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Getting Personal: Sending Hand-written Cards

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Turn the tables on a technology-overloaded society. Sending hand-written cards to customers will not only endear you in their hearts but ensure you’re the one to fix their cars’ broken parts

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Technology is a buzzword to some and a dirty word to others. Yet everyone deals with technology in almost every aspect of their daily lives; it’s become an accepted fact of life. What’s bothersome is that most of this technology has become cold and impersonal – especially when it comes to our home mailboxes. Every day, we’re barraged with “free” credit card offers and weekly pizza deals.

Stop and think about something that may become an opportunity for your business. When was the last time you received a hand-written letter? Maybe it was from your “old fashioned” aunt or your dear old grandmother.

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When you sorted out that hand-written letter from all the other mail, didn’t it make you feel kind of special – like it was created for you? Sure, those computer-generated “personalized” letters with your name, “Mr. or Ms. We Foundya,” look like they’re meant for you and you only, but we all know better. This same letter went out to a million other “special” people like you. And they’ll keep coming, and you’ll keep throwing them in the trash.

This is where our shop found a unique advantage – one that has our place constantly full of customers who really feel special because they are. If you don’t genuinely care about your clients and about getting more business and referrals from really good folks, then I suggest you go back to the classified ads that “teach” you how to get rich overnight by ripping people off. However, if you run a business that cares about its customers – and its bank account – then read on. It may change the way you look at technology and, more importantly, how to use the “lack of high tech” to your advantage.

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A Nice Idea
In all honesty, this idea didn’t come from me. Sure, we incorporated it into our already successful business, but the credit goes to the one who earned it.

The idea came from a lady named Dorothy (or Dotty, as she prefers to be called) who had her own shop for more than 10 years, sold it and then began working with me to help others in our industry through consulting and brainstorming. What was unique about this lady was that she owned her shop. She, not the bank, owned her own shop. On top of that, she didn’t have any other bank loans or leases on equipment. Sure, she had 30-day accounts for supplies and utilities but, at the end of 30 days, they were paid in full. And when she went to sell her business and property, it sold in less than one month!

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Almost everything I’ve mentioned about this lady is either unheard of or unusual in our business, considering the huge amount of money it takes to make money. Let’s be honest, most shop owners are in debt, and rightfully so (for those who aren’t, I’d like to meet you and write about how you did it)!

How did she accomplish such a feat? It’s simple: She truly cared about her customers and made sure they knew it.

A Simple Plan
This idea came about when Dotty and I were talking about how successful she’d been with her shop. She didn’t think it was such a big deal to have done what most people dream of, but from my experience as a consultant and mentor to shop owners all over the country, it was a big deal. One thing you have to understand is that Dotty is a humble, but smart, person. She’s an intelligent businessperson who just thought she was doing the right thing. And boy, oh boy was she right!

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So what kind of magic did she perform to give her such success? She sent hand-written notes and letters to her clients, her friends (potential clients) and local insurance agents. Now, quickly, think back again to the last hand-written letter you received out of all that other junk mail. Bingo. Dotty turned the tables on a technology-and-information-overloaded society and, in return, reaped the rewards of success.

“Ok, so she just wrote a bunch of letters and got wealthy?” you’re wondering. Well, sort of. She also had a plan or a map, as we call it in the consulting business. Without a map, how do you know where you’re going or how to stay on track? Dotty’s plan consisted of the following:

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  • Set aside one late afternoon or early evening to write and send hand-written notes. Hold all calls, and don’t allow interruptions.
  • Make a list of names (last name, then first name) so you can track when and how often you’ve written to those people. This also lists important data, like whether Smith, Linda is a new client, a repeat customer or a referral. It lists whether she referred someone, if she or a family member was written up in the local paper, her birth date, etc. Remember, all of this information is personalized to the particular individual, so use it! And keep your organization simple – a $5 index-card box will work just fine.
  • Read the local paper for news about existing people in your files and potential clients. One of Dotty’s favorites (and mine, too) is to write introduction and congratulation letters to people in the property transfer listings found in most real estate sections. Most of these folks have just moved to your area, and you can make them feel at home by introducing yourself and your business. Think of the difference between your personalized introductory letter and the bulk ads mailed by your competitor.
  • Keep it simple. For a few dollars, you can buy little cards that read: “Thank You,” “Congratulations,” “Happy Birthday,” “Happy Holidays” (this covers November through January for just about all religions and races), and even “In Sympathy.” If you really do care, they’ll appreciate your thoughts.
  • Be consistent. If you or someone in your shop commits to this, keep it going. Even if you only send letters to five or six people a week, you’ll have a loyal “sales force” of about 1,500 people in five short years. That’s 1,500 people who you care about and who care about you and want you to care about others. It’s powerful, inexpensive advertising with a high rate of return. Let’s take that one step further using the principle that one person knows 10 people. If your sales force of 1,500 loyal clients each knows 10 people they’d refer to you, that’s a whopping 15,000 people! With the average repair order at around $2,500 dollars, 15,000 people would give you a little more than $37 million of business – all from being courteous and showing you care.

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Getting Personal
We’re growing into a more de-personalized society every day. It’s not your fault or anyone else’s; it’s just progress. Technology makes our lives simpler, but it also makes them less social. Tapping into a low-tech idea that works – hand-written notes – is a great opportunity to re-connect personally with existing clients and potential customers. And it’s not something the mega-conglomerates could get away with – they’re too big. It’s you – the local collision repair shop, the guy or gal who your customers run into at the post office or at a local restaurant – who can benefit from this.

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The first thing to remember when starting your hand-written campaign is that things won’t happen overnight. But they will happen quickly. Before you know it, people will be looking for your cards in their mailboxes and ignoring the computer-generated mass mailings your competitors send out. And, all the while they’re discovering you really do care about them, you’ll be discovering it really does pay to be nice.

Writer John David Lake has 25 years of industry experience and travels the world teaching the art of appraising as a professional income source. He’s also the owner of a third-generation automotive facility in Maryland. Call him at (800) 956-LAKE or e-mail ([email protected]).

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