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Boost Your Retention Rate: Five Programs to Make Sure Customers Come Back to You

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Boost Your Retention Rate: Five Programs to Make Sure Customers Come Back to You

There are many ways to measure your store’s performance, but at the end of the day, most of them hinge on customer satisfaction.

I used to tell my managers that if a complaint got to me, I’d simply ask the customer what they wanted, give it to them - and then charge the store for it.  After the first engine replacement, I never received another complaint again.

Customer retention is an even more meaningful way to measure your success than customer satisfaction. As much as possible, you want to empower your employees to do whatever they need to satisfy and keep the customer. 

In a recent MTD article, I explained how my former company and I tried to improve our customer retention rates by deploying a managed care program. The goal was to secure 100% of customers’ auto service business.

Most tire dealers whom I have met are getting only a fraction of their customers’ business. At any given time, your customers are shopping at Jiffy Lube, the local car dealership, other tire dealerships and even Sears and Meineke!

You want to minimize that any way that you can.

Marketing to your existing customers will always net you a higher response rate and return on investment than marketing to the general public.

People who are predisposed to visiting your store are those you have the greatest chance of getting future sales from.

Consider adding the following programs, if you don’t have similar ones already in place. And it’s always best to automate this stuff.

I bet that if you look locally or push your point-of-sale systems provider hard enough you can find experts to help you develop a few of the following programs:

New customer welcome program. When you flag a new customer, you want to have an automated way of sending that person a personalized welcome message directly from the store manager. Ask if everything was done to their satisfaction, give them a way to contact the store manager and then offer a high-value service special to entice a return visit. You can do this with email or text but fewer of your competitors are using traditional mail these days, and I bet a personalized but automated “real” note will work better. 

Lapsed customer program. If your system or database has a way of tracking which customers are still living locally and have not been in lately — say, within the last 12 to 24 months — send those customers a personalized text, email or direct mail piece stating you’ve noticed that they have not visited your store in a while and that you hope everything is alright.

Marketing to your existing customers will always net you a higher response rate and return on investment than marketing to the general public.

Invite them to call the store manager directly. Lapsed customers are harder to get back. For this reason, our lapsed customer program response rate was closer to 20%. But it’s worth the effort.

Best customer program. This category of program can run the gamut and you can be as creative as you want. You first have to let people know that by being a loyal, repeat customer, they have earned a special status that earns them rewards, discounts and preferred in-store treatment, like preferred scheduling, free car washes, etc.

Develop things that get them hooked and keep them coming back. Our managed care program included a line at the counter for “members” and a line for everyone else. We gave our members discounts on services for other cars in their households and other perks. Members gave us 100% of their business. They deserved special treatment.

Easy financing program. A recent survey by Bankrate pointed out that 21% of consumers have no savings set aside for emergencies like a big car repair bill.

Throwing people a lifeline so they can drive to work, stay employed and take care of their families should be part of your business mission.

Research and choose a vendor that can approve customers who can’t secure traditional financing, like a store credit card. Giving people the ability to buy when they most need it will pay off in terms of loyalty and retention.

Proprietary store credit card program. I remember reading an analysis that said 28% of a nationwide chain’s customers had a proprietary store credit card, which generated more than 60% of that chain’s total sales.

Those customers with the card came in more often and spent more per visit than other customers. This one is a no-brainer. By giving customers a credit card with your store’s name on it, you’re giving them the capacity to buy at your store. You make them a repeat customer by giving them credit and you insulate yourself from downturns in the economy.    ■

Michael McGregor is a partner at Focus Investment Banking LLC ( and advises and assists multi-location tire dealers on mergers and acquisitions in the automotive aftermarket. For more information, contact him at

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