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  Management Feature

Turn Customers Into Songbirds

Posted 7/15/2005
Bob Cooper

Get them to sing your song and win new customers to your shop.

Far too many shop owners, managers and service advisers think that if they do a good job their customers will sing their song. Reality tells us more often than not, that's not the case.

Here's why: Say you have a customer standing in front of you, and she is quite happy with the service she's received. Your price was less than she expected, the work was done in less time than estimated, and your service was first-rate. You have every reason to believe she is going to tell the world about you. But if you step out of your world, for just a minute or so, and into hers, you'll see things aren't quite what you imagined.

As soon as that customer says "goodbye" and walks out the door, she is going to start thinking about everything and anything other than you! Once customers walk out the door, the only time they'll think of you or your company is if they have a problem with their automobile. Or, if they happen to see one of your marketing pieces, or if someone specifically asks them if there's an auto repair facility that they could recommend. What that should be telling you is that the probability of them actively telling other people about your company, and the great service that you deliver, is - in all honesty - close to zero. If that's not bad enough, if someone asks them for a referral a week or a month later, what's your customer going to do then? Are they going to recommend you?

I think it's safe to say they're not going to know your phone number right off the top of their head. Even if the potential customer clearly knows the name of your company, they won't know how to reach you. What they'll do is write down the name of your shop, and then they'll try to find your number by looking in the same phone directory where all of your competitors are listed.

You might not like what you're hearing. But after 30 years of growing some of the most successful shops in America, I know what I'm sharing with you is the reality of business.

Now here's some good news: Most of your competitors live in a world where they actually do believe most of their customers are going to go out and sing their song. Some customers might just do that, but most of them won't. The question is: What can you do differently now that you understand what's really going on with your customers once they leave your facility? You can give your customers the tools they need to sing your song. Here's how:

First, offer every customer who leaves your facility at least two of your business cards. Not only will these cards serve as a visual reminder for them to tell their friends about you, but just as important, it puts your customers in a position where they can pass on all of your contact information to other people. All they need to do then is pick up the phone and call you. I like to call these business cards our "marketing tools."

Then, if you want to take your business to the next level, you'll need to give your customers something of value. I can't think of anything that works better than a complimentary oil service or gift certificate that their friends can use at your facility.

You can also help your customers focus on potential candidates. To accomplish this, start by asking customers if they work with anyone who they believe could benefit from your services. By asking this question, it will cause them to only think of the people they work with, which is what you want them to do. You can do the same thing if they are involved with church groups, and community or civic organizations.

Tell them you are always looking for new customers and offer them two business cards. On the back of each card write, "One complimentary oil service for any first-time customer." Tell them the offer is only good for first-time customers. If one of their referrals comes in, you'll also give them (the referring customer) a complimentary oil service the next time they are in! Send your customers on a mission, and give them the tools they need to complete that mission!

Imagine that you're a customer, and you just left Elite Auto Service (like we talked about earlier). The only difference being, unlike the other customer, what you'll have is two certificates or business cards that any first-time customer can use toward a complimentary service at Elite Auto. I think it's safe to say you're going to take those two valuable tools and you're going to make a point to pass them on to your friends.

Before too long, you - as the shop owner - will be asking yourself how much will a couple of business cards cost you. How much do a couple of business cards cost? That's a nothing number, right? And if you're concerned about giving away a complimentary oil service, let me ask you this: How much does it actually cost you to do an oil service? Now when you come to a conclusion as to what that number is, ask yourself another question: How much does it cost you to bring in a new customer with print or any other kind of media? I think you're going to find those numbers are going to be really close.

Now here's the part your competitors will never think about if you do what I'm asking you to do. The customer who comes in for that complimentary oil service has already been pre-sold on you! If you want your customers to help promote your business, what you need to do is help them. The best way to do that is by giving them the tools they need to sing your song. Trust me. This is one guaranteed way of turning your customers into the songbirds every business needs.

Editor's note: This article is one of several management articles that will be contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit

Bob Cooper is the founder and president of Elite Business Services, a worldwide company that provides business-building solutions to the automotive service industry. To learn how they can help you build a more profitable and successful business, visit them on the Web at

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