leaves. Create a system using a computer schedule program or use your business management program to alert you of scheduled appointments. You will need to remind these customers with a reminder card or phone call, but it’s a winner.
You also need to create marketing programs that will contact your customers in a consistent and continual manner. You need to keep your company branded in the mind of your customer. This is important. Any time your customers are thinking about their cars, they need to associate their cars with your business. This can only be done by constantly reminding them about your company. People will recall what they are familiar with.
Getting the customer to return must be your marketing goal, particularly for a first time customer. It takes a few visits for people to get to know your company and feel comfortable with your people. That’s why it’s so important to create marketing strategies that increase the chances for a return visit. It takes time and effort to build a relationship, but once established, you have a customer for life.
Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, built a worldwide empire, and although many of Walmart’s business practices are controversial, Sam Walton did understand the consumer. His quote says it all: “There is only one boss, the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
This article was contributed by Joe Marconi of Elite. Joe is one of the 1-on-1 business coaches who helps shop owners build more successful businesses through the Elite Coaching Program, and is the co-founder of autoshopowner.com.