How to Keep Your Customers Loyal, Happy, and Coming Back for More
Customers are the bread and butter of your business. Keeping them happy, and enjoying their return business, should be the primary focus of your customer care strategy. However, it’s easy to get focused on all of the various daily details of running your business, and overlook the small problems that may be causing your customers to look elsewhere for services.
These problems could be as basic as a single bad interaction with an employee which leaves a customer with a bad taste about your business, or as systemic as constant poor performance from technicians which leave your customers unsatisfied with the work.
For this reason, it’s important to take a big-picture, top-to-bottom, honest look at the ways your company treats its customers. It’s also vital that you, as a business owner or decision maker, take the time to put yourself in your customers’ shoes (as cliché as it sounds). If you’re highly empathetic, you can often achieve this on your own.
However, if you find that you’re too close to your business to be able to project yourself into the worldview of your customer, it may be worth it to hire the job out and utilize a “secret shopper” service, or acquaintances in your network, to go through the customer care process at your company and report their experiences back to you.
However you decide to approach the subject of ensuring excellent customer service, here are some issues which come up frequently when automotive shop customers are asked about their experiences.
Communicate Frequently, and Honestly
Creating and maintaining an open line of communication with each customer is vital for any service oriented business. Not only do customers report feeling more confident about mechanics who communicate regularly, but they are also more likely to recommend your business to others based on the quality of your communications.
Often, good customer communication is as simple as a quick update on the repair job, the diagnostic findings, or a heads up on budget changes. It only takes a short amount of time to keep a customer in the loop, and will go a long way toward bolstering a customer’s confidence that they made a good choice when they enlisted your services.
Some ideas for opening the lines of communication are to:
- Ask your customers how they prefer to be contacted, and make sure to use that method.
- Reach out with updates on diagnostic findings, work orders, repair status, parts orders, budget changes, and expected completion times for jobs.
- Provide friendly reminders about upcoming appointments, and important maintenance visits.
- Send a thank you note when a customer sends a large job your way, or refers someone to you. Consider a discount or small freebie as an extra thank you for personal referrals.
- Follow up after completing a job, to check with the customer about their experience with your shop, and to make sure that they are satisfied with the work done. Even a simple voice mail message leaves a strong impression that you care about the quality of the work, and the happiness of your customer.
Set Realistic Expectations
Don’t tell your customers what they want to hear; tell them what they need to hear, in order to make informed decisions.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of under-quoting a job, or under-estimating the time it will take to complete a repair. This might get a customer’s foot in the door and secure the job for you, but it undermines trust in the long run.
Build, and keep, the trust of your customers by:
- Being honest and open about price estimates, even if you think someone else can do it cheaper.
- Clearly communicating realistic job completion times, and doing your best to meet those times.
- Promptly communicating scheduling issues, problems with parts orders, etc. You may be embarrassed when an issue arises, but it’s likely not a deal-breaker for your customer. They will appreciate being told what’s going on.
- Discussing budget changes or job scope changes before beginning extra work, so that the customer is not faced with an unexpected bill that doesn’t match the original estimate.
Create a Pleasant Waiting Room
This one is easy to overlook for many shops, especially the really busy ones.
When you spend long days in the office, or on the service floor performing repairs, the customer waiting area is often the last thing on your mind. However, giving this part of your business a bit of attention every day can pay big dividends for your company, in the form of profitable return business and ongoing positive sentiments from customers.
Gone are the days when a couple of cracked plastic lawn chairs and a pot of day-old burnt coffee would be the expected accommodations in the waiting room of an auto repair shop. These days, customers are used to on-demand comfort, pretty much everywhere they go.
Consider investing a bit in the atmosphere of your customer wait areas. It doesn’t need to be expensive, but it’s likely that the investments you make in this area will easily return to you, many times over, in the form of ongoing customer loyalty.
Some ideas for improving your waiting area(s) are to:
- Add a coffee bar with a single-serving “Keurig” type coffee maker for customers to use, and provide a variety of coffees, teas, sweeteners, and other add-ins for their enjoyment.
- Implement comfortable seating.
- Provide a free guest wi-fi network.
- Offer small snacks of some kind.
- Provide entertainment, such as a television or satellite radio, and a variety of reading materials.
- Keep the area clean. Assign an employee to check the area a couple of times per day, to tidy up, restock beverages and snacks, and ensure things are in order and representing your business well.
Make Sure Your Front-of-House Staff is Friendly
This is extremely important. Unfortunately, it’s far too common for repair shops to lose business due to a rude or unfriendly receptionist.
Your shop might offer the best quality repairs in town, but if the front-of-house staff charged with customer relations is rude, dismissive, irritable, or anti-social, you will lose customers to the shop down the road with the more friendly or approachable receptionist.
While most of the work you are focused on providing to a customer happens in the shop, behind closed garage doors, don’t forget that your customer is primarily interacting with the front desk.
Your customers are speaking with this person on the phone about their repair job and updates, they are interacting with this person when they come in for an appointment (and when they check out after repairs!), they are discussing future scheduled repairs with this person, and they are relying on this employee to communicate issues between themselves and the working technicians out back.
Because this person directly represents your business, and interacts frequently with your customers, it is absolutely imperative that this employee be:
- Dressed professionally with a neat personal appearance
- A good communicator with solid interpersonal skills
- Able to keep a tidy work space
- Always polite, friendly, and helpful
- Adept at handling concerns and complaints without getting upset
- Trained in basic, industry appropriate sales techniques, to help boost the bottom line of your business
Make a Habit of Educating Your Customers
In the daily grind of a busy shop full of skilled technicians, it’s easy to forget that not everybody knows mechanical lingo. While a number of your customers likely have a basic working knowledge of their vehicles, not all do.
In the public eye, mechanics are sometimes viewed as less trustworthy than other service providers, because much of what they do happens behind closed doors and is somewhat “mysterious” to the average person. Setting aside a bit of time to go over the details of the work with your customers can go a long way toward building trust and loyalty.
You can do a lot to eliminate distrust by:
- Walking your customers through the basics of a repair, why it was needed, what it achieved, and the expected outcome of the work. This will make your customer feel like they are part of the process, and can help build confidence that they are only paying for essential repairs.
- Providing written reports, detailing diagnostic findings and recommended courses of action.
- Keeping any broken or worn parts that were replaced, to show to the customer when they come in to pick up their vehicle.
- Including detailed reports about work orders, completed repairs, and parts numbers, with all invoices and statements.
Modernize Communications with Text and Email
These days, most customers are walking around with a smartphone in their pocket or purse, but many repair shops are still using phone calls and snail mail to communicate about repair status or upcoming maintenance appointments.
Get with the times and implement technology in your communication strategy. Most customers will be thrilled to receive text or email updates about their vehicle while it’s in the shop. This simple step can eliminate a lot of uncertainty in the relationship with your customer, and help you avoid needless and time consuming phone calls with confused clients.
To implement technology in your communication strategy, try:
- Texting or emailing customers with real-time updates when their vehicle goes in to the service bay, when important ordered parts arrive, or when diagnostics are complete and ready to be discussed.
- Providing emailed reports about diagnostic findings and work orders, so that customers have the information on hand and can look it over at their leisure.
- Emailing invoices and statements, along with the option to use a secure online payment portal to pay the bill.
- Using text message or emailing reminders about upcoming scheduled maintenance appointments. Many smartphones and computers will allow your customer to create a calendar entry straight from these texts and emails, streamlining the reminder process for your customer and helping them avoid missed appointments.
Happy Customers: The Ultimate Key to a Profitable Business
Strong customer relationships are key to building a profitable, and long lasting company. By implementing a few of these customer care techniques in your business, you can expect a strong bottom line, higher rates of customer satisfaction and loyalty, and an expanding base of authentic referrals from happy clients. If you take care of your customers, they will become your greatest allies in the future growth and success of your company.