Surprise Your Customers

Dec 3, 2009

If you want to keep your customers coming back to your shop, give them a surprise. Do something unexpected for them, and your name will earn a prominent place in their mental filing cabinet, securely filed under Shops to return to and Shops to recommend.

The surprise you give your customers doesn’t have to be a big one. In fact, simple, small touches resonate with meaning and make them feel like their car is more than just another job on your list.

It was a little thing that sparked this idea for me. We got a Christmas card from Ed Plante Auto Detailing last year. The card wasn’t anything extraordinary, but there was a surprise inside that made it stand out from all the other business associates’ holiday greetings we received-he included a picture of our family SUV taken after his last detailing. In other words, he surprised us with a small, personal touch that made us feel just a tiny bit special.

When you do a little something extra, like Ed did, you acknowledge your customer as a friend and as someone whose good feelings toward you warrant particular attention. The picture itself wasn’t any big deal, but, as your mother always said, it’s the thought that counts.

The main factor to keep in mind is that what you do needs to be slightly out of the ordinary-something the customer doesn’t expect. That means it doesn’t have to occur at the point of service; in fact, surprises work really well when they come later, after the customer has started to forget the last time he was in your shop.

Secondly, the surprise should have a personal angle to it. If it’s something you do for every customer, like automatically leaving a clean paper mat on the floorboards, it’s not going to prompt anybody to give it a second thought.

As a restyler, you have all sorts of opportunities to give your customers great surprises. The picture Ed sent was of our clunky old family SUV with a fresh wax job. Can you imagine what kind of impact an unexpected picture of one of your customer’s tricked-out rides would have?

Your customers’ cars mean a lot or they wouldn’t be spending money with you on them. To your customer, getting a picture of his car is like getting a picture of his kids-maybe better!

Surprises Online

If you want to go an extra step, you can really wow the customer by putting that picture of his or her ride on a calendar, coffee mug, T-shirt or even a teddy bear. Online services like Café Press [] will put your digital photo on a wide variety of merchandise for just a few dollars. There aren’t any setup charges and you can order one piece at a time, too. All it takes is a photo and a few minutes online.

While you’re cruising the Web with marketing on your mind, look for Web sites, groups, or other online material your customer might find interesting. Then drop him or her an e-mail with a link to the site you’ve found.

If your customer is a Corvette owner, for example, send him a link to the nearest Corvette club’s Web site. Even if he already belongs, he’ll appreciate the fact that you were thinking of him. It doesn’t have to be car-related, either. If you know he’s into music, send him a link to an up-and-coming band’s MySpace site.

The key factor is to make your surprise something with a personal connection to the customer. If you send a generic link to all the car shows in your area to all your customers, that’s fine, but you’ve lost the personal touch that makes the surprise such a potent marketing tool. Never forget, you’re in the retail business where you succeed by selling one customer at a time.

Speaking of Web sites, what’s on yours? It’s fine to have pages extolling the virtues of your experience, the value of your merchandise and the expertise of your technicians. But you’re missing a sure bet if you don’t have a section devoted to your customers and their cars.

Putting a picture of your customer’s car on the Web is like taping their kid’s picture to the refrigerator door. It makes you both feel good. Just don’t post any identifying information about the customer: a caption describing the car and perhaps the work you did on it is enough.

Once the picture is up, surprise him with the link in an e-mail. These days, you don’t even have to pay for a Web site. The social networks like Yahoo 360 or MySpace, photo-sharing sites like Flickr, Shutterfly and PhotoBooks, or even blog services such as Google Blog or Blogger are all free and can allow you to communicate with-and surprise-your customers online.

Significant Others

Another person who likes surprises is the customer’s significant other. While she [or he, as the case may be] may not be the one who decides their car needs a new sunroof, window film or hood scoop, they may very well be the one who pays the bill.

You want them on your side-or at least not working against you. For a couple of bucks, you can send a box of candy or a few flowers. For a few dollars less, you can give their kid a car-themed coloring book. Do you remember when you got a lollipop at the doctor’s office after you got a shot? For a few cents, it took your mind off the sting.

You don’t have to spend money on merchandise to give your customers a pleasant surprise, though. Another way is to do something unexpected for them at the time of service. Depending on the kind of work your shop does, you may or may not automatically wash the customer’s car when you’re finished-but you can.

You can also take a few minutes to vacuum the interior or give the tires a quick wipe with a sidewall compound. If you really want to give the customer a thrill, call when the job is done and offer to deliver the car so they don’t have to pick it up. Or, a couple of weeks after the car is out of the shop, call to make sure everything’s all right.

If you want to keep your customers coming back, surprise them. The unexpected e-mail message, note or card, gift or service not only reminds them that you’re there, but also says you’re interested in them as individuals.

It’s a way to extend the hand of friendship without a bill in it. You’ll create goodwill and reinforce their positive opinion of your work, which can lead to more referrals and repeat business. In the end, you will be surprised at the way your sales grow.