What Do You Need To Do To Keep Your Best Customers?
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What Do You Need To Do To Keep Your Best Customers?

I was speaking with Bill Nalu, of Interstate Auto Care in Madison Heights, Mich., about what he does to retain his best customers.

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“First you have to know what you are looking for in your customer. My best customer is my pickiest customer,” Bill explained. “What I am looking for is a customer who tells me exactly what they want. They express their desires/demands upfront. I can deal with a customer who calls me and says ‘I’ve got a specific amount of time and this is what I need.’ I can make a decision right then as to whether I can commit to their demands or not. I don’t have to figure them out; they know what they want and they are willing to spend the money on whatever it is that they need.” 


Bill explained that, sometimes hearing the bad news has real value. 

“I also know and appreciate this part,” he said. “When we as a company don’t meet the high standards we normally deliver, they call us on it and allow us to make it right. The issue might not be car-related; it could be a dirty bathroom or maybe we didn’t call with an update. What I like about the customer base we have cultivated at Interstate Auto Care is they aren’t short on praise or hesitant to give constructive feedback!” 

“Don’t be shy about letting the wrong customers go – there will be better ones in the wings when you make room for them.” 


Bill suggested, “Don’t be shy about letting the wrong customers go – there will be better ones in the wings when you make room for them.” 

What I like about Bill’s stance is that he has clearly defined the profile of what his best customer looks like; that is something that sets the top-performing shops apart from the rest in our industry, and behaviors like Bills aren’t easy to develop.

Remember, as a shop owner, it is up to you to define who your “best” customer is. 

Are you looking for a: 

• Hassle-free customer? 

• One who spends a lot of money?

• Younger, older, female or male? These and other demographics are segments you might consider.

• How about a customer with a lot of cars, like a fleet? 

• European vehicles?

• Domestic nameplates?


One area in which we coach our customers is putting in place a process for consistent follow up after the service has been completed. Today our customers are more reliant on text messages than voice calls. An upside to a text message is that it’s more apt to be returned than a phone call. Also, the customer is much more transparent than if you followed up by phone – it’s often easier to say they were not satisfied via text. The value here is that you will have more opportunity to take care of an issue if you know about it.


Have a Customer Retention Budget

Advertising and marketing are the lifeblood of a growing and successful shop with a marketing budget and a calendar to roll out each promotion. It is vitally important to set money aside and have a plan on how you’ll spend it over the year. We coach our customers to set aside a minimum of 5% of sales to maintain their customer base and 6% or higher to grow their shop. 

Remember, as a shop owner, it is up to you to define who your “best” customer is. 


The majority of the budget, 55-60%, should be dedicated to customer retention. A valuable customer relationship takes time to cultivate and you will want to nurture that relationship, offering customer rewards and incentives for their continued patronage.

Have a Marketing Piece Specifically for Existing Customers

The competition is fierce and customer retention is a key to continued success in your shop. Neighboring shops and dealerships are working tirelessly to peel your customer away from you. So, with your marketing budget in place you should commit to and be intentional about a dedicated advertisement to your existing customer base at least twice a year. Your goal is to have your customer return to you at least twice a year and advertised specials that reward your customer is one way to increase the likelihood they’ll return for service.


A Simple Thank You

Two of the most underrated words are “Thank you,” and when they’re sincere and said at the appropriate time they help you to stand out from your peers. Many of us rely on email or automated services to send a thank you note but you risk getting lost in a cluttered inbox or looking like another piece of junk mail. 

Consider a hand-written thank-you note. A handwritten note does two things: 99% of the time it gets opened and read; it also communicates to your customer that you care enough to be purposeful with your thanks. You took the time to write a note and that one thing could cause them to put you and your shop at top-of-mind next time they need their car serviced.


A Lifetime Of Success

If you want to understand the gravity and importance of retaining a current customer, think about this. Your existing customers are more loyal than a new customer; they don’t need to be educated on how you do business; and you’ve already taken the time to know their preferences and buying patterns. Additionally, they’ve gotten to know you and what to expect from your shop. There is comfort in familiarity and an unspoken trust that is part of your current relationship. Conversely, with a new customer, you will BOTH need to learn all of these traits before a fruitful and profitable relationship ensues.


According to the AAA, your customer will spend an average of $1,186 per vehicle annually on repairs and maintenance. If you captured 80% of that revenue and your current customer had two vehicles per household, they would spend $1,898 at your shop every single year they do business with you. If you retained them for 30 years, the average value per customer now reaches $56,928 per customer.

Your job now to is to put these practices into place and you’ll ensure a lifetime of success for you and your team!

Vic Tarasik has been an independent auto repair professional for more than three decades and is the former owner of Vic’s Precision Automotive in The Woodlands, Texas. He is the founder of Shop Owner Coach, a coaching and training organization that is committed to helping independent repair shop owners achieve their dreams through the intentional application of best business practices. Vic can be reached at [email protected]

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