Blazing a Path to New CustomersPosted 7/17/2006
By Karen Friend
Ugh! It's time to take my car in for service. I keep putting it off. I don't know why. I know the longer I put it off the more I am setting myself up for a disaster, but I keep gambling. Maybe I can squeeze it in on Thursday ... no, I have to drive for the field trip. Maybe Saturday will work ... no, there are two soccer games and a birthday party. And then, of course, sometime this weekend I have to get all the shopping done. It's the last chance I'll have until next weekend. Hmmm ... I guess the car can survive another week.
Welcome to the life of your customer. Today more than 65 percent of all auto service customers are women ... busy women. You've probably seen the shift in your customer base, but what have you changed about your business to accommodate this busy customer?
OK, I finally gave in - I made an appointment. I rearranged my entire schedule so I could live without my car for the day. All I need is a simple service, but for some reason, it always takes all day at the shop. There has GOT to be a better option ... but where? Or maybe this is as good as it gets. Now that I think about it, none of my friends sing the praises of their service provider. In fact, I've never heard one of them talk about where they go. Wonder why? They probably feel the same about their service provider as I do. Hmmm...I'd love to find a better place, but where do I start? And where will I find the time?
These are the thoughts going through the minds of women everywhere. This is your potential customer. She's frustrated, but too busy to do anything about it. She has a hunch there might be a better service center for her out there, but doesn't know how to find it. She relies heavily on her car. She can't afford to have it out of service. She wants to take good care of it. In truth, car care is actually one of her top priorities ... it's her family's safety ... it's her rock ... without it her entire juggling act comes crashing down. But, as much as she wants to take care of it, it's just simply too much of an inconvenience.
So, here I sit ... in a line of people at my service center, waiting to get checked in. I booked my appointment a week ago. So, who are all of these other people? I wonder - do ALL of these people have appointments? Why did they book an appointment for me and eight other people at the same time? Are they really going to service all of these cars at the same time? No wonder my car has to be here all day. It's probably just going to be sitting somewhere most of the day. This would never happen at my hairdresser's. Can you imagine if I had to sit in a chair all day ... just to be serviced for about one hour? That would never do. Yet, my car is expected to do just that. There's got to be a better way.
I know they're busy. They're friendly. They're moving fast. But, somehow I just don't feel like they care if I'm here, one way or the other. They probably wouldn't even miss me if I left ... and never came back. That's it! I'm going to find a new service shop. It will be worth my time if it means I don't have to go through this again. Wonder where the next closest place is ... hmmm ... I think there are a few shops out on Grand Avenue. What's the name of that place? Guess I'll look it up on the Internet. Hmmm ... not finding any decent Web sites for auto shops. Where else can I look? Maybe I'll check the Yellow Pages...oh yeah, I forgot, I threw that out the day it arrived.
OK, you get the point. The point is ... it's ridiculous. It's ridiculous that a customer has to feel this way and doesn't know where to find you. But, what's even more ridiculous is that she's out looking for you! Why should she have to look for you? Why aren't you right at the top of her mind? Where have you been? If your business is as good as you say it is ... if it means as much to you as you say it does ... how is it possible that there are customers like this one out there ... wishing they had better, but not knowing where to look. Why is there no clear path in her mind ... directly to you?
It's time for an intervention. It's time for you to get serious. Who among us isn't struggling ... struggling for customers ... for qualified employees ... for a better image. The problem is that there's no time for struggling. Customers don't have time to seek you out and decide whether you're the best. They just have to know.
Why are you hiding? You should be everywhere she is - the mailbox, the front door, the office, the grocery store, the school fundraiser, the doctor's office, the veterinarian, the daycare center, the Little League field, the billboard, the street bench, the gym, the gas station, her favorite coffee shop, and with her best friend. Your name and your face should be right at the top of her mind. And no, you can't just decide to advertise on the grocery carts or take just one approach. You have to be everywhere. You have to do it all ... direct mail, targeted advertising, write articles, host booths at street fairs, print a newsletter that every local medical office/salon/etc. wants to carry, be on the sport league shirts and signs.
You have to be visible ... on the street corner where you're located and everywhere along the path that your customer takes in the neighborhood everyday. Your shop needs to be inviting and welcoming. Your services have to be accommodating. You have to have a presence as a business leader in the community. You really have to have it all. When she thinks "auto repair," she should immediately think of your business.
Don't make her find you. Create a path to your new customer because when you clear a path for her that leads directly to your shop ... here's what happens in both the mind and the mouth of your customer:
I just dropped off my car at Smith Automotive today. They make it so easy. Have I told you about them? I don't have to call them. Not only do they remind me that I'm due for service, but they schedule a standing appointment for me. When I get there, they are right there waiting for me as if I'm the only customer they have all day. Joe knows my face and calls me by name. I am in and out in a flash. He knows I need a car for the day, so he always has one ready and waiting. But half the time I don't even need a loaner car because they are so fast. They know exactly how much time they need and they schedule me into the perfect window. On those days, I can just bring my laptop - they have a great place to hang out, Internet access ... it's actually a great place to get work done. I can even bring little Johnny - there are plenty of toys, movies to watch ... and he even gets to watch them work on my car through the window. He loves it! He's always asking if he can go back there. Heck, I can't wait until I go back there. I never thought I'd say that about an auto shop. You've GOT to try it. It will change everything you ever thought about auto repair.
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