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It’s not what you think . . . this is about customer retention.  My mom was recently telling my kids that my kindergarten teacher expressed concern about me because I was always playing with the girls.  Here's my side of the story.  There were two distinct play areas in the kindergarten room: the boys’ side and the girls’ side.  Boys had cars and planes and blocks and tools and, a big, giant 9” spike.  I wanted to play with the spike like all the other guys, but supply and demand meant I got very little time with it.  I figured I could get more spike-time if I could hide it and play with it away from the other boys.

I looked around the kindergarten room and settled on the little gap under the play refrigerator in the girls’ play area.  I would hide the spike under the fridge and play with it over there away from the boys.  But I would have to do so unnoticed, so I came up with a cunning disguise: a ruffled apron and a blonde wig.  I was able to nonchalantly make my way to the girls’ side, don my disguise and retrieve the spike.

I always thought it worked out rather well – no one ever called me on it.  The kids didn’t notice (or they thought better of confronting a 5-year old cross-dresser with a 9” spike).  My Point: Sometimes we deceive ourselves.

I’ve found that customer retention in the automotive service arena is often not measured and as such is wide open for self-deception.  A common financial management question is: “What percentage of sales do you spend on marketing?”  A report of a low percentage is often followed by a comment like, “Most all my business comes from repeat customers.  They love me and never leave!”  It certainly could be true for some businesses.  I think more often, the “loyal” customers are coming in when they need a repair or warranty work – but where are they for oil changes, transmission services and tires? 

“The Johnsons have been loyal customers for 20 years.  Now that you ask, I guess they have only been in six times during those 20 years.”  Face it – they’ve been seeing someone else.  Maybe the economy has had them chasing coupons or they don’t realize that you can take care of their preventive maintenance.  And customers just move away, seemingly unwilling to drive 45 miles to have you do their work.  Virtually every business needs to attract new customers to replace those that drop out.  They can also do a better job of retaining existing customers.  And getting the most out of current customers should be a top priority. 

Content marketing on the internet can be very cost effective.  Having material on your website that covers the services you offer means you have a chance of search engines matching your business with people who are searching for services in your area.  That content can be further leveraged by posting it to your social media sites.

Your service lobby should be an enjoyable, relaxing place for those customers waiting for their vehicles.  While they are there, do them the service of educating them on how to better care for their vehicles, increasing performance, safety and reducing the overall cost of operation.

A combination of active processes (vehicle walk-arounds, searching maintenance history and recommendations, etc.) and passive systems like automotive digital signage will make sure that you’re getting a shot at increasing your ARO at the same time your customers are empowered in their service decisions.

Come on – rip off that wig and ruffled apron and take a look at things as they really are.

Lance Boldt is Vice President and Co-Founder of AutoNetTV.  AutoNetTV’s digital signage products deliver entertaining and educational TV programming to the lobbies of automotive service and repair businesses as well as digital menu boards and automotive website video content.