Very few of us suddenly receive pleasant surprises, like we've just won the lottery or a distant relative has left us an inheritance of a million bucks. It seems pleasant surprises are few and far between. So imagine how pleased your customers would be to suddenly receive a pleasant surprise from you!
Building word-of-mouth referrals
Many shops rely heavily on "word-of- mouth" promotion by satisfied customers. Some businesses do so well with this one tactic, they hardly need any other marketing strategy. Is there a way to increase this advantage to make it more reliable and effective? Believe it or not, Godfrey Harris and his son, Gregrey J. Harris published a book entitled "How to Generate Word of Mouth Advertising" (1995, Los Angeles by "The Americas Group," 9200 Sunset Blvd., L.A. CA 90069). I paid $11.95 for the book which contains 101 tips, about 10 cents per idea. Not bad!
Tip number one is "award a surprise rebate!" Imagine how pleased your customer would be to arrive home and find an unexpected note from you telling him or her that there was an unexpected additional discount on a part you purchased for the vehicle, and you are passing the savings along to him or her.
Tip number two is "send a present." This is trickier. If your customer has small children, a toy car with the name of your shop printed on it may be appropriate (in fact, some adults might like to receive that). If you could get a good price buying in quantity, a cap with your company name and logo would also make a great gift that would pass your name along. A safe gift for most drivers is a pre-paid car wash voucher. It should cost you less than ten bucks, will build your relationship with the local car wash owner, and will certainly be used by your customer.
Find the right gift in advance
You will probably not want to give an expensive gift to every customer after every repair. But you will benefit from sending a birthday or anniversary gift. Promising a gift if the customer adds his or her family's special dates to the "Customer Information Form" will get a certain number of customers to comply.
But what to give?
Some people value movie tickets. Others value a free restaurant meal. A lady may be delighted with a free hairdo. A guy may treasure a box of great golf balls. But how will you know if you don't ask? On the other hand, if you ask too bluntly, you can spoil the surprise. A simple way to find out what gift will be valued is to add a short check list to your customer information form. Many will tell you exactly what kind of gift they value most. But they will still be surprised if you actually send it.
Let your customer give your gift
This may be the trickiest tactic of all. What can you give your customer that you can afford to give and that he or she will be willing to pass along to his or her friends and family? The toy cars may be one possibility. Author Harris's tip number 78 suggests you pass along humor if possible. But humor can be tricky. Not everyone gets the joke and some may be offended if they misunderstand the humor.
A safe idea might be making a photo of your customer's damaged vehicle into an instant postcard, with the damaged vehicle on the front side and the repaired and beautifully refinished vehicle on the back side. On the front it would read: "This is my car that was worked on by XYZ body shop" humorously suggesting that you may have done the damage, but when the reader turns the card over, he or she sees the real end result of your work. You might think of some other humorous lines to put with the damaged vehicle. A good laugh often gets passed along.
You already know that many of your new customers are sent to you by someone. Obviously someone has told this prospective customer that you provide good service. Giving your customers something more to pass along may multiply those valuable referrals.
Do you really keep your customers?
One strategy I always recommend for a shop owner is contacting previous custo- mers to bring them back for another service. I'm amazed at how often I'm told, "We don't lose any of our customers. They all come back." Yeah. Right. Even at only 100 cars a month, that's 1200 customers in a year, more than 3000 over the past three years. You can bet they don't all come back.
When I bring up a few previous jobs on a client's computer (ones that didn't come back) I'm told, "Oh, that was a one-time job from a mechanic down the street." Or "That's an old customer's cousin from out of state." I hear dozens of reasons why these previous customers won't be coming back. The fact is there may be a core group of several hundred reliable customers who do come back again and again, but there are also hundreds of customers who came once and never came back again.
What can be done to make certain more customers do come back again? Consider your own buying practices
Think about businesses that you patronize. Is it possible you might go there again because that business followed up after your first visit? Did you get a thank you card or letter? Did you get a discount coupon, bonus reward, or even a rebate? Blockbuster sent me a card that entitled me to 99 cent movie rentals for an entire month. You can bet I used that card several times.
If you financed your house or business, I'll wager you get a lot of mail from that lender inviting you to borrow more or to send a friend or family member for a loan. Department stores never let up. They send special invitations continuously. And even though you recently bought a new car, the car dealership still sends you invitations to come drive the latest model.
Imagine your surprise if one of these vendors suddenly sent you an additional rebate a couple of weeks or a month after you made your purchase - or even if they just sent a nice little acknowledgment or gift. Everyone loves a pleasant surprise and will always come back for more. Instant surprises
I've had the pleasure of reading many of the customer satisfaction letters that are received by shop owners. I've noticed that many of them compliment the shop owner on the fact that they got their car back when (or before) it was promised. Many of the letter writers say they were surprised. It seems people have come to expect shoddy service and late deliveries. Apparently a simple way to provide a pleasant surprise is to live up to commitments made, and to deliver as promised.
One shop owner I know has every customer come back a month later to have the repaired area of the vehicle buffed and polished. He says he often gets referrals that way.
The other comment I see frequently is how much a customer appreciates the extra concern and attention received at a shop. Everyone craves attention and recognition. Why not WOW your customers with a follow-up surprise a week or two after completing their job? And perhaps do it again when their birthday or anniversary comes around.
You may have a pleasant surprise yourself when you see how many come back that you hadn't expected to see again.
Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops," and "Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth." His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by e-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.