Blend Technology Into Your Marketing
Just as there are different kinds of customers, there are different methods of marketing to those customers. Select the right marketing type, and you’ll be well on your way to reaching out to your customers and prospects.
We are living in the Information Age, and it is easy for consumers to shop for “deals.” Most everyone feels the pinch of the current economy and deal-seeking isn’t just for those in need. It is now fashionable to be frugal.
Not long ago, the independent automotive service and repair shops across the country prided themselves on their A and B customers. C and D consumers were not wanted. The attitude was “let the chain stores deal with these ‘bottom feeders.’”
In 2010, that started to change and by the end of 2011 many of these same shops were happy to attract any consumer who could pay. What happened? The playing field leveled out. A and B customers started shopping for deals and being more careful when spending their money – just like the C and D customers.
I’ve been asked over and over again about the best way to prospect and retain current customers. Here is what I have found to be the most successful blend of technology and traditional marketing for independent automotive service and repair shops: Use online marketing (technology) for prospecting and direct mail marketing (traditional) to communicate with your current customers.
Why? Print ads to prospects get little interaction (6 percent) compared to online ads (16 percent). Strangely, though, 29 percent of advertising dollars are spent on print ads for prospecting and only 1 percent on online ads.
Obviously, your best use of prospecting marketing dollars is online. Print ads in newspapers and other publications are easy to overlook if the consumer is unfamiliar with you. And if you send direct mail or “spray and pray” mailers to those consumers, it is not much different than unsolicited telemarketing calls … it is considered “junk” because you are invading their home uninvited.
The Less Frequent Customer
Consumers are driving less these days and the high price of gasoline isn’t helping. With fewer miles driven, they need less service. Depending on their vehicle and driving habits, most don’t need an oil change every 3,000 miles. Customers that used to come in for service four times a year per vehicle now come in half as much or even less. This means most automotive service and repair shops are hungry for business and are offering amazing deals to capture new business to offset the less-seen customer. This puts more pressure on a shop to keep its customers coming back.
Are Customers Still Loyal?
Thirty percent of consumers are choosing who they do business with based on coupons. Twenty percent will go to a shop with the better offer even if they have always gone to you.
Though it is difficult not to feel slighted if your once loyal customers defected to save money, it really isn’t personal. It doesn’t mean they don’t think you are the best or that they don’t like you. It really isn’t about you at all. When the economy went downhill, your once faithful customers had to make some tough choices. They had to be more aware of what was best to meet the needs of their family, put meals on the table, get the children through college, and keep gas in the car so they could still get to the jobs they had. They went into survival mode.
Experts tell us that when the economy improves, most consumers will likely spend cautiously. They will spend money on things they really want but their mindset has clearly changed when it comes to spending on “need” items. They now know how to get the best deals. If they were trading poorer quality to just “get by,” then they may return to you for higher quality. When “survival mode” is over, true value will be taken into consideration.
The Educated Consumer
What about consumers who aren’t customers? This is the Information Age, and consumers have more knowledge at their fingertips. When they are looking for a repair shop, they run comparisons on many levels. Here are the basic steps they take when shopping around:
If you are the shop they choose, the next test is the telephone interview. If the person answering the phone is competent and personable, you are in the final selection.
This sounds like a job interview and you are the applicant, doesn’t it? It really isn’t much different. Businesses are transparent these days and all the consumer has to do to find out if he or she wants to do business with you is “Google it!”
My office gets a lot of calls from our repair shop customers who are panic stricken because they got a bad online review. We tell them to relax. Consumers read reviews and yes, they do judge based on what they read. But one bad review won’t ruin you.
Most think the best review is written by your mother or another close relative and the harshest review is written by your competition or a disgruntled ex-employee.
We encourage you to reply to all reviews … good and bad. Consumers like to see that you are proactive and that you are “listening” to what customers are saying about you.
Keep Customers from Leaving for a Deal
To keep your current customers loyal, you need to communicate with them. Since they aren’t going to be hanging out in your shop to talk about automotive repair, I suggest you use traditional marketing (direct mail). Direct mail lets you “chat” with your customers on their time.
A lot of shops tell me they educate their customers at the counter. Next time you try that, watch the customer closely. While paying their invoice, they are thinking about what they have to do that evening, what child needs to be picked up, when and where, and what’s for dinner. They may be smiling at you and nodding their head, but trust me – their mind is elsewhere.
Send them a direct mail piece such as an oversized postcard or a newsletter (whatever you choose, make it personal and fun!) and they will read it when they have the time … maybe while waiting to pick up their child from school or practice.
Grab Their Attention!
They will read it – if you capture their attention. I always suggest using humor. Our service and repair shops that make their customers laugh are doing extremely well in this economy. (People need to laugh again, so give them a reason to and you will win!)
We send out direct mailers for our clients and they enjoy the reactions of their customers. Many are being asked to autograph the direct mail pieces.
The humorous piece caught their eye. Now they are ready to read the brief informative verbiage included (remember, they don’t want to read something more suitable for your technicians … leave technical jargon out).This verbiage can explain your pricing or talk about warranties, quality parts and the training you and your certified staff have taken. Your customers will be glad to know they are getting true value for the price of doing business with you and that quality is important to you because you care! Customers still want value.
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. In 2012, AMI's knowledgeable instructors will continue covering a variety of topics designed to educate and train today's service and repair professional in AutoInc. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit www.AMIonline.org. AMI administers the distinguished Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) program.
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