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Build a Successful Customer Retention Program

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Give your customers a memorable experience and they will return


Peter Drucker, one of the greatest business minds in recent history preached, “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer”. That simple quote is perhaps the single, most important business principle. We often get too caught up in sales numbers, gross profit margins, car counts and average work order dollars. Those are the numbers of your business, but what is the heart of your business? What will drive your business for generations to come? The answer: Customer Retention. And that can only be accomplished with a sound marketing program and creating the ideal customer experience. Take care of your customer, give them a memorable experience, and the rest will fall into place.


Let’s first take a look how marketing differs from advertising. Marketing and advertising are closely related but often confused. Advertising is part of marketing and effective marketing is vital to customer retention. To simplify matters, advertising is everything you do to get your name out to your market area in the form of ads, radio announcements, TV commercials, bill boards, coupons, etc. Think of advertising as inviting consumers to try your product or services through different forms of media.


Marketing is how customers perceive your business. Marketing consists of everything you do with respect to the customer experience. The experience is the most important step in the sales process, its makes or breaks the business-to-consumer relationship. For the customer to want to return, the experience must be positive. And, I’m not only referring to quality repairs, that’s a given. I’m talking about how the customer was treated on the phone, at the front counter, the waiting area, the bathroom, as well as the look of your facility….The Experience.


Advertising may get new people through your front door, but marketing will keep them returning over and over again. A bad experience will result in a one-time customer, which wastes valuable ad dollars and hurts future sales. Remember, advertising gets the phone to ring, but how the customer is treated on the phone will determine if that person actually comes in. Or, how that person was taken care of once she arrived at your service counter will determine if she returns. Marketing is the key; it’s the difference between building a business and failing. It’s where many businesses drop the ball. Everything you do once the customer drives into your facility must be somehow related to getting the customer to return.


Let’s take a look at a few basic marketing ideas you can implement today that will make a big difference with customer retention. Many of these marketing ideas don’t cost any money and I’m sure most of you already know them, but a basic marketing tune-up from time to time can’t hurt.


Who’s answering the phone? A tech? A porter? Are they trained in customer service? This has to be the first step in your marketing plan. The wrong person answering the phone can kill your business. At my shop, only service personnel answer phones. They are trained with the proper skills to handle issues, problems and scheduling. Call your business from time to time or have a friend call. Make sure the people you have on the other end of the line are saying the right things in a warm and friendly manner.


Who’s on the front counter greeting customers? What impression does the customer have as she walks through your front door? Are your counter people well groomed? Are they enthusiastic when they greet customers? Do they smile? You’ll have a tough time selling if your service people don’t have the right attitude toward the customer. I tell my service advisors; “When a customer walks through the door, treat them as if you were waiting your entire life to meet them, that your whole existence is dependent upon their arrival. If you want the customer to return, make them feel special”.


How’s the look of your facility? Is it clean and orderly? Can customer see junk engines or tires piled up in the back? Is your parking area clean? How’s the waiting area? What does the customer bathroom look like? Clean bathrooms and waiting area are a reflection of your business. The customer doesn’t always see the repair, but they DO see how well kept your bathroom and waiting area is. You need to take a long hard look at your facility and make sure it has the look that invites people, not turn people off. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to insure that your facility is clean and neat. But, it goes a long way with the customer. The condition of the facility will leave an impression in the customer’s mind, if your place is a mess, the customer will take this as a sign that maybe your work is a mess too.


Customer follow up is a great way to show your customers you care about their welfare. We call all first time customers and every customer who had a repair or major service performed. We don’t call for simple services like oil changes and state inspections or wiper blade replacements. Many new customers are stunned when we call; it’s a great way to reinforce that positive customer experience.


Car delivery is another great opportunity to strengthen your relationship with the customer. Review the work order; ask the customer if there are any questions. Thank them and shake their hand. Walk them out to their car or hold the door for them. Anything that tells the customer you really appreciate the trust they have in you and want to see them return.


Book the next appointment. Your dentist does it, why not you? Your customers will need another oil change service, right? Let it be your shop, book the next appointment during car delivery before the customer leaves. Create a system using a computer schedule program or use your business management program to alert you of scheduled appointments. You will need to remind these customers with a reminder card or phone call, but it’s a winner.


You also need to create marketing programs that will contact your customers on a consistent and continual manner. You need to keep your company branded in the mind of your customer. This is important, the next time your customer is thinking about his car, he needs to associate his car with your business. This can only be done by constantly reminding him about your company. People will recall what they are familiar with. Here are a few marketing strategy tips:


•Offer free tire rotation with every set of tires. Also offer free tire pressure checks.

•Send out yearly reminders for wheel alignments.

•Offer free fluid top-offs between services.

•Create a welcome kit of all new customers. Include your company brochure, business card, other information brochures, and a new customer discount coupon for their next visit, magnetic business card. You can even add a small gift like a tire gauge.

•At write up, get email addresses and birthdays (not the year). Send your customer a birthday card, either by mail or email.

•Create an email newsletter and send out monthly car tips and other service specials.

•Send out seasonal promotions.

•If your state has mandatory safety/emissions inspections, send out reminders.

•Make notes about future service work and suggested repairs and send reminders either by email or regular mail.

•If you perform a major repair such as an engine replacement or transmission, schedule a follow-up visit.



Getting the customer to return must be your marketing goal, particularly for a first time customer. It takes a few visits for people to get to know your company and feel comfortable with your people. That’s why it’s so important to create marketing strategies that increases the chances for a return visit. It takes time and effort to build a relationship, but once established, you have a customer for life.


Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart built a world–wide empire, and although many of Walmart’s business practices are controversial, Sam Walton did understand the consumer. His quote says it all: “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else”.

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Start LLC for $0 at IncFile

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And, make sure your software can do those important marketing strategies.


Plus, actually answer the phone. I can tell you that there are a lot of shops that don't answer their phone ( I know because we call them on our follow up calls when they download our software .. of course maybe it's just us :)


But there are a lot of businesses that just don't answer the phone. People are always surprised when we answer our phone. And I'm always pleased to find out the other software companies don't answer theirs.... uh oh, just gave away our secret to success :)

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The phone is as valuable as any other tool in your shop. I know how tough it can be when the phone rings off the hook at times, but it must be managed.


We just hired a part time receptionist to help with the phones. We also bought a phone system a few years back that will pick up the phone with a message after the 6th ring. We really don't like a computer automated person, but it's a lot better than not answering it.

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We just hired a part time receptionist to help with the phones. We also bought a phone system a few years back that will pick up the phone with a message after the 6th ring. We really don't like a computer automated person, but it's a lot better than not answering it.


Excellent article, Joe. Thank you for taking the time to type it all up.


I have been thinking a lot about hiring a relatively cheap receptionist to backup the service advisers. A live human answering the phone is MUCH better than someone hanging up without leaving a voicemail. What responsibilities do you give your receptionist? Do they estimate and/or book appointments? Or just a phone answerer that states, "We will call you back regarding this in 10 minutes."

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