Extending customer ‘life cycles’
Retaining existing customers adds greater long-term profitability, but many tire and auto service firms pay too little attention to extending customer life cycles. Firms invest plenty of marketing dollars to gain new customers, yet ignore many of the little things that turn customers off once they come through the door.
Everyone expects proper work and prompt service at fair prices. It takes more than that to attract and keep loyal customers.
Here is a short list of steps a tire and auto center should consider that help extend customer retention and increase profits. Many of the steps involve little or no extra expense.
1. Nothing beats a friendly, helpful, knowledgeable staff. Smiles are free and so are many supplier-sponsored training programs. Invest in industry certifications, they nurture customer confidence and help you retain key employees.
2. Surprise customers with clean, neat facilities, fresh coffee, TV, comfortable seating, a kid’s corner, etc. The extra attention to customer-friendly details will pay off.
3. Use a checklist to help ensure reliable vehicle operation (and uncover other needs you can satisfy). Go over the completed checklist but avoid any pressure. Let the customer decide what actions to take. Performing the additional check-up is a customer bonus and helps demonstrate the pride you take in your service.
4. Acknowledge each customer with a smile and “I’ll be with you shortly.” Avoid ignoring a newly arrived customer, even when they can see that you are busy with other customers.
5. Thank customers for their business with a smile, and invite them to return. Omit this final comment and invitation at your company’s peril.
6. Create loyalty programs and special offers to encourage return business. Consider a discount or extra service to an existing customer as a business retention investment. People are more likely to give you their email address if you offer incentives to do so.
7. Explain each invoice and charge fair prices. Get the customer’s approval before doing the work and be sure to point out what is included. Nobody likes unhappy surprises.
8. Check out the exclusive “Female Friendly” program by AskPatty.com for your area. A small annual fee gives you exclusive “Female Friendly” certification in your area, along with employee training and your company posting on the AskPatty.com website.
9. Obtain free education from your suppliers. Give your staff greater confidence when selecting and recommending products or services.
10. Give your staff the authority to immediately solve most customer issues and monitor the actions taken. Avoid customer “hassle” over complaints or misunderstandings.
11. Offer free courtesy shuttle service to local area customers. Getting to and from work or home can be a big concern for employees or busy moms. Look for one or two people who are interested in a part-time driver’s job.
12. Invest in direct mail and/or email reminders of service due, along with winter and summer specials. People forget to maintain their vehicles until the snow flies or summer heat causes a problem. A simple reminder system will often result in additional business from existing customers.
13. Establish a management telephone follow-up plan to help ensure customer satisfaction. Car dealer follow-up calls are mandated by manufacturers, proving their value in building customer service satisfaction. You may want to set a threshold level to avoid follow-up on very small sales.
14. Invest in a customer-friendly Internet website and keep it current. Provide education and advertise your specials. Make your site interactive so prospects can do research before calling you or coming by. Today, prospects use search engines to find local dealers, check product features and availability. When it is possible, many people make service appointments on-line.
15. Develop an active company presence on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. Today, about half of all customer communications go through social networks. Do not ignore these powerful word-of-mouth marketing tools. Make it possible for customers to “like” your company on Facebook. You might find that customers already “tweet” their friends about their experience with your firm on Twitter.
Relationship building becomes more analytical
More than ever, building and retaining customer relationships is the name of the game. Firms need to invest the bulk of their marketing time and budget on relationship building activities. I would venture to suggest a marketing ratio of at least two-thirds for customer retention and one-third for new customer development.
Right now, companies like IBM have whole divisions focused on providing highly sophisticated customer analytics for other Fortune 500 firms. I clearly see the increasing use of customer analytics because I am on the board of a small West Coast firm who owns the patent for what is termed Customer Relationship Intelligence, a way to measure relationships and tie them to profits. It is easy to envision a near future when firms, large and small, will begin to compete based on their ability to attract and retain long-term customer relationships. Forward-thinking companies are finding new ways of harnessing the massive amounts of customer data that wireless networks and digital computing power now provide. ■
Dick Morgan is a Certified Management Consultant and a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants USA. He founded Morgan Marketing Solutions Inc. in early 1989 to help leaders accelerate profitable growth by enhancing a team’s ability to create and deploy right actions, right now. Morgan has more than 39 years of tire and retread industry experience, working with manufacturers, retreaders and tire dealers. He is the author of “Marketing Facets, The Market-Focused Guide to Company Analysis,” a practical resource for those involved in determining the current health of a company and gauging its future prospects. He also speaks on marketing and management topics at industry conferences and for state and local business organizations. Contact Morgan at (972) 931-7993 or firstname.lastname@example.org.