Auto Service World
Feature   January 18, 2016   by CARS Magazine

Management Software: Rules of engagement


CRM-Main imageThe idea of “managing” your customers the way you might manage your financial statements seems impersonal. You intuitively feel that regular customers – some of them good friends, and all of them individuals with unique likes and dislikes – are more than just records in a filing cabinet.

Yet the fact is you’ve likely already engaged in customer relationship management, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

In fact, CRM is not a new thing. It’s existed since the earliest days of retail business. It just didn’t have a label yet.

Now it not only has a label but there are countless books, web posts, and magazine articles that can tell you how to find customers, track their preferences, meet their fundamental needs, and keep them coming back for more. In other words, they’re trying to tell you how to manage your customer list. Yet, if these texts are just a few years old, they’re probably already out of date.

In the Internet age, the rules of engagement are constantly being rewritten.

These days you have to be deliberate about building trust and loyalty among your core clientele. Your business depends on it.

Managing your customer list is an act of self-preservation.

Your management software probably already has CRM functionality. With the push of a few buttons you may be able to break down your customer list in a dozen different ways. Data is always good, especially when you’re trying to analyze your shop’s performance or forecast for the next quarter.

But if you’re not keeping up with the way people interact with each other, you’re not only losing opportunities to engage with your current customers, your losing future business too.

Adapting to change is an important skill that will define your success in online CRM strategies.

Finding new customers

Marketing used to be as simple as putting an ad in the yellow pages and waiting for new customers to show up at your shop’s door. But while the yellow pages have been largely eclipsed by new media, you can’t just put away your marketing budget. Now you need to move those dollars into a whole new area: digital.

Getting your shop out there is key to finding new customers.

Although printed flyers and coupons are still beneficial, they can’t do the work on their own. The first thing many people do when they receive a flyer for a local business is look for an online presence. If you don’t have one, or if the presence is poor, the flyer won’t do you much good. Putting some money into a well-designed website will pay off big in the long run.

Another way to attract interest in your shop is with Google’s My Business page. In fact, Google truly is the new yellow pages. People don’t pull out a phonebook to search for local businesses anymore; they do a Google search. So if your business isn’t on Google, potential customers will have a harder time finding you.

Google’s My Business page does more than make your shop searchable, it allows people to engage with it.

Do you pride yourself in your customer service? Great. Your shop’s Google page will reflect that. With reviews and shop hours and map-able addresses all in one place, your shop will be more accessible to present and future customers than it has ever been before.

Connecting with them

So you’ve made a website, you’ve added your business to Google… now what?

Getting people to your website is only half the work. The other half is keeping them there. Today, the average person decides within seconds if they’re going to stay on a website or click off. This means you need to pull that potential customer in within seconds. If you have a confusing or poorly designed site, they aren’t going to stick around. You could get hundreds of views a day and not a single new customer.

And connecting with new customers doesn’t stop at your site. Social media is a vital resource when it comes to finding new customers.

With Twitter hashtags, and Facebook group and event pages, it has never been easier to connect with your next client. Think about who your client-base is and then reach out to those kinds of people. Cater the message to your audience.

If you can develop a social media following from within your customer base, you’re really operating in the sweet spot. Your followers will bring in even more business – probably without even knowing they’re doing it. Using built-in tools to express themselves (with Twitter it’s re-tweeting and with Facebook it’s sharing), your fans will be re-communicating your message, increasing your appeal, and widening your audience. As your page communicates with more people, you’ll be addressing more potential customers.

The same is true for paid advertisements on social media. Facebook’s Promote Page feature enables you to selectively advertise to people near your business, or to people with friends who like your page, for as little as a dollar a day.

Following up with them

Phone calls have long been the primary method for touching base with existing customers to find out how their most recent visit was, whether they have any concerns, or when the next appointment should be booked in. But in today’s web-driven world, many people find texting, emailing, and social media accounts more convenient. Unlike a phone call, which they have to take in real time, digital communication allows them to control how much attention they will give to incoming messages and when they will respond to them. In many ways, phone calls may be seen as intrusive.

Following up with customers via social media is not only an easier and faster way to foster relationships with customers and find out how their latest visit went, but it also allows them to respond on their schedule, not yours.

Plus, there are great ways to encourage customers to submit reviews – the true power of digital CRM.

Social media a way for you to keep up with your customers. It’s also a way for them to keep up with you. Have you reached a major milestone? Great, post about it. Holding a seasonal promotion? Let your customers know all about it. Social media allows you to connect with customers in new and in-depth ways unlike ever before.

Communicating with them

Once you’ve built a strong website and developed a social media presence, your work doesn’t stop. The digital world requires constant care and attention. If you don’t update your Facebook page frequently, or if your website falls out of date, your followers will notice.

A constant line of communication between you and your customers is a great way to show your passion for the work you do, and demonstrate that their voices matter to you.

How you handle a bad Facebook review, for example, is just as important as how you handle a good one. People understand that one bad experience doesn’t break a business. But how you deal with that bad experience could.

If someone writes a negative review, it’s best not to delete or ignore it. Instead, engage with the customer. Don’t fire back with negativity. Rather, lead with positivity. Prove that you care about their experience in your shop, and apologize if it was anything less than stellar. Most importantly, don’t fight back. Don’t bring your personal feelings into it, and don’t shoot the reviewer down – even if their points are flawed. Other users will notice the lack of decorum and be more put off by your negativity than by the initial bad review.

While social media and website work can be tedious and hard to navigate at first, there’s no doubt an online presence is a vital part of keeping up with customers and advancing your business in the ever-growing online world.

Look at it as an important office function that might be best handled by a young and energetic person on your staff – with involvement, input, and close oversight by senior management.

Getting your customer relations strategy right has never been more important!


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