Reaching the Female Customer
As a result of many factors, more women are in charge of getting vehicles serviced. Automotive service shops must be poised and ready to cater to this new breed of customer.
Consider these facts:
• In the United States, there are 101.7 million licensed women drivers.
• More than 55 percent of all the vehicles sold last year were purchased by women.
• As a whole, women spend $300 billion annually on used car sales and vehicle maintenance and repairs.
• By 2008, women made up about 48 percent of the labor force.
• The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that between 1998 and 2008, the number of women in the labor force increased while men decreased.
What do these stats mean? They all add up to the fact that the female customer can no longer be overlooked by automotive service professionals. With more women working than ever, not to mention buying cars, the customer base for automotive service shops is changing remarkably.
More than 65 percent* of customers who take their vehicles for service and repair are women. Overall, they make 80 percent of vehicle repair decisions. It appears that soon the majority of customers with whom technicians, service managers and front office staff must communicate will be women.
The future of your business depends on how you ensure a steady stream of customers. Many shops realize their customer base will change from predominantly men to women and have adopted new methods - from conducting car-care clinics for women to hiring female service writers and/or technicians.
Personal Touch Is in The Details
Add a personal component to your business relationship. Always verbally greet the customer and smile - don't ignore her. If you are involved with someone or handling a situation, at least acknowledge her and say, "I'll be right with you." Give your female customers your full attention and listen to their concerns. Be fair. Be honest. And be reliable. Provide timely delivery. Good communication is essential. If it is not going to be ready on time, let her know. Make your service desk area as clean and uncluttered as possible. Getting grease or ink on the sleeve of a jacket, dress shirt or any piece of apparel is not good for any of your customers.
A recent survey indicated that 78 percent of women feel scheduled maintenance is important to keep their vehicle safe and dependable. Discuss a maintenance schedule with your recommendations and show/explain the information in the owner's manual. The owner's manual should be seen as a reassuring tool. Suggestions for service, improved gas mileage and safety are appreciated.
Recent surveys indicate that independent shops do a great job of building customer relationships. No one - man or woman - likes to have their car serviced or repaired but it needs to be done, so make it a pleasant experience. It is always an inconvenience to leave your vehicle at the shop. Win the female customer by minimizing the disruption to her routine. She uses the vehicle to get to work, pick up the kids, go to sports practices/games, buy groceries and the list goes on. Design a drop-off and pick-up system that is accommodating and minimizes disruptions. Genuine listening goes a long way.
It's her car so it's her choice where to get it serviced. To earn her business, you must gain her trust. Personally, I will not give my keys or leave my vehicle with just any shop. I love my vehicle and I'm just as picky about repair shops as I was picking out a day care facility for my son. I must trust that person and that business.
Gaining a customer's trust is not always easy. My grandfather once told me to never trust anyone that would not look you in the eye when they are talking to you. I still remember that today and use it when I'm dealing with people either professionally or personally.
Before bringing you their car, women will check out your Web site, drive by your business and pay an unexpected visit to your shop. When women visit your shop, give them a few minutes of your time and a short tour of your shop. Introduce yourself and your staff and answer her questions. It's OK to brag about the additional services you provide - such as car wash, vacuuming inside of a vehicle, topping off fluids, a drop- off/pick-up service or loaning vehicles.
The first priority for any repair shop is clear communication between the service manager and the customer. A major mistake is to assume that she is not the decision maker regarding repairs/ service. And as a general rule, do not assume the customer does or does not want to understand the repair process. Women today take an active interest in car care. Technicians have reported that females ask more questions, inquire about details, are willing to look under the hood and ask for a return of their old parts. Always ask how much they want to know about their repair and if necessary, use brochures to explain the repairs and the cost associated with the repair.
Explain yourself in a way they will understand. Don't use big words or industry language. When I was a technical writer, we were instructed to write at a sixth-grade level because that is what the average American can understand and comprehend. It is OK to speak that way because most people are not offended by the simplicity of it but would be if they felt you were intentionally talking over their heads.
Satisfaction with the repair process is more than providing quality parts and repair; it starts at the service counter and extends to when the vehicle is delivered back to the customer. Your interaction with that customer takes precedence over anything else that's happening. Customers need to feel important and know that you appreciate their business.
When a customer returns to pick up a vehicle, have the vehicle brought up to the front door. Ask the customer if there are any issues they would like to bring to your attention. This sometimes works better than a follow-up call or a customer satisfaction survey sent in the mail.
All these things could result in a lifetime customer. Remember, women have a large network of friends, co-workers and family. And, women love to talk! So, gaining one female customer could bring you many more.
A key element to any business is to continue to generate new business. Can you afford not to make an investment to attract women customers to your business? And, if you set your customer service standards for women, men are sure to follow; growing both genders of your customer base.
The most important trait to a female customer is trust. If you can win her trust, you will gain a loyal customer. In return, women want what every customer deserves - respect.
*Editor's Note: The Automotive Service Association's "How's Your Business?" Annual survey reports that among ASA member shops (collision and mechanical), 50 percent of customers are women. The survey has a 94 percent confidence level with a confidence interval of +/- 6.
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