by Denise Koeth
TIRE REVIEW Magazine
Operating any business in today’s economic climate certainly brings with it many challenges. But tire dealers are met with a unique set of hurdles, not the least of which is consumers’ tightened budgets.
You’ve probably been met with many customers who are trying to stretch their money – those driving on tires that are well past needing replaced, and those who refuse the majority of your repair recommendations, asking instead for the least expensive alternative.
In today’s ultra-competitive marketplace, the search for loyal customers – and the task of keeping them – takes on a whole new level of importance. But with fewer dollars to spend, consumers have become even more choosy about where to take their money.
How do you stand out above the rest? When simply satisfying customers isn’t enough anymore, how do you dazzle them? It all starts with customer service – but not just the basics. It’s time to take the standard customer experience to a whole new level.
Generating a buzz is key to bringing added customers through your front door. To get people in the neighborhood talking, consider making your shop a “destination,” rather than what most people see it as – an inconvenience. With the right additions, customers won’t even remember they’re waiting for their vehicle to be serviced so they can get on their way again.
For example, consider teaming up with a local spa or salon to offer free massages or manicures on a particular day. Pair the offering with a discount on tires and services, and you’ve got the perfect combination for a “Women’s Car Care Day.” Held once a month, such an event is sure to draw a loyal customer base.
For a simpler take on the idea, invest in a massage chair or two for your waiting room. With your customers’ tensions eased away, waiting for their vehicle will become a positive experience.
Another way to get noticed is to offer your customers more than the typical vending machine food. For example, Victor’s Tires and Custom Wheels, located in Salt Lake City, began serving lunch to its customers in 2004. The shop is well known for the made-from-scratch tamales, tacos and quesadillas that get churned out daily.
And with such an unusual idea, word spreads fast; owner Victor Galindo estimates the shop sells about 2,500 tamales a week. The “tamale cafe” has proven to be so successful that Galindo plans to open another servery at his shop in nearby Lehi, Utah.
Even if you’re better at selling tires than whipping up something in the kitchen, you can still offer your customers above average fare. In addition to the coffee, soft drinks and water you may already stock, carrying muffins, sandwiches and fresh fruit is a not-so-expensive way to make a big impression on peoples’ appetites. Local workers looking to get their oil changed or tires rotated over their lunch break will take note.
Sure, with the right investment and know-how, you can do just about anything to dazzle your customers. But just as their budgets have gotten tighter, most likely so has yours. There are many low-cost options out there to draw the right kind of attention.
Check out the following ideas to help get the ball rolling:
1) Greet your customers by name. This is easy to do for scheduled appointments, but to really wow others entering you shop, have your counterperson or another showroom employee keep an eye on the parking lot. Look up the license plate numbers of incoming cars in your computer system, that way you’ll be able to greet your returning customers, even if they’re dropping by unexpectedly.
2) Talk to customers about themselves. Keep track of important details that allow for more personal conversations with your customers. Make a note in a customer’s file about such things as a spouse’s name, ages of children or major life events like a child’s wedding, graduation or new home purchase. At the beginning of each day, make a note on appointment slips so whoever greets the customer can make them feel important and remembered.
3) Make your waiting room more inviting. Go beyond the standard chairs, newspapers and old toys. Opt for more comfortable seating, up-to-date magazines that cover a variety of subjects, and a few of the latest popular toys for children. Video games or movies will go a long way in occupying your customers’ children. And a gleaming, spotless waiting area and restrooms will be much appreciated by your adult customers.
4) Cater to customers’ needs. Keep in mind that your customers are trying to juggle just as many priorities as you are. They’ll be impressed if you make their time spent at your shop as productive as possible. Consider offering free Wifi or workstations where they can plug in a laptop while they wait. Keep an iPod charger, or a selection of cell phone charging cords, handy for their convenience. To save customers even more time, offer to pick their vehicle up from their home or office, and return it at the end of the day after you’ve completed service.
5) Let customers know you appreciate them. Send greeting cards at Christmas, for a customer’s birthday or for other major holidays. Including a coupon inside the card will show the customer you value their business, while at the same time ensuring they’ll come to your shop for their next repair. For tire replacements or major repairs, a follow-up phone call goes a long way. Ask customers about their experience at your shop and if there’s anything you can do to improve their visit next time.
6) Give a memorable last impression. If you’ve got the space and personnel to do it, give your customer’s car a quick wash or vacuum before sending the person on their way. Or, place a cold bottle of water and a free newspaper in their car to create a lasting impression that your shop delivers first-class service.
If you’re the only tire dealer in town that offers perks like these, people will start talking. Don’t just rely on word-of-mouth advertising to spread the added touches, either. If you offer an added service that’s proven to attract customers, include it in your advertising or on your website.
Don’t forget to talk to your employees to see what kind of ideas they have, as well. Since they deal with your customers day in and day out, they’re likely to have a few suggestions of their own.