Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2003   by Bob Greenwood

Are You Vulnerable To Losing Your Current Clients? Can You Recognize When a “Customer” Becomes a “Client”?

Our industry is constantly changing, in fact, the pace of change seems to be getting faster every year for many shop owners across Canada.That's our industry, however, consider the circumstances of ch...

Our industry is constantly changing, in fact, the pace of change seems to be getting faster every year for many shop owners across Canada.

That’s our industry, however, consider the circumstances of change from your customers’ and your clients’ point of view. They can be affected personally by the ups and downs of our economy or perhaps the competition knocking on their doorstep being “in their face”, or even technology, such as Internet junk mail, or “pop-ups”, which could maybe persuade them to turn in another direction.

Stating that you have happy clients in your shop isn’t worth the breath of air you used up or the space that they take up in your computer system or files, unless you are able to retain clients through some turbulence – even when the competition offers things like better prices, enhanced national warranties, multiple locations, or some kind of attraction that you know you just can’t meet.

Consider that when a customer first makes a purchase from you it was for a very rational reason such as price or location or even emergency necessity. However, the decision to continue to purchase from you now becomes an emotional one; it is called “relationship”. They initially may just like you, but the most important reason to stick with you will always be the amount of “trust” they have in you to provide them with what they need. When a customer returns to you, they are now in the process of becoming a “client”. It is time for you to slow down and pay attention.

A company in London, Ontario called The Acumen Research Group which is a market research firm specializing in consumer loyalty and relationship management found in its Consumer Eyes 2000 survey that “minor shortcomings” in such core offerings as product, price, and selection “are rarely a cause for desertion, but a break in trust, however minor, often leads to customers abandoning a loyal relationship”.

To keep a client today requires Management’s ability to train all staff members within the shop, and get a full “buy-in” with each staff member on the importance of client retention. The independent sector of the automotive aftermarket industry is in the “service/quality” business, therefore, the commitment to excellence and standing behind what you do on behalf of the client, is everything to the success of the shop and the financial security of each staff member.

When a client experiences a negative or bad attitude, or a feeling of not being valued, or lack of “after-sales service” the emotion of wanting to leave that shop forever becomes very real. The client is now “shopping” for a new location to deal with. The trust factor has been broken.

Turning a customer into a client is a process over time, not a one-time visit. The very first time the customer came into your shop, something would have had to impress him or her to motivate them to return. The motivation to return is very highly rational and very performance driven. This would include such things as the quality and accuracy of your work you performed for them, your responsiveness level to their immediate needs, and your process of educating them on their current vehicle circumstances coupled with the dependability of what they have been told. Counsel, don’t sell, the customer, and make sure your education is visual and in print.

The returning customer now begins the process of becoming a client. They start to consider the level of the relationship with your shop and would like to see if it can work. It’s the little things that begin to count such as the time you spend with them on the telephone, or personal one-on-one conversations which in both cases, initiates the “exchange” of information. The customer at this point, is looking for “added value” consequently it is imperative that you respond with a service level that is tailored directly to their personal needs. An example of this would be using your computer system to customize a maintenance package tailored specifically to their needs and expectations in the use of their vehicle.

The client stage is reached when the individual is now returning once again, however you notice that the interest discussion of the “client” has changed. They seem more concerned about the time you can save them and the ideas you offer which assists them with their current needs. You are now “trusted” because you know the client’s situation and the client can now rely on your knowledge and experience. The client is constantly seeking your advice and continuously offers you information on his or her circumstances. You have become the client’s counsellor and at this point you are hard to replace as you have become the “inside partner”, not an “outside supplier” to the relationship. You have delivered “real added value” to them.

The client becomes your best marketing method when they start referring other people to you. They are talking about the type of relationship they have with you, and how they trust your decision making process on their behalf. You are offering the highest level of value-added in today’s methods of professional business practices, therefore, it is imperative that you meet their referrals with the same enthusiasm and interest. You are now laying the foundation of a new cycle of turning a first time customer into a long-term profitable client. The most important point to recognize here is that the entire process never focussed on “price”. It is focussed on “trust” and the “relationship” in the execution of the trust factor. Shops that ignore this important message, and continue to run their business on “price” will only build a customer based business and never enjoy a 60% to 70% “client” based business.

Operating a shop business today is more demanding and challenging then ever before. This is why it is critical that “Management” must truly understand their new role. It is often said that the automotive aftermarket industry is in a people (belly to belly) business. Maybe we should truly consider that in order for the business to be financially successful and provide financial security to the staff, everyone within the independent sector of the automotive aftermarket industry really are in the “client” business. The question is “do we understand the difference?”

The decision to continue to purchase from you now becomes an emotional one; it is called “relationship”

When a customer returns to you, they are now in the process of becoming a “client”

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