Detail Management - January 2010

Loyalty — Retaining Customers
By Sharie Sipowicz

Let’s create a hypothetical: You have landed a big dealer account or a wealthy customer with a fleet of exotic cars — the kind of account any detail business owner would love to have, the type of client that will keep you and your employees busy, even during the slower months.

You spent a lot of time to get this customer. You personally contacted the dealership and sent letters stating the benefits of your detail service. You made it clear that you could accommodate their detail needs better than any other detailer in the area, providing not only quality work, but also excellent service. So your hard work, dedication, and patience paid off. You have their commitment that you are now their go-to detailer. But, how long will this customer remain loyal to you? A month? A year? Forever?

IT’S ABOUT LOYALTY

If you have been in the auto detail business for more than a few months, you know that good, loyal customers are difficult to come by. This is the harsh reality for many businesses: In almost any service industry, the competition will steal some of your customers.

Why do you lose customers? Was it because of pricing? Did another detail business cut prices by 10 percent and take them away? If this has happened, then you are doing something wrong.

Why are you losing customers to the competition? The answer is simple: You stopped maintaining the customer like you once did. This is called “the maintenance aspect.” Think back to the beginning of your relationship with the customer. You did everything you could to make a good first impression to get the business. You called on the customer regularly to make sure all of his needs were being met. You would respond quickly and would shuffle your schedule around to make sure you could handle his needs. But, over time, you started to take the customer for granted. You stopped being as attentive as you once were. It happens to the best of us in many situations, but in business you simply cannot afford to “take the customer for granted,” ever.

When another detail business calls your customer and offers all the things you once offered, your customer is willing to hear what they have to say because of your lack of attention. All things being equal, pricing is a very good reason to stop using your detail services. Customers are always going to be bombarded with promises of better prices, but the plain truth is customers also want great service. The customers who are just price-sensitive will always be easy to land. They will also be easy to lose. You want long-term customers, not just a once-a-year detail account, or a dealer looking for price.

KEEP YOUR CUSTOMERS

There is no complete list of all the things you can do to help retain customers, but here are few steps you can take to get started:

Do not Take Your Customers for Granted
Call on all of your customers at least once a week to “stay in touch” and to make sure all of their needs are being met. Even if you are hard-pressed for time, you have to do it. This also gives you the opportunity to rejuvenate a dealer account that has been stagnant or has not given you cars in a while. Create a list, and set an hour aside each week to make your phone calls. You will be amazed by the results. Also, use this time to inform your customers of any new services you are offering.

Give Value First
Be a source of value to your clients. Try to help your customers succeed in their needs. If you do work for a dealer, try to keep up with the latest advancements in the auto industry. Read trade magazines, visit websites about the car industry, and pass the information on to the dealer. Become known for helping others first without expecting anything in return. And guess what? Karma will reward you.

Be a Consultant
Solve problems for your customers. Be willing to offer suggestions, advice, or constructive criticism, if and only when asked. Refer other customers to a dealer, for example for a new car or service work. In these cases, the dealer will reciprocate by rewarding what you did for them. Create a team (you and the dealer); good teams stay together for long periods because they start winning together.

Build a Bridge
Make friends with your customers. People would rather do business with their friends than with strangers. Think about it for a minute. Wouldn’t you rather send your buddy business than an unknown entity or business? People will conduct business with you if they feel comfortable. Ask your customers questions about their businesses and what you can do to help them succeed.

Be Honest
The old saying, “Honesty is the best policy,” really holds up in today’s marketplace. Become known as the honest detail business in your market. The respect you earn will go a long way in obtaining new business. When you tell your client you’re going to do something, do it and do it quickly. Over time, the client comes to trust you, and in the end that is one less thing they have to worry about. For example, if you have done a good job of building trust and the issue of price comes up, you can explain the reason and be believed. Whether it is because the competition was going to do less work or whatever the case may be, the customer will more likely believe you and then make an informed, intelligent decision. Being honest is a great way to combat pricing issues.

Sharie Sipowicz is aftermarket sales manager with Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems Inc. She has been involved in the detail industry for over 20 years, both as a vendor of products and equipment and as a hands-on operator in a retail detail environment. You can contact Sharie at sharie@detailplus.com.

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