How to keep and cultivate great customers

July 27, 2021
For any business owner in any industry, it should always be about the customer. For repair shops, understanding how to get and keep a customer is one of the primary lessons they must learn for success.
Joe Riscica's Auto Repairs
Joe Riscica's Auto Repairs

For any business owner in any industry, it should always be about the customer. It doesn’t matter if your business is business-to-customer, business-to-business, a non-profit or any other category. All businesses have customers. Each may have a different type of customer with different recommended actions and procedures, but they are still at the end of the day, a customer.

For repair shops, understanding how to get and keep a customer is one of the primary lessons they must learn for success. And it’s not just the front desk that needs to fully appreciate this. It’s really the entire team.

Joe Riscica Jr. of Joe Riscica’s Auto Repairs in Deer Park, New York, says that all employees are involved with customer service. “The shop is known for emulating a family feel and that can’t be accomplished without a well-rounded, clean cut crew. With the shop being small in nature, there will always be instances where customers will interact with technicians. In addition to employing skillful technician’s/service writers, I also look for people who share the same family values so our customers feel comfortable, and respected.” 

Shannon Brito Allee of Hot Rod Dreamworks of Canby, Oregon, says this about their customer service and involving all employees: “Everyone is involved. The front is definitely the biggest part, but all employees are told to help and be courteous. Also, another element at Hot Rod Dreamworks is always having a professional attitude while wearing their business shirts. Not just at the shop, but if they have them on in town.” 

Successful actions to keep customers will result in bigger profits and a dedicated customer base. Just because someone came in once to get their vehicle fixed doesn’t necessarily mean they will automatically come back to the shop for further repairs. The business needs to thank them after each visit and also continually market to them. That customer needs to be reminded of the great service they received at your shop and be top-of-mind when that next visit is needed. 

A handwritten thank you note after each appointment goes a long way with customers. Each note can be short; nothing long is needed. Just the act of writing a card and mailing it to be received at the customers’ home is huge. Emails are fine, but this note will make a bigger impact. Think about it — if you received a note like that in the mail wouldn’t it make that business stand out to you?

Shannon at Hot Rod Dreamworks sends notes once a month to customers. It’s proven to be a key action for keeping customers coming back. Emails may be more convenient but getting that physical note means much more. 

Joe’s business also sends handwritten thank you cards after each service. They make sure to include a business card plus a lotto ticket. 

Keep in mind that an existing customer is someone that you already know. You know what kind of car they have, where they live and hopefully there was a professional and friendly conversation during that last visit. Continuing with that personal connection is another point to keep in mind. Whether it’s your newsletters, postcards or social media postings, keeping the tone upbeat, personal and a bit fun, too, is great. If you send monthly newsletters to your existing customer base, in addition to news about the shop, think about including a recipe and have it from someone on the team. It’s a good example of content that is useful, fun and personal. That’s what Shannon does with the Hot Rod Dreamworks newsletters. 

For Joe Riscica, it all comes down to three things – honesty, common courtesy and integrity.

1.   Honesty — “We always ensure the customer knows that we are looking out for their best interest. Time is taken to fully explain all repairs. We also let them know what repairs can wait for their next visit. That alone goes very far and is one of the fundamental elements that aids in building the trust that we have with our customers.”

2.    Courtesy — “Everyone is greeted with a smile and politeness. The shop has an upbeat environment. We also treat our customers with the same level of respect we would give to our own mothers. If it’s raining or snowing, we help customers get into their vehicles comfortably with their car waiting for them at the front door. Plus access to our courtesy car is always available.”

3.    Integrity — “Bottom line, we stand behind our work and that reassures our customers. At the end of the day, the customer experience is most important.” 

While those actions for keeping a good customer coming back to the business are needed in the shop arsenal, a good owner needs to also put attention to attracting new customers.  Your social media profile is something to examine. Across all of the platforms your business has, consistency is key. You can’t post just once in a while. You need to post continually through the month. That profile is what many prospective customers will see first, so make it a good impression. Shannon makes a point to be on-top of answering questions on their Facebook page. And that includes Saturday and Sunday. A timely response is important. 

Another component to reinforce your name in the community and to attract new customers is supporting local sporting events. It positions you as someone who cares about the neighborhood while still getting the shop name in front of your community. They’ll call your business next time they need repair work. 

An important action for Hot Rod Dreamworks is getting the word out to insurance agents. Shannon considers this one of her top three initiatives for attracting new customers to the shop.

For Joe, the top three actions his shop takes for attracting new customers are:

1.     Referrals for free oil changes.

2.     Advertising the great reviews they receive.

3.     And word-of-mouth, the best form of advertising! 

Asked what would be her advice about how customer service should be managed and prioritized in a shop? Shannon says, “Don’t treat anyone like an inconvenience or nuisance. Take the time with them when they come in for an estimate. Complete transparency. We tell customers they are welcome to come in during repairs and take a look at their vehicle, we have nothing to hide. Be honest! If the vehicle is going to be late because the paint did not match, be honest and tell them why. Customers appreciate when you show that you care how their vehicle looks. Treat each vehicle like it is your own.” 

Joe’s advice: “Customer service should be the top priority, always. Without customers, a business does not exist and everyone on the team needs to be on board with that. It starts with the basics, keeping a clean, well-mannered and honest culture within your shop, and making sure a customer is happy throughout the entire process, with constant and clear communication. Then following up with the customer to make sure everything is still running smoothly.”

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