It’s Your Business
- Author: Terry Greenhut, Business Editor
- Subject Matter: Shop management
- Issue: Customer relationships
22nd in a series
Deeply connected, trust-based, and authentic customer relationships are hard to come by. When you know how to create these relationships with your customers, you’ll win their loyalty, earn referrals and enjoy repeat business for years to come.
How do you foster these long lasting relationships? What are they built on and how can you maintain them? Those are the magic questions that everyone who is looking to build a self-sustaining business wants to have answered. Of course, like everything else in business, there is no one single answer to any question. Creating and maintaining solid business relationships involves several disciplines, and they are worth your time to learn and practice. Customer satisfaction and loyalty, with these relationship-building habits that will keep them coming back again and again, is the ultimate goal.
- 1. Start out by committing to a code of personal integrity that you live by all the time, not just when it’s convenient to or because you think you can gain something from it, but because you feel deep down it’s the right thing to do. Integrity should be a core value that steers all of your customer and employee interactions. This means committing to being honest and working hard with their best interests in mind. Although making money is the purpose of your business, it should not be the primary function; providing the best possible service in an honest and caring manner should be. Do that and the money will come.
- 2. Give customers peace of mind. Reassure them that they have come to the right place and that your one objective is to take care of them properly. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in this business all your life or only a month: You must always act like you know exactly what you are doing and how you will be able to solve the customer’s problem. Of course you had better then be able to do it, otherwise you will have lost your integrity, but I wouldn’t worry too much about that because good technicians have always been able to find a way to fix any problem even if they occasionally have to farm a job out to an expert in a certain type of repair to make it happen. Just make sure it does.
- 3. Respond to customers in a timely manner and provide expert answers to all of their questions. A big part of the reliability that you want customers to believe they have with you is that you promptly return phone calls and messages. The longer people have to wait for you to get back to them about anything that concerns them, the less they think you care. I just severed my relationship with an insurance broker I had been using for the past few years because whenever I called with a question or even tried to give him new business he wasn’t there to answer my call and took several days to get back to me and always with a sad story about why it took so long. Customers tire of that really quick. Even if your response is something they don’t want to hear, it’s better to face it quickly than to try to hide from it.
- 4. Build trust by keeping your promises. Don’t promise anything unless you know for sure you can deliver. Use phrases like, “I’ll do my best” or “We’ll try everything we can,” but don’t ever commit to anything unless you know for sure it will happen. The two commitments that get most shop owners in trouble are time and money – promising to have a car done by a specific time or for a set amount and later having to inform the customer that they couldn’t do it. Under-promise and then over-deliver. That’s how to make people remember you and tell their friends about how great their experience with your shop was. If you can somehow make the bill come out to a few dollars less you quoted or have the car finished a little earlier: That’s great. Out of the whole experience of doing business with you, that’s what they will remember. Your word is your bond. Keep it and customers will love you. Don’t keep it and they’ll think of you the way they do all the other businesses that ever lied to them or didn’t deliver. Trust is the most important factor in our segment of the industry because we deal with the very expensive-to-repair “black box.” Customers don’t understand or know how to fix it themselves and can’t see inside it, so it’s all about who they trust to work on it. If they wind up trusting you, you’re golden, but if you betray that trust even once, or even a little bit, you will lose them probably forever. Building and maintaining trust makes you a winner every time.
- 5. Do what your competitors won’t. If they close early, stay open later. If they open late, you open early. If they close on Saturday, you open. If they won’t tow a car in for free that doesn’t move or someone is afraid to drive, then you do. If they won’t do a preliminary checkout for free, you do. If they won’t drive a customer to work or pick one up when the car in done, you should. The only thing you don’t have to do and shouldn’t do is try to beat the other guy’s price for the exact same job. If you’re offering enough good perks and building enough trust, price will hardly ever be an issue with which you can’t deal.
- 6. Don’t sell your customers products or services they don’t need. Sure, that extra sale might put a little more money in your pocket right now, but you aren’t in business for only right now. If you want to build long-term relationships and get lots of referrals, you’d be better off not trying to waste their hard-earned money. Do the work they came in for and suggest other services if applicable but don’t push. You don’t ever want customers to feel that every time they come to in you are looking to sell them the world. I’ve heard too many customers over the years say, “Oh, I don’t go there anymore because they always try to sell me more than I want.”
- 7. Deliver consistent service. Don’t be a “Jekyll and Hyde” business. Don’t be nice one day and miserable the next or be willing to do all kinds of wonderful things for a customer today but not the next time they come in. Clients come to expect what they have experienced with your services in the past. If they don’t get it, they are disappointed and that’s the last thing they remember. Every experience they have with you must be as good as the last. If you set that bar really high on their first visit, you’d better be prepared to maintain that level of service. As soon as you don’t they’ll be gone. Make it your mission to always provide the highest quality service coupled with a friendly and accommodating persona.
- 8. Keep it real. Your customers will know if you are being friendly just to make a sale, and you never want them to feel that way. If it makes sense to you, treat customers as if they were your close friends who you are trying to help out by hooking them up with the products and services that are right for them. One of the nicest things people can say about you is, “I like that guy. He’s really down to earth.” If they really feel that way about you they’ll be back and bring their friends.
- 9. Find thoughtful ways to show you care. Birthday and holiday greetings are always nice. Getting to know your customers better and finding ways to help with any of their pet projects helps to solidify your connection with them. Contributing to a charity in a customer’s name or volunteering for a cause they care about works well. Participating in local events shows all of your customers how much you care about the community. Get to know as many of your customers as you can and show genuine interest in their lives.
- 10. Check in even when you have nothing to sell them. Reach out to your customers from time to time and check in to see how they and their vehicles are doing. Take them to lunch, meet up for a game of golf, ask them about the outcome of a family event or something in which you know they are interested. These are opportune times to find out if there is anything you could be doing even better to make them happier than they already are.
- 11. Don’t forget about your existing customers, even when your business is booming with new ones. They can often tell when they’re on the back burner. Consciously devote time to touching base with your loyal long-term customers especially when new ones are beating down your door. Resist going on autopilot. It’s way too easy to start taking sales for granted after you have made a few to the same customer, but that’s when you get in trouble. If you aren’t careful you tend to cut portions of your presentation out or not put in nearly as much effort as you would with a new customer. This can cause you to lose sales, have to fight for your price, or lose customers completely. Find ways to engage in conversation with every customer. Show them that you care and that they are not just one of many. They can sense if you’re phoning it in.
- 12. Apologize if you make a mistake and fix the problem immediately. Don’t ever let them see that you are upset or angry about having to do the job over. Remember, it isn’t the customer’s fault that it didn’t make it off warranty. Just make sure it’s right this time. Your credibility shrinks in direct proportion to the number of times you have to fix the same problem. In most cases, customers aren’t interested in holding grudges, but it wouldn’t hurt to do something nice for them after you’ve caused them inconvenience. A free oil change or car wash might help. The best way to smooth things over when you’ve messed up is to make a heartfelt apology and then make it right.
If you follow these rules, repeat business and referrals will come. Your good reputation will be noticed, but if you want to ensure that it is, ask your customers to write good honest reviews about you and your shop. Not just “So and So Automotive” is great, but why they are great. What did they do for you that would make others want to go there?