By Bob Cooper
A few years ago I had the opportunity to interview over forty people for a panel of customers that I moderated. My intent was to discover what drives their decisions in choosing an auto repair shop, and how they make their purchasing decisions. I spent well over an hour with many of these prospective panelists so walked away with some truly surprising and noteworthy insights, but the most profound discovery was that we as an industry have an expectation of loyalty from our customers, when in reality customers have no sense of loyalty to us.
Now please don’t misunderstand me: I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t work hard to gain the customer’s trust, meet with their expectations, and do what we need to do to turn them into repeat customers. What I am suggesting is that shop owners should never just assume that their customers are loyal, and should instead have the mindset that they need to earn the customer’s trust and business with each and every visit.
Loyalty, in its truest sense, is something that should be held in the highest regard, and reserved for our patriotism to our country, our commitments to our friends and family, and to the elements of our lives where we have a genuine sense of indebtedness and moral obligation. But our customers? No matter how great our service is or how much we care about them, in reality they owe us nothing, so there should be no sense of moral obligation on their part.
This isn’t a viewpoint that I arrived at on my own, but by listening closely to your customers. Throughout the interview process I discovered that they feel absolutely no responsibility to return to your shop for additional repairs or services, which is why I’m sure many of you have found that your customers will zip into fast lubes for oil services rather than coming back to you.
Now before you let your feelings get hurt, let’s look at another example. Let’s say that you have a local grocery store that you like, and visit on a regular basis. Even though that grocery store offers a wide selection of bread, you may very well go to a local bakery. You may feel that the bread at the bakery is better, that it’s still fresh by the time you get home, or that it just provides a better value in some way. Regardless of why you go to the local bakery, I suspect you wouldn’t feel as if you’re doing something wrong by buying the bread at the bakery instead of the grocery store, right? If that’s the case, do you think the grocery store owner should feel offended by your absence of loyalty, or should view your decision as a practical one? If he does the latter, he has two options: accept the fact that you’ll purchase your bread elsewhere, or learn what he needs to do differently to improve your bread purchasing experience so that you purchase your bakery items while still at his grocery store.
Ladies and gentlemen, your business is no different. While I’m sure you have a few customers who can truly be considered “loyal”, if you develop the mindset that your customers should return to you out of loyalty, rather than looking for every opportunity to improve the customer experience, and truly earn their business with every single visit, then you will only be scratching the surface of your shop’s potential.
Since 1990, Bob Cooper has been the president of Elite (www.EliteWorldwide.com), a company that strives to help shop owners reach their goals and live happier lives, while elevating the industry at the same time. The company offers coaching and training from the industry’s top shop owners, service advisor training, peer groups, along with sales, marketing and shop management courses.