Customer appreciation promotions and events have been taking place since the 1600s, when you bought six pigs, you got the seventh one free! Whether it’s a giveaway, a discount, or in this case, an event—showing your customers that you care matters and will benefit your body shop in many other ways down the road.
When it comes to customer retention efforts, the whole theory is Image Perceived; Mission Achieved. If you’re going to the trouble of doing a customer appreciation day, do it right and make it special. Make it exclusive and really pull out of all the stops. Call it a VIP Customer Night and make it an invitation-only affair and limit the attendance.
Step it up a notch and it will pay off in the long run. For example, nix the hot dogs and burgers and do a surf and turf thing. How about a clam bake? All-you-can-eat crab or ribs or chicken--what the heck, cook a whole cow! Food is the straight shot to peoples’ hearts and an all-you-can-eat setup is always a winner.
Do giveaways galore—from baseball hats, pens, t-shirts to better items like jackets, polo shirts and maybe even executive-style gifts such as leather bound notebooks or fancy briefcases. I’ve been to so many SEMA and NACE shows I can’t even count them all, but I still get excited when I get some high-end merchandise with a company’s name on it. How about giving everyone a swag bag, with fun gifts people will remember long after the event? Sure it will cost you a few dollars, but in the end it will lead directly to new business and more referrals.
Do a raffle at your customer event and give the money to a local charity. Ask your vendors to donate raffle items, such as tickets to sporting events, toys for the kids, household appliances and mini-vacations. Give everyone a small number of free raffle tickets and put them in their swag bag, but if anyone wants to buy more, there’s a nominal charge.
Get your entire crew onboard to make your customer appreciation day even more special. Train your employees to promote your event and leverage it whenever possible. “Wow, Mrs. Smith, this is a pretty serious fender bender. But the good news is—you qualify for our VIP Customer Party next month!”
This method of keeping your old customers and getting new ones works for body shops all over the county, yet only a small number seem to embrace the approach. To prove my point, I contacted several body shops to see if their customer appreciation events are successful and to find out if they garnered repeat business or helped them to reap any new customers as a result.
Ernie Fogarty, the owner of Bayview Collision Center in Jacksonville, FL has a five-year-old shop that has hosted several customer appreciation events and received a significant amount of new customers by doing them, he said. “The customer is #1 around here and always will be,” Fogarty said. “One happy customer can lead to 8-10 referrals, so we want to stay connected to our customers as much as we can and as long as we can. We invite everyone in the community to our customer appreciation day, including the insurance companies we work with and their families.”
Fogarty also works with a wide range of charities to give back to the community. The one they’re raising money for currently is called the First Coast No More Homeless Pets organization, a cause he personally believes in. “We’re saving dogs and cats in this area so they won’t get put down. It offers us a great opportunity to show the community that we’re not just about the money. We plan on being here in Jacksonville for many years, so it just makes sense.”
Rob Ellision, Marketing Manager at Chantilly Auto Body in Chantilly, VA, can identify positive feedback and new customers derived from a series of customer retention events, he explained. “We’re very aggressive about going after new business and we recently did our very first customer appreciation day and it was a huge success. It was a cloudy, cold day and we still got 300 people here and I know for a fact that we’ve gotten at least 10 new customers as a result. Most importantly, it created a buzz from the event, laying the foundation for other things we want to do in the near future.”
Other events Ellision is planning include a car show, displaying vehicles on loan from several local car dealerships and collectors, he said, as well as Friday afternoon barbecues for customers. “Our appreciation event attracted families, so now we’re going to do a car show that will appeal more to men between the ages of 20 to 50. In addition, we’re going to host a free BBQ lunch for our customers when they come down and pick up their cars on Fridays. These are two new things we’re going to use to attract new customers and keep in touch with our existing ones.”
Kareem Abouzeiz, owner of Knockout Collision Center in Chico, CA does customer-centric events and definitely sees the value in doing them on a regular basis, he said. “The last one we held definitely resulted in more than a few new customers. When most people get their cars fixed at a shop, they never get to meet or interact with the owner. That’s why we open up our whole shop for the public at our customer appreciation day and make our entire staff available for our guests. We’re all about our people, so we want the public to meet them and get to know them. Building ongoing, long-term relationships is the key.”