But what if more effort were applied to reinforcing those sources that actually do refer jobs? In a busy market, I know of a shop that promotes to 200 insurance agents a month. Less than 10% of those agents ever refer work to the shop, and even fewer actually send work on a regular basis. This particular shop also has a DRP with an insurance company that has regular agent meetings and has made the conference room and area available for agent and manager meetings fairly frequently. This has resulted in significantly more referrals by agents who attend meetings at the shop. In checking with other shops that market to agents, I found this was a common occurrence. Once an agent either came to a shop, brought his or her vehicle to the shop for repairs, or had a customer use that shop with a good result, the agent then did actually refer business to the shop.
A physician’s Hippocratic oath says, “First do no harm.” Someone contemplating a referral to a shop will have a similar concern: “First, avoid any harm.” An agent or other referral source knows that referring a job to a shop that does a bad repair will reflect badly on him or her and may lose that customer or client. So great caution is exercised in making referrals. On the other hand, I’ve spoken with agents who said they had gotten a glowing report from a customer who had been referred to a shop and found that referral formed an even closer bond with the customer. In a case like this, referrals can be an excellent way to solidify or build business.
This should be a clear message to a shop owner or manager seeking to build referral business. Getting the referral source to come to the shop to see it in action, or better yet to bring his or her own vehicle in for repairs will greatly improve the chances of getting referral business. Depending on the financial capability of the shop, it could even be worthwhile to offer to do a free repair to a potentially high volume referral source.
Much depends on a shop carefully identifying who has referred a job. When a real referral source has been identified, it’s time to reinforce that willingness to refer in every way possible. Many shops send thank you notes or offer a free car wash as a thank you. Others offer small gifts like theater tickets, dinner for two at a nice restaurant, or a voucher for use at a beauty parlor, local gym or barbershop. Some agents aren’t allowed to receive gifts, so a more subtle form of appreciation is in order. Like the shop, agents, car dealers and other referral sources are also looking to build their business. Posting their card or flyers at the shop would be a minimal thing to do, but hosting a promotional event at the shop could be appropriate for someone who frequently referred business.
Some events can be a win-win for both the shop and an agent or dealership promotional person. A safe driving event for teenagers can bring in parents with insurable and repairable vehicles. In a previous article I wrote about a car care clinic for a woman’s professional network group. Promoting a good referral source as a sponsor and co-presenter for such an event would be an especially effective way to reinforce that source of referrals.
Happy customer referrals can also be enhanced with recognition. One shop tracked the number of jobs per month and year and awarded a prize to the 10,000th customer. A shop might also create a “Customer Appreciation Day” once a month, and invite all customers who had referred jobs to come in for a fancy lunch and also perhaps a car wash. Unique souvenirs could also be awarded, like a coffee mug or special hat or T-shirt with the shop’s logo. The key element with individuals who refer business is to create a sense of family and belonging. And when one of these referring customers comes back for repairs on his or her vehicle, the shop might award a surprise rebate.
It all comes down to recognizing who actually sends work. Radio, TV and publication ads reach out to the general public. Flyers, mailers, e-mails and more, target potential (but not yet real) referral sources. But there’s nothing like reinforcing and rewarding those who send the real jobs and provide the funds for reaching out to grow even more.