There’s no doubt that you’ve heard the phrase “your customers are your greatest asset.” But are you running your business with that in mind?
“The biggest issue that we see today when we’re working with clients is the fact that they just focus on the monetary aspects and they truly forget why they’re in business, and that is the acquisition and retention of clients,” said Drew Stevens, president of Eureka, Missouri-based Stevens Consulting Group, a consultancy that teaches companies how to build better customer relationships. “When they focus on that, the reward is the monetary gains that they have, but the fact is that many organizations just focus on those monetary gains and forget how to market, how to be visible and what it is that the clients are truly looking for.”
When you’re best serving your customers, you benefit from their repeat business.
“It’s going to cost you less for advertising and promotion because when you’re retaining clients, you don’t have to work as hard at acquiring new ones,” Stevens said. “You’re physically lessening your labor simply because of the fact that you will already have a good customer base that’s [consistently] buying from you.”
Satisfied repeat customers also work on your behalf to let other people know who you are and the great job you do.
“Good customers, when they are simply enamored with your practices, tell other potential clients about you, and that decreases the cost of promotion and advertising,” Stevens said. “In today’s world, customer-to-customer influences are vitally important to every good business. When you have your valued customers letting others know [about you], they start to build a community for you and, as a business owner, you actually have to work less.”
Starting Off on the Right Foot
Developing lasting relationships with loyal, enthusiastic customers has to begin with that very first interaction.
“You want to make sure the customer is the purpose of business, they’re not an interruption of it, so when you see a customer, be excited,” Stevens said. “You’re in business to create customers and the only way [to do that] is to be excited about meeting and greeting and having clients each and every day, so what you want to make sure of is that you are creating those good first impressions.”
That attitude has to be part of your shop’s culture, according to Stevens, and must extend to everyone who deals with customers-from the owner to the counter people to the technicians in the work bay.
“You need to make sure that your employees are customer-service-savvy,” he said. “That really comes from good hiring practices. You’ve got to make sure that the people that you’re hiring are into customer service.”
Employees at Spraker Racing Enterprisesin Mooresville, North Carolina, and Schenectady, New York, know to take their time to answer any and all customer questions.
“When we meet a customer, we’ll cover every gamut, every aspect of the build for them,” Jeff Spraker, the company’s president, said. “We try to really detail it out to him and put it to him in an easier-to-swallow manner so that he can get an idea of what he’s going to spend and what he can expect when he’s done.”
Customers can expect the same treatment if they have any follow-up questions.
“In our industry, the customer is begging for knowledge,” Spraker said. “They don’t know all the things it takes to build a car, so you have to work with them and you have to be patient. You might not have sold anything in that 20 minutes, but I guarantee your name got put higher on his list of priorities when he needs to call somebody for a product and he also is going to convey that to somebody else. That’s something that you just can’t do enough of; you’ve really got to service people.”
Stevens has found that customers do repeat business with a shop because of the employees, the look and feel of the shop, and the location.
“When it comes to customer service, you want to make sure that people know where [your shop is] located, that it has easy access to parking, and they’re not going to get lost,” he said. “[Customers have to know that] everything about visiting that particular shop is clearly interesting and exciting and not a hassle.”
Customer relationships are strengthened by keeping the lines of communication open during all stages of a project, providing updates and letting a customer know exactly what work has been or is being done on their car.
“My mechanic physically sits down with me and goes over the entire itemized bill, and there are certain things that I need not know, but he tells me anyway,” Stevens said. “I think that is an exceptional business practice because you want to know what was [installed] in your automobile and, from a service perspective, it shows, ‘You’re my client, I care, and I want you to know that you’re not getting ripped off.'”
“Animal” Jim provides his customers with that level of detailed information on the engines and vehicles his Lacon, Illinois-based Animal Jim Racing has built for them.
“They get a list of every operation that went into it and then a list of all the parts and prices,” he said. “I keep that all on file and then they get a sheet with all the specifications, like if it’s an engine, it will have all the clearances and settings and measurements and so forth. There will be so much stuff that I’ll have to explain it to a lot of them because they won’t understand what it is, but at least it will be there in case they have to work on it again, or somebody does, or if it comes back here.”
Feurer believes in treating his customers’ projects like this own, a practice that could account for the 80 percent customer return rate he reported.
“I think that’s another reason people come back is they know I go through a lot of pains,” he said. “There’s times I’ve done work for people, [we’ve] put so many hours in it, and I want it a certain way [so] I just cap the labor and just keep going on. I know if I make this other couple of moves, I’m going to pick up 10 more horsepower for this guy and I’ll just go ahead and do it and not charge him for it just so the thing will run better.”
A Little Something Extra
Customer/shop communication can continue long after the project is complete with follow-up phone calls and through e-newsletters or social media sites.
“You can use a monthly newsletter, a blog [or] a corporate Facebook account,” Stevens said. “No matter what, whether you’re using electronic or hard copy, [communicating] at least once per month or once every few weeks is an asset to any organization.”
Through those outlets, you can offer repeat customers exclusive discounts or invite them to special events.
“There are some places that have customer event days, [such as] chili cook-offs [or] Super Bowl Sunday specials. [They] bring a grill, and some drinks and entertain [their] clients for the day,” Stevens said. “I’ve seen many organizations not only bring in food but they’ve brought in entertainment. It could be a country [or] rock band, it doesn’t matter, but everybody’s having a good time that way.”
Clean Cut Creations in Webster Groves, Missouri, keeps its customer list updated on local car shows and events. Customers are also invited to shop events, like a National Collector Car Day lunch and an upcoming drive-in movie series.
“We’re a small family place,” said Joann Kuehl, the shop’s president. “We really try to draw those customers into our little inner circle and make them feel a part of what’s happening.”
The shop also offers customers an on-location photo shoot, complete with a pin-up model, once their project is completed.
“Customers really respond to that,” said Kuehl, who serves as photographer and shoot director. “We’ll get a model and we set the whole situation up, and the customers get to come and get to be involved in that. They get to see the cute girl with their car and it makes it feel like their build is complete, like something really has been done to their car [that] is photograph-worthy.”
Kuehl will take between 100 and 300 photographs of the vehicle during the course of the shoot. The customer gets a CD with all those images to use as they like and Kuehl often shares the images with enthusiast magazines, getting national exposure for her customers’ vehicles.
“They’re excited, too, because in the event that we get to put their vehicle into a magazine or a tech article goes into a magazine, they really like that a lot, it’s very pleasing to them,” Kuehl said.
Clean Cut Creations’ customers are able to direct more business to the shop by showing off the pictures Kuehl has taken of their vehicle.
“Since they have a nice photo shoot, they’re proud and they’re excited about it so they’ll be happy to share it,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like work to them when they’re promoting us. They’re happy to take these photos around or post them on the Internet and show them.”
Encouraging satisfied customers to spread your message is an effective way to bring in new business. If they are happy with the work you’ve done and the way you’ve treated them, they will often refer more customers to your shop.
“Start a customer referral program and offer discounts or some type of reward,” Stevens said. “It doesn’t matter what it is, but [it should be] some type of reward where your best customers are telling others about you and you’re rewarding them for bringing you business. Again, that lessens the labor that you have to do.”