You’ve just repaired a vehicle and your customer seems pleased with the quality of the repair and the service you provided. You deliver the vehicle, hand her the keys and send her on her way. But does that customer really belong to you? Is she really yours? Did you ever think at the moment you were delivering her vehicle that she might need your service in the future but go to some other shop?
Most repairers assume that their customers will return to them the next time they need a repair. The frustrating and sad fact is that they probably won’t – not without some work on their part to make them come back. One of the reasons for this is that there are so many different parties attempting to take control of your customers’ decisions. This “control” I refer to ranges from a simple suggestion to strong-handed steering tactics. Most customers don’t realize they have a choice of where to repair their vehicles, and let’s face it, we’re letting them leave without informing them that they do have a choice. You might think it’s not your job to educate your customers, but when you find out they went somewhere else for their next repair, the truth hurts…and hits your bottom line.
We all want customers who will call us first the next time they need a repair. A short-term investment in some simple “no-brainers” could result in long-term customer retention. Executing those “no-brainers” will take some planning and, once you start, you’ll need to do them consistently, but they won’t cost you a dime.
Here’s a shortlist of simple things shops can do to help retain their customers. We often don’t think of them, but they’re simple to implement and worth doing over and over again if it means getting those customers back and getting those customers to send other customers your way.
Use your manners. Your customer has just “awarded” you her business (it is a prize, so treat it with enthusiasm). Thank her when you deliver her repaired vehicle. Tell her in a heartfelt way how much you value and appreciate her business. She should hear the words “thank you” from every person in the customer service area. An echo of four or five “thank-yous” is unique and makes a great impression.
Give your customers something with your name on it and ask them to keep it in their glove boxes. That “something” might be a presentation folder, insurance card holder, safety tip card, sticker, pen or even a business card. Remind them that, should the need arise, your number is right there “in the glove box.”
Several years back, the fine clothing discounter Syms had an aggressive advertising campaign that stated, “An educated consumer is our best customer.” It was wildly successful in the retail clothing market and led the store to becoming one of the most successful discount retailers of fine clothing in the country.
That philosophy holds true today. An informed consumer should be your lifelong customer. Tell your customers when they have their next crashes (and we all know they will) that they might be referred somewhere else but that it’s OK to come back to your shop for repairs. Tell them your shop is their best choice, their only choice, and should be their first phone call in the unlikely event of a crash (remember that business card in the glove box?). Also, tell them to firmly inform the other party that they’ve chosen your shop for repairs. Tell them that they’re “your customer” first. Remind them of your warranty, your credentials, your reliability and their positive experience with you.
This is the most important “no-brainer” I’m going to give you, and the one hardly anyone ever thinks of. It’s better to be proactive and lay the groundwork for the next event rather than assume that your customers will automatically come back to you in the future. In all likelihood, they probably won’t if you don’t let them know what they might expect to hear when they report a loss. When asked why they didn’t return to their previous repairer, most past customers, even after a good experience, will say they didn’t know they could and were “told” they had to go somewhere else. In theory, customers aren’t “told” they have to go to another shop, but the suggestion may be so strong that they feel they have no other choice. The message is not in what is said but what is not. It might be uncomfortable for a consumer to “buck up against the big guys,” but the reality is that consumer choice and the repair decision are important. Develop a script that covers this “no-brainer” and train everyone at your shop who comes in contact with your customers to use it.
Ask your customers to refer family, friends, co-workers and colleagues. I’m going to say it again: Ask for the referral! Most customers will be happy to do this for you, but they won’t think of it by themselves. Most people respond well to simple direction as long as it’s not controversial.
Ask your customers to call their insurance agents and tell them of their positive experiences with your shop. You’re recruiting a sales force through your customers, and the credibility of those phone calls is unquestionable. You can’t pay for marketing as valuable as this. Over the years, we’ve had many agents tell us they’re not used to getting calls from their customers with positive feedback, so it makes a huge and memorable impression.
Don’t give away your work. There’s no shame in letting a customer know that you charge a fair price and that your work is worth it. Price cutting gives the impression that you don’t value your own service. A customer expecting a quality repair will gladly pay the price and appreciate your integrity and pride in your business.
Don’t do partial repairs, even if the customer requests it (that is, if you value your reputation as a quality repairer). Think of it in terms of who will see that work when the vehicle leaves your premises. I can promise you that when your customer’s neighbor asks, “Who repaired your vehicle?” she’s going to give your name and not say that she asked for a partial repair. That vehicle is a “rolling billboard” for your business. Make your shop philosophy, “If we can’t repair it right, we won’t repair it at all.” A former shop manager told me something I’ve never forgotten: “You don’t lose money on work you don’t do.” He was so correct, and we have yet to lose any money there. Take pride in your business and your work, spread the word everywhere and you’ll have customers for life.
Jeanne Silver is an owner of an independent collision repair business in Illinois. She’s active in her community and is committed to improving the image of the collision repair industry. She’s an active member f both the National Auto Body Council and the Collision Industry Foundation.
Contact her at (847) 367-1500 or [email protected].