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International Automotive Technicians Network
Re: What is the best way to attract new customers?
Posted to Shop Management Forum on 6/25/2012

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Hi Brett,

Let me begin with saying that I concur with the others that being good and providing customers with an exceptional service experience that causes people to return and speak highly of you is the foundation for being successful. That said, I'm of the opinion that the business of automotive repair and maintenance today is such that success will be difficult (for most) without engaging in some kind of overt marketing effort. Explaining my rationale for this would take some time and derail from what you're asking, so I'll move on.

Your signature line identifies you as being associated with a dealership, and that makes you different from the indies. Notice I said different - not better, not worse - different. I'll come back to that later. In any case, I checked out your website as well as your Facebook (FB) page and some of your YouTube (YT) videos. I also I checked for online reviews.

Let's start with reviews... I only found one - A sales related review (which was favorable) on a Yahoo site. No reviews were posted on Yelp or AutoMD, where you do have a presence.

Is this important? More and more consumers today are turning to the Internet to search for and research companies. And while the stats vary, reports from marketing firms are consistent in saying that consumers pay attention to and are influenced by these online reviews. So, cultivating reviews is something to consider when creating a marketing plan.

Let me move now to your FB page and YT videos. I believe a presence with both is a good thing, however, I'm not fond of what you've done with either. To avoid getting long and drawn out I'll just say that there's not much substance to what's posted on either site. And while you have managed to acquire almost 400 fans to your FB page, I'd render a guess that it's not doing much to draw customers or even cultivate relationships with existing customers at least in so far as your service operation is concerned.

As for your YT videos, the most views you've had on any one video is 23 (probably by the guy who posted it :o). In other words, you're not making much of a splash on YT.

One other note... Almost all of the content with FB and YT is sales related, there's nothing promoting service.

Having worked with and for dealers I know their tendency to not invest marketing dollars on service (or their fixed ops in general). And their rationale for doing so makes sense. The bottom line for them is that ads that generate sales provide a greater return on investment than dollars spent on ads for service. I've never met a dealer yet who cared as much about service as sales. In fact most see service as a kind of necessary evil, but I don't want to digress into any of that.

So what can you do? I think you should leverage your dealership status; and there are many low cost/no cost ways of doing this. Let me explain first what I mean about leveraging your dealership status.

I've said for years that the main reason the "aftermarket" exists at all is due to the failure of dealers. Think about it... Almost everyone who owns a car starts out as a dealership customer (as all new cars and the majority of used cars are purchased from dealerships). Add to this the fact that the dealer has the factor trained techs, the factory tooling, the factory parts, the factory information, and of course the factory's warranty all under one roof. Why would folks go anywhere else for service or parts? According to firms like JD Powers, most leave the dealer in favor of the aftermarket because they don't like how they're treated at the dealer. It isn't about price (although that does come into play sometimes).

So when I say leverage your dealership status, there should be a concerted effort to promote all of those features, advantages, and benefits that you as a dealer are UNIQUELY able to provide.

But that's not enough. Let's face it, people know that you have the factory this, and the factory that. Remember, it's the service EXPERIENCE that gives them heartburn. So what is it about dealer service that makes people uneasy and drives them to the aftermarket? My opinion based on years of dealership service is that there's a disjointedness, if you will, within dealerships. This disjointedness is hard to qualify. Sometimes it manifests itself as bit of indifference, where as a customer you feel like a number. Sometimes it goes beyond indifference to outright frustration when the "system" fails.

For example, anyone who has ever worked in a dealer can undoubtedly tell countless stories where a salesperson at the point of sale promised something that ultimately was to be delivered by service, but when the customer showed up in service, he or she was greeted by the SA with a 'deer-in-the-headlights' stare. So now you've got an SA trying to hound down a salesperson, who has probably quit or been fired since this all started, and of course there's no documentation about anything. So now the service and sales managers start arguing over who pays for what, and all the while the customer is waiting.

Stuff like this is why folks hate dealers. So, obviously good management and good systems with a commitment to a customer-first attitude is important; and this commitment should be assertively promoted as part of your marketing efforts.

Getting back to what I mentioned earlier about many low cost/no cost ways of leveraging your dealership status - This applies to your relationship-based features, advantages, and benefits too.

Again, you should cultivate referrals. Be more active and relationship-based with your FB page and your YT videos. Take advantage of your GREATEST marketing resources YOU THE PEOPLE. Whether it's you or someone else, get out into the community and talk with people face to face.

Every one drives a car, so it's a common interest. Speak to groups and hold car care clinics for the purpose of helping people enhance their automotive ownership experience. In addition to the face-to-face PR stuff, and FB and YT, newsletters, service reminders, and other direct mail pieces should be considered as part of your mix. One of the objectives is to have a level of contact such that when they think anything automobile, yours is the first name that comes to mind.

I hope this helps. Best wishes!

Mark Hambaum
MDH Automotive Services
Richville, Michigan, USA