Where Did All the Customers Go?
Consumer shopping habits have changed; social media is the new frontier.
Employing the right marketing tools and methods to communicate with your customers is easier than you think. Your good customers are ready to sing your praises – if you will only just allow them to do so.
Your existing customers are still around; the regulars still bring in their vehicles, but you’ve noticed they are getting to be fewer in number. Where is the rest of the old gang these days? Some of them have moved away, while a good number of them may have been persuaded to try something else they saw on the Internet or what a friend might have recommended on social media. They may now be looking at your “old reliable” repair shop differently. Or not even see your shop at all anymore. How can you adapt your marketing to address this shift in consumer habits? Before we discuss that, let’s first review what better repair shops like yours are already doing today.
Shops have always had to factor in the attrition (loss) rate of customers over time, finding new customers to make up the difference and hopefully expand the business. Today, shops must also address the fact that many customers have completely changed the way they shop for most anything, including repair service providers. Addressing all of these factors is possible; it requires a more up-to-date strategy to compete effectively.
Shops need to communicate to customers better, reaching out more effectively in new ways that customers prefer. Those who have done their homework know that this is about conquering the “third screen.” Television was the first screen; computers were the second screen that took a larger role in peoples’ lives in terms of entertainment and shopping. And smartphones – that most of us use today – are that “third screen.”
How does this smartphone or tablet person find you when they need repair service? Do you have real differentiators on your website to tell them more than just the hours of operation and the credit cards you accept? Can they see what other consumers are saying about your work? The current customer profile has evolved pretty far, thanks to the impact of social marketing.
To capitalize on this shift in consumer behavior, shops need new tools to complement those best practices mentioned above. By now, most shops have either adopted some type of customer retention marketing product or are at least aware there are services available. Better service providers have agents specifically dedicated to look after the details for the shop, reporting trends and progress, suggesting campaigns and helping adapt your present marketing to more closely match your customers’ Internet usage and shopping patterns. There’s nothing like a targeted promotion with a special offer and a deadline to make your phone ring and get your parking lot filled once again.
What about new customers? These customers may not know about you specifically yet. They’re busy browsing their search results or review sites, checking reputations, shopping for deals, chatting on Twitter, asking friends who they’d recommend for repairs and then checking out the shop’s Facebook page. How well does your shop show up in searches? What can they learn from your Facebook page? To get and hold their attention, you’re going to need to learn more about concepts of Internet marketing, including how and where to leverage your time and effort most effectively.
Just about everyone shops on the Internet these days and also freely share their opinions of goods and services. If they can find you easily and their service experience made them feel like they were treated well, they will return. If this was not their actual experience while having work done at your shop, you will know about it and work to repair that perception. It’s very possible that you may not even be aware of a negative service experience today (even if it’s just a customer perception) that’s “spreading like wildfire” as hundreds or thousands read it. You do need to address any potentially damaging comments regarding your online reputation; this in turn also uncovers opportunities to turn around any such negative experience. Did I say opportunity? Yes, you read that right. Reputation marketing is the new proactive approach to your good ole word-of-mouth marketing. (For more on online reviews, please see page 16.)
Low-scoring reviews about a service experience at your store represents an opportunity to demonstrate what you’re actually made of. Consistently high-scoring service reviews (we’ll call these five-star ratings for reference) are viewed as being highly suspect. It’s virtually impossible to interact with the motoring public and somehow maintain the bar at that height. Conversely, making lower scores (two- to three-stars) simply disappear or ignoring them (not display) is hardly the answer. Shops have much more to gain from contacting that customer and working through the issue together. Seeing an issue followed up by an example of a shop’s ability and passion to resolve it and make the customer happy is far more believable to online consumers than an artificial string of exclusively five-star reviews.
As a conscientious service provider, you’re going to make every effort to make it right; your reward is offering that customer the new opportunity to rescore their service experience at your shop. The fact that you went the extra mile to make them happy will be burning up bandwidth on Twitter and Facebook almost immediately.
Here’s a list of important tasks that should be implemented to improve your shop’s marketing position:
Social media is the new frontier and there is every reason to stake your claim so that your business can thrive. Given the amount of effort required to stay on top of all these moving pieces, it makes sense to seek out automated solutions with a dedicated agent, so that you may concentrate on the central proposition for your business; consistently providing top-quality work to create more happy customers we can all read about, while searching on our smartphones.
Editor’s Note: This article is one in a series of management articles that are contributed to AutoInc. by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. In 2013, 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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