Holcom: Are your customers ‘family’?

Shop owner offers a poignant example of why his customers keep coming back.

I’ve been in this business for a few years, and whether I heard it during a training event, picked it up while networking or just figured it out, I’ve learned that to retain or to acquire new clients you have to build relationships with them. Repairing their vehicles correctly the first time is just expected; to keep them coming back, you need more.

Having a company culture that urges staff members to build those relationships is paramount. Service advisers need to have time to communicate one-on-one with their clients and show them how important they are to us. Not rushing through the check-in procedure gives the advisers time to build a rapport, ask needed questions and help prioritize needed work.

That can also be a great time to find out personal details (Do you have children? If so, who normally drives this vehicle? Do you ever tow with this vehicle? How long do you plan on keeping your car: for a long time or just for a couple of more years? Does your car have a name?)

At our shop, we only schedule two wait appointments for 8 a.m. and two wait appointments for 1 p.m. This way, we don’t have to interrupt the techs in the middle of a tough diagnosis or complicated repair. While the techs are performing their inspections and quick services, it’s common for the advisers, Bryant and Shelly, to have conversations with clients about camping, sports, kids (and grandkids), vacations or any of hundreds of topics not related to car repair.

From my office, I hear laughing and storytelling from clients and our advisers in the waiting room, especially between 8-9 a.m. and 1-2 p.m. It sounds like a big family get-together, except everyone gets along without fighting.

A recent event reinforced just how important building these relationships can be. The event was a memorial service for the 50-year-old son of one of my favorite long-term clients. I had seen the obituary, mailed a sympathy card and decided to attend the Saturday morning memorial service to make sure that she knew that she is truly part of our family and that we really do care.

As I pulled into the church parking lot, I saw Shelly’s bright-red FJ Cruiser backed into a parking spot. It didn’t matter to her that it was Saturday morning and she had to drive more than 20 miles to get there. She felt that our customer was a member of the family, and it was just the right thing to do. I’ll mention here that this was not the first time this has happened.

As I walked into the hall, I looked for Shelly and for Myrtle, our “family member.” I heard a “Hey, Jerry” and turned to see Myrtle waving at me. I joined Shelly and Myrtle, gave her a hug and expressed our sympathy. As we talked, another lady joined us and asked about us.

When Myrtle said, “These are my car guys,” the lady did a double take and asked what that meant. Myrtle explained that it’s not just car repair that brings her to us, but a real feeling of family. The friend looked astonished.

Does your company culture allow, or even urge, becoming part of your client’s family?