Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2005   by

Oil…and a lot more

Millions of vehicles will need their oil changed during the next six months, and car owners across Canada will be looking for shops just like yours to do it for them.

The oil change is a great instrument upon which to build repeat business, and whether you’re a shop owner or a technician, customer loyalty is vital to your success. For all their quirks and quarks, repeat customers pay the rent, so how do you go about getting your fair share when it comes to their regular maintenance business?

You could shoot for being the cheapest guy in town. For decades, oil changes have been used as a loss leader to get customers in the door in order to look for other more profitable work. But today’s savvy customers see through that approach, and have their guard up when they pick up their car. That makes it difficult to sell further repairs, even when they’re badly needed.

Progressive shops are now treating the oil change like any other mechanical work, and they’re charging accordingly.

Here are eight ways to keep your oil change customers coming back, even if you’re higher than the competition.

1. Don’t undervalue what you do.

Building loyal customers out of bargain hunters is like selling antiques to yard-salers; it just doesn’t happen. If they’ll leave you over $15 every six months, maybe it wasn’t a match made in heaven after all.

If low price is the only reason people come to your shop, it says nothing about your technical ability or personal character. Loyalty is based on trust and confidence, the result of a consistent track record. So do a professional job with this and they’ll keep you in mind for future repairs. Many shops now charge $35 to $50 for an average oil change, offering every fifth one free as a way to say thank you.

2. Provide value for the money.
Show your customer what you did for that half-hour’s worth of work. If you inspected the vehicle, then fill out a checklist and show it to them. After trying out a new shop for the first time, one customer complained, "They said they charged more because only qualified technicians worked on it, and that they did a full safety inspection. But all I got at the end were my keys and a credit card receipt." He never met the technician, never saw an inspection report, and consequently never went back.

Personal relationships are critical, so talk with your customer. Explain that you’re keeping an eye on their tires, that you’ve lubed the minivan’s rear wiper blade pivot to prevent seize-up. Keep a file on all their repairs and go over it with them. People love that personal attention.

3. Be professional.
Even though it’s "only an oil change," it’s a critical component of responsible vehicle maintenance, so treat it as such. Having your teeth cleaned every six months isn’t the same as having bridgework, but by doing the former you can avoid the latter.

Know more about their vehicle’s maintenance schedule than they do, and take the time to explain it whenever possible. Be fully informed on the best oil and filter products that will keep their vehicle running trouble-free, and keep those products on hand. Nothing makes a customer more leery than hearing, "Gee, we’ve never done one of these before – what kind of oil do you want?"

4. Use maintenance reminders.
For busy people, a simple postcard in the mail can work wonders, and a simple note on the bottom offering a 5% discount will please even your budget-minded customers without costing you a fortune.
If you’re afraid of offending your customers with junk mail, then do the obvious; ask permission. Most will tell you that a reminder a week in advance, either by e-mail, snail-mail, or telephone, would be greatly appreciated. It will also begin to stabilize your appointment book.

5. Offer maid service.
Many shops vacuum every car, give it a quick wash, or even toss in an engine shampoo. They do it because people like it. One customer geared his maintenance intervals, not by the sticker on the windshield, but by the state of his interior. "My car was dirty," he said, "so I knew it was time for a service!"

Perception is important, so whatever part of the car you’ve serviced should look better because you’ve been there. Grease marks on the carpet or steering wheel will irritate your customer, and could make him think about going elsewhere next time. Keep dirty oil from draining all over the frame; it’s difficult to remove later, and you can be sure it will drip in the driveway after your customer gets home.

6. Call when it’s ready.
Your customer is as time-pressured as you are. Sure, "Bob" said he could leave it all day, but trust me, he really didn’t mean it. Stuff happens, and many times people need their vehicles at a moment’s notice.

It’s one of the best pieces of business advice you’ll ever hear: Under-promise and over-deliver. If you told Bob to come back at 2 o’clock, but then call before lunch to say it’s done early, you’ll be the hero.

7. Give ’em a free ride.
Dropping off the car is a hassle, so make it easy. It doesn’t just benefit them; it’s also the best way to verify or detect other problems. Things like "I see your signal switch doesn’t return; would you like me to replace that broken spring?" shows them that not only are you paying attention to their car, but now they don’t have to come back a second time for something they meant to tell you about in the first place.

8. Present no surprises.
Always, always ask permission. Every new customer coming through your door is checking you out, and unless they hand you a blank cheque, it’s wise to say "during the service we will check things like lights and wiper blades. If we find a problem, would you like us to make the repairs, as long as it’s within reason?"

You could wait until they arrive to pick up the car, but now it means either a) waiting while you do it at the busiest time of the day, or b) they have to come back later. Neither of these scenarios is pleasant.

The goal is to have loyal customers bringing their car to you because they want you working on it, and nobody else. And if you’ve earned that trust, the cheap price down the street shouldn’t be a problem at all.

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1 Comment » for Oil…and a lot more

    As an old curmudgon in this industry I tend to be against anything related to BIG BROTHER related legislation. I offer TPMS to all my clients, I repair and reset TPMS systems that come to me screwed up from other shops!! But with all the Winter tires and wheels I have sold I haven’t sold a set of sensors. Their Car, their choice, enough said. I agree with you Allan

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