Foundational Marketing Practices For an Auto Body Shop

When owning a small business, the owner has to keep in mind that a successful marketing strategy hinges on individual customer experience. As advanced as our technology has become, and as advanced as our business practices have become, nothing has exceeded the primacy of the old phrase, “The customer is always right.” Even if the customer is wrong, they’re still right. In fact, with Internet technology, customers have the ability to spread the word about a bad experience much easier these days, with tools like blogs, community forums, social networking sites, and a whole bunch of others. For example, popular Internet blogger, Randy Cassingham, wrote a blog entry titled “Dell Hell” and it destroyed Dell’s credibility and profits for the remainder of the year. On the other hand, a customer that walks away having loved the service received is your absolute best marketing tool, especially for local small businesses like auto body shops. Every customer that walks through your door represents 5 or even 10 more potential jobs for your business. When it comes to marketing, making the customers you have happy is one of the best ways you can generate more leads.

The idea that the customer is always right suggests a mentality about the business: customers are top priority. The mentality that every customer you have is the top priority in everything you do can pay huge dividends as you go about marketing your business. I say this because marketing is about getting customers to believe you’re the best person for the job they need done. That requires getting the word out and using different tools at your disposal to make that happen. But all the tools in the world won’t help a business succeed if they don’t care about their customers. You just can’t have a good marketing strategy for your business if you don’t have a satisfied customer. Or to say it in another way…you simply can’t market a brand successfully that sucks to the customers you’ve had. Its that simple. This is true even more so for a business that relies on local residents. There isn’t a single gadget in the Internet world that will replace your services as the foundational tool for bringing you more business. Keeping these things in mind as the “Auto Body Marketing” blog moves forward to provide new ways to maximize your shop’s exposure, here are some things to take note of. A business that builds around the “Customers First” strategy requires at least two practices: providing quality customer service and quality work.

Providing Quality Customer Service

Providing quality customer service is important because of how it can impact the impression your customer has as they’re leaving your business. We’re not suggesting you whistle around your shop so gleefully that you seem like all is perfect in your world (that’s just annoying and unrealistic). We’re suggesting that you focus on creating an environment for your customer that leaves a lasting positive impression on them. You know whats best for your business, so we’re not going to tell you to reformat everything you do at your shop. We’re simply recommending that you do you what it takes to make your customers believe that the work they just gave you is important to you and you want them to come back. Keep that principle in mind and tailor your shop practices around it. Build a waiting room if you can and keep it clean, provide transportation for customers if they need it, have coffee available to all walk-ins, or any other small thing that you think a customer would find valuable. Focus on creating the impression that they’re experience with your business is your top priority. John Webb of CSi Complete says in his Body Shop Business article that auto shops should shift away from viewing customers just as transactions and focus on building relationships with customers for the sake of long-term loyalty. This is big for marketing your business because if you can manage to develop an impression in their mind as they walk away that says, “They did great work and I’m never again going to another body shop other than the one I just went to,” then you just earned their business the next time they need repairs. Even better is that you just established a marketing partner. Every time someone close to them needs repairs, then recommendations to your business will come easy to them.

Providing Quality Work

Providing quality work is very important in generating that positive impression in your customer’s mind. You want them to walk away with the mindset that your the best on the block at what you do. Creating an environment that’s focused on the customer helps generate that mindset, but ultimately, they’re coming to you for services on their vehicle. Provide good work by implementing good practices in the shop. Again, you know what’s best for your business, and we don’t think we know more about your business than you do. But build everyday practices around the strategy of “Customers First.” David William’s article in Body Shop Business shared a story regarding Fred Haas Collision Center in a suburb of Houston. He says that when they were struggling and shops around them were closing, rather then cutting guys to stay afloat financially, he started adding guys to the payroll. Doing that allowed his employees to pay closer attention to customers and their repairs, thus making customers the top priority. Now, I understand that Fred Haas was a dealership that had a ton more resources, but take note of the mindset. They had a business strategy that was focused on the customer and tailored shop practices around that to make their work more quality for their customer. Ultimately that translated into more success as more customers kept coming in.

Make the Customer First

We say all these things to help initiate some thought about your shop. Are you having a hard time getting jobs through the door? If so, take a magnifying glass to your shop’s practices and see how you can improve. Ask yourself questions for the sake of improvement. Ask questions such as: what are some internal alterations we can make to gain an edge over our competition? How can we make our potential customers think we’re the best there is? What can I do to my shop to make customers feel more comfortable coming to me for their business rather than someone else? How can the work I do for them give them the impression that our work is the best there is? Ask yourself these questions and work to make your business “Customer First” oriented. We’re not promising business will start pouring in after all this, but this is a good foundation to build your marketing strategy around, and that’s what “Auto Body Marketing” is set up to talk about. We’ll show you some tools in this blog on how to maximize your shop’s exposure. But again, you can’t successfully market a business that customers don’t want to return to.

Dealers Know: Car Loans Take Priority

According to TransUnion reports, auto loans top budget priority payment lists. Even the crash of the housing market, homes loans still fall second to car payments. The mortgage delinquency rates push beyond 30 days yet this expense still takes priority over credit card debt. It makes sense. Why fall short on secured loans when there is personal property at stake? Credit bureaus are not the only eyes watching this trend. Car dealers have taken notice and they are taking advantage of consumer’s eagerness to pay.

Dealers will push a brand new car. Who can resist the smell and sleek interior? It’s a nice thought to be able to get all the latest bells and whistles. It’s okay if your credit score is less than perfect. Dealers have the proof they need that customers are willing to make their loan payment. The salesman will make it is easy to afford the installment loan payment even for those with sub-prime credit. By extending the term of the loan to 5 – 7 years, the finance department will manipulate the payment plan to fit your budget. You probably will never even notice what interest rate you are paying. The excitement of a loan approval will often fog those details. Long loan terms equate to lots of interest charges. It’s a small detail the finance department will probably choose to omit from their convincing speech. Don’t want to pay the extended interest payment? The dealer will understand and lead you to the used lot.

There is a sale’s pitch waiting for the buyer in a used lot as well. Many car lots only focus on used vehicles. Dealers know that many consumers don’t want to drive off the lot and immediately lose a chunk of the car’s value. A used car is not only more affordable than a brand new one, but you can get a reliable vehicle for a lot less money. Consumers ditch the brand new car smell for more affordable payments. As with new cars, finance plans can create very low monthly payments using extended terms. A smaller payment will help the budget. Car shopping, whether used or new, is an exciting time.

Customers are willing to make their car payments. Dealers take advantage of this situation by inviting sub-prime customers to their lots with pre-approved loan notices. Similar to credit card companies, pre-approved notices are mailed to attract new customers. Higher than average interest charges are welcomed for many who thought they would never be able to buy a decent vehicle. The dealer understands. Not only are the offers high interest, but the loan itself is secure with the vehicle as collateral. Dealers are in a win-win situation when offering a hand to those with credit challenges. It doesn’t matter to the salesman that the customer may not be able to afford other living expenses. They have their own paycheck to worry about.

What consumers should consider before purchasing a car –

– Loans with terms longer than 60 months. The final ending price inflates from interest costs. Pay extra whenever possible to decrease loan term.

– Pay attention to interest rate costs. You pay attention to credit care and payday loan interest, do the same for your car payment. Shop around for a better price or hold off on your purchase until you can raise your credit scores.

– Refinance if your credit improves over the 5-7 year term loan.

– Make sure you can afford maintenance and upkeep. Parts and labor are more expensive for higher end cars.

As good as it feels to be able to buy a car, the rest of your budget must keep up. Focus on making good on car payments so you don’t forfeit the vehicle as collateral. Make sure that extra cost will not interfere with all other budget demands as well. A smart budget shopper will fit it all in.

Important Priorities

Okay, I know. “Important priorities” is redundant. Priorities denote importance. So what is important to you? Ask yourself what your priorities are. Do we think about that very often, or is running around putting out fires the basis of our lives? Is doing as little as possible and being comfortable the basis of our lives to where that is the only priority we have?

Here’s an exercise: Keep track of what you do for a day or a week or a month. It can be a rough accounting. At the end of the day or week, think about what you did and for approximately how long. It might be something like this:

This week, I slept 58 hours, I worked at my job (including getting ready, and traveling to and from the job) 53 hours, I relaxed (or had fun or did nothing-much: aimless television, aimless reading of newspapers, magazines, novels, aimless internet, aimless conversations and socializing, being with friends instead of with family, etc.) for 36 hours, I ate (including preparation and clean-up) for 16 hours, I shopped for two hours, and I’m not sure what I did for the remaining three hours.

If this were your accounting, what would anyone think are your priorities? Sleep is good and making money is important. Eating is necessary. Can’t fault you for that. Then again, do you sleep to live or live to sleep? How late did you sleep in on Saturday and Sunday? 58 hours equates to more than 8 hours per night. Do you do the minimum necessary to get a paycheck or are you always getting better and becoming of more worth to your present and future employers? When it comes to discretionary time, it looks like you don’t care much about accomplishing anything. Your priorities are to be comfortable and relax. That’s about it.

If we don’t set priorities, we have them anyway. Life can show us our priorities or we can show life our priorities.

Someone who has purposeful priorities and takes control of her life instead of letting life drift in the wind might have an accounting something like this:

This week, I slept for 55 hours, I worked at my job (including getting ready, and traveling to and from the job) for 53 hours. Included in this time I spent seven hours improving myself and showing my supervisor that I am doing more than is expected so that I can be promoted and paid more. I relaxed (relaxing reading, television, internet, socializing) for 12 hours. Most of this was pleasant time and fun with my spouse and with my children rather than in isolation and irritation if anyone bothered me. I ate (including preparation and clean-up) for 17 hours. The whole family helped prepare the meals and clean up afterwards, and we talked during meals about school, goals, dreams, accomplishments, and so forth. I shopped for two hours. I spent 10 hours in introspection, spiritual pursuits, general self improvement, becoming expert at skills and talents that interest me, helping to improve the human condition as much as I can, improving our community, and so forth. I spent 10 hours directly with my spouse and with the children, other than having fun and talking to them at dinner, helping with homework, helping them prepare for life, cleaning the house and yard together, etc. I spent six hours in physical exercise. I spent three hours making sure my papers, receipts, finances, books, memories, and so forth are organized.

Did you know you could do so much in a week if you just had and acted on priorities?

If someone were to look at this second accounting, what would they think of your priorities? It looks like you’re trying to improve yourself so that you are always employable and so that you can make good money. You spend time getting to know yourself, improving yourself generally, keeping yourself healthy, and in helping others. Family is obviously important to you, and you certainly understand how important it is to train and help your children and stay in tune with your spouse. Organization so that you can get more out of life is a priority for you.

In this second accounting, even though there was relaxing and having fun, doing nothing or wasting time or being comfortable at the expense of getting better were not seen as priorities.

Priorities help us get the most from our lives. We can accomplish more. We can get further. We can even relax, socialize, and have more fun with priorities. I’ll say it again. Life can show us our priorities or we can show life our priorities.

This week, let’s think about our priorities. Are they a tool we use to get where we should be, or are they something we pay no attention to? Let’s make sure we are going somewhere and that we are using priorities to get there.