Getting the Edge

Your business provides a high level of personal service that instills confidence and trust in your customers. You make it easy and convenient for customers to do business with your shop and do everything possible to accommodate their needs. You perform quality repairs and your prices are competitive. You're doing just about everything right to satisfy customers ... and so are many other independent repair facilities. The key, today, is to do something different or above and beyond that exceeds customer expectations, reaches their emotions and makes them loyal to your business.

As owners and managers, the task is to identify a service or niche that will create interest with customers, make them feel welcome, solve problems for them, and show them that you care before, during and after the repair process. Keep in mind, though, that this extra service or niche must be part of an overall marketing strategy as individual marketing tools rarely work on their own. In addition, today's competitive marketplace demands that strategies evolve and adapt to market conditions, so be prepared to constantly evaluate what makes a difference to your customers as conditions change.

Technology as a Tool

Studies show that the following items are most important to repair shop customers: number of technicians to do the work, convenience of location, special offers or discounts, warranty provisions, time required for the repair and maintenance, fairness of fees for work, and convenience of hours.

These items are all part of the services provided by Petersen Automotive, Escondido, Calif. As testimony, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) featured the business as the Blue Seal Spotlight Shop of the Quarter. The business Web site (www.ourautoshop.com) has glowing testimonials from satisfied customers. However, about a year ago, owners Brad and Dawn Petersen felt they needed a way to create more interest in the repair process by being able to show customers what was wrong with their vehicles without taking them on the shop floor or under the car.

With many years of experience and ASE certification, Brad could certainly explain the repairs. “I wanted customers to see what my eyes were seeing,” said Brad. He started taking photos of new parts, parts in need of repair or replacement and equipment used in repairs. For example, he photographed the components of a new wheel cylinder and a wheel cylinder with a leak. He photographed timing belts and associated components, fan belts with chunks missing, head gasket jobs, the inside components of CV joints, the steps in fuel system servicing, and even the equipment used to clean the fuel system.

He built an extensive catalog of digital photos that are now on a computer at the front counter; a partial file is also on the shop's Web site. “Now we can show the customer at the point of sale what's wrong with their vehicle and what's involved in the repair,” said Brad. “When you show someone what's involved in the repair it also helps explain the cost of the repair,” said Brad. In the process, the Petersens are helping customers better understand the repair, and ultimately, they are more educated and informed about their vehicles.

The Petersens know that 90 percent of their customer base has computers and e-mail. This allows them to use e-mail and digital images to notify customers of other repairs needed in addition to the initial repair. “For example, if I'm replacing the timing belt on a Honda Accord, and I see that the water pump is leaking, I shoot the customer an e-mail with a digital image of what we're seeing with the water pump,” said Brad. The digital images also come in handy when ordering parts, especially those on older model or unique vehicles.

“So far, we've had very good feedback from our customers,” said Brad. Just recently, the Petersens added sound effects to the front counter computer. Now, instead of asking a customer to re-create the noise their vehicle is making, he plays various pre-recorded vehicle noises. This helps customers better identify the sound coming from their vehicle.

Brad adds that he's completely self-taught when it comes to the computer and technology skills he uses to create interest and solve problems for customers. “Anyone can learn it. If you can't figure it out, just ask your teenage children,” he added.

Many repair businesses are using technology to provide additional services to their customers. It is becoming more common to see Web sites with features that allow customers the convenience of setting their appointments online, viewing the repair status of their vehicle, and getting online advice about the repair. A number of automotive service Web sites also include consumer tips and Frequently Asked Questions that help inform and educate consumers about their vehicles.

Back to Basics

Petersen Automotive is also building customer loyalty by simply implementing and extending some back-to-basics courtesies that say “we care about you.” After the repair, every customer receives a thank you card with an image of the facility. Customers who refer new business to the shop also get a thank you card, and on their next oil change, there is no charge for the labor. “We go way out, as far as making things personal,” said Brad.

Kay Parks/Dan Meyer Auto Rebuild is a collision repair business in Tacoma, Wash. Owners Dan and Sue Meyer have policies and procedures in place during the entire repair process, all with the goal of showing customers how much they value their business and care about them.

“When someone first calls the business or stops by to explain that they were in an accident, the first thing we ask is, 'Are you OK?'” said Dan. People are seldom asked this question by collision repairers. “We had one guy last week who said, 'You were the only shop that asked if I was OK.' Just asking this question gets us a lot of work,” said Dan.

After the estimate is written, each customer receives a letter from Dan asking for the business. He signs all these letters in blue ink so customers know it's his real signature rather than a photocopied one.

When the vehicle is ready, Dan, Sue or an employee will get the car and bring it to the front of the building. They will open the door for the customer and shake hands. Within a few days, each customer will receive a hand-written thank you note from Dan.

Tom Fletcher, president of Thunderbird Automotive, Peoria, Ariz., also sends out thank you cards to customers and includes his cellular telephone number. He has yet to have a customer call his cell phone, but he knows the value of including it in the note.

For customers who wait for their vehicle to be repaired, Fletcher makes them feel welcome in the shop's large, comfortable waiting area. The smoke-free environment has vending machines, an office desk, cable television, fresh coffee, local newspapers and a wide variety of magazines.

For customers who wait, Thunderbird Automotive also offers a shuttle service to just about anywhere, within reason. “If they [customers] are willing to drive to see us, we should be willing to take them where they need or want to go,” said Fletcher. The business is conveniently located to area restaurants, a mall and a 32-screen theater, and Fletcher's shuttle will deliver and pick up customers who want to go to these area attractions.

On each vehicle, Fletcher will try to include at least one “no charge” item, such as tightening a loose visor (the business is near a retirement community; visors get a lot of use), or adjusting or lubricating something on the vehicle. In addition, customers who spend $250 or more receive a complimentary car wash. The business will also deliver vehicles to customers when ready, again within a reasonable distance.

Customer satisfaction is certainly very important, but today, the sustainable connection with customers is reached by doing something different; something that makes them feel so valued and cared for that they go out of their way to be loyal. And, according to marketing experts, customer loyalty is the single most important driver of long-term profitability.


Post a Comment

<< Home