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Keeping The Customer


12/14/2010
By Gerald Wheelus

Because our expertise as parts professionals is rooted in customer service, we all understand that we have to retain and keep customers returning.
 
Gerald Wheelus
Customer retention is something that we all have to consider for optimization of our businesses. Repeat customers and word-of-mouth are our best friends and you’d be hard pressed to find many in the automotive aftermarket who would disagree with this.

Because our expertise as parts professionals is rooted in customer service, we all understand that we have to retain and keep customers returning.

However, very few of us have been to classes that teach all the various ways to accomplish this.

We have learned at the best school in America and that is the school of Hard Knocks. Most of the learning experiences have been done by plain old trial and error and in most cases, if you are reading this, you have made a commitment to success and found a way to keep your business profitable. If you’re an independent jobber, you have found that it is getting harder and harder to retain business.

So, if retention is becoming more difficult what are our options to giving the customer a reason to come back? As always, customer service is at the top of the list:

No. 1: Customer service — many definitions exist but here are two that really describe it in terms we can relate to: the offering of service to customers before, during and after a purchase and/or identifiable, but sometimes intangible, activities undertaken by a retailer in conjunction with the basic goods and services it sells. It may be as simple as installing wiper blades in the rain or going the extra step after turning rotors to clean the greasy fingerprints off the brake surface and getting the old grease out of the internal hub. If you know your customer, you know what will give them added value to keep them coming back.

No. 2: Something unexpected — every customer thinks they deserve something special. Do you not think that when you go buy that new big screen TV? I do, and most of us in the customer service expect we be treated as we try to treat our customers. If we’re not, we react just as our customer would. We all at some point find ourselves dismissing the customer wanting a 3157 bulb but, that is our audition for when they need the $150 starter. The expectation of the customer can be huge for “just a bulb” but we have to let them know we really appreciate them coming to buy that bulb from us.

How about the lady who just got sent to the parts store because her husband is too busy watching football? She did come and spend that $100 with you — give her an air freshener. It’s a relatively inexpensive item and lets her know you appreciate her taking the time to do the running for her husband. Next time she “has” to do the running, she will say, “I’m going back to that store.” How much would that mean to your business?

No. 3: Everyone needs to be involved — unfortunately not everyone on the team is ready to play every day and that can hurt you when it comes to customer retention. You may have disgruntled team members and they do not share the same commitment you do to providing your customers the service they expect or providing that extra effort that you need them to provide to give that something unexpected. Everyone on the team needs to be motivated to be involved and those who think they don’t should find a new profession. It takes the whole team to provide customer service and they all have to know the value of the customer retention you are trying to establish.

No. 4: Don’t be afraid — It’s OK to ask your customer what they need from you. All of them will say “a better price” but that has little to do with it if you are competitive in price. Just ask, “what do you need?” or “what else could I do to help you?” because we all have to make a profit to stay in business. Whatever the customer says after that point, he or she still leaves knowing that you care about their needs. Customers have a very distinct idea of what they expect, and you need to be aware of why they are passing up your store to go somewhere else for the starter and yet they will come in and buy that 3157 bulb from you. So, don’t be afraid to ask them why you don’t sell them brakes or whatever item you want to offer. You get 100 percent of what you do not ask for and if you do not ask for the sale, you may never get it. You have the captive customer now. Make the best of it.

No. 5: One in the hand — You have the opportunity to find out what the customer really wants from you after coming to you for years to get those bulbs. They may also get motor oil, too, but why nothing else? Well, you have answered that earlier and since you now know what it is, do something about it. Almost all marketing or sales experts will tell you there are only two ways to get more sales and that is through getting more out of the existing customers or to gaining new ones. As I mentioned in a previous column, you know that advertising and gaining new customers and getting them in the door can be very expensive and can take months and months of consistent marketing to accomplish. So, why not the bulb customer? They are regular. Why not market your business to them? They are there already and it only takes a minute to mention you have something on sale. Why not take that opportunity to do some free marketing?

There’s probably nothing better than in-person marketing and getting the customer in the door is the first battle. Once they are there, you have to take care of them, give them something unexpected and your whole team has to be involved. There is no shame in asking for the business or what the customer really needs. Take care of your current customers to preserve the lifetime value of those customers. The lifetime value of the customer is a subject all its own but, you have to evaluate what it means to you and your business and what the customer retention process means in the profit structure of your store.

Gerald Wheelus is general manager of Edgewood Auto Parts, Edgewood, Texas.














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