Wednesday, 02 May 2007 03:56

Tapping into the referral source inherent in each new customer

Written by Tom Franklin
    Suppose every customer that brought a vehicle to your shop for repair brought along 10 more customers for you. As one customer became 10 and 10 customers became 100 and 100 became 1,000, you would soon be maxed out. Yes, this is a fantasy because every customer will not bring in 10 referrals. But even so, every customer is capable of many more potential referrals than 10 and it’s up to you to draw out those referrals.
    How do you do that? You start when the customer comes into the shop and fills out the customer information form. Most shop personnel breeze right past this incredible referral opportunity. All they want is a driver’s license, the registration document and the key. Now they have the name, address and license number of the driver and the VIN and license plate number of the vehicle. With the key in hand, they’ve got the job and are ready to start repairs.
Seeing the future in every customer
    What’s wrong with that? If we only lived in the now moment, all would be well. But that isn’t the case. We have a future to contend with. There are future salaries, future bills and future taxes and only future jobs will pay for all of that. So personnel processing the information of new customers will need to see the future in that customer, and not just the future delivery of the car a week or so later. They have to be able to look past the immediate presence of that customer and envision that person’s family, friends, employer, employees and other service providers as potential customers. If everyone in the shop learned to see each customer as a walking depository of at least 10 jobs, they would begin to understand the customer’s real value -- and the very real loss if that value is not tapped.
    So how does a conscientious, future-oriented customer service representative tap into that customer’s mental database? A well-designed customer information form is a good start as long as the customer is given the time and a bit of a push to fill it in (contact me if you need a good form). That form will ask for the birthdays and anniversaries of husbands, wives, children and grandparents. It will provide a space to write the customer’s company or employer. And of course it will request insurance agent information. {mospagebreak}
Beyond the obvious
    Another complete database is stored in the mind of every customer and this one holds information about the many services, businesses and professionals that person deals with regularly. This includes dry cleaners, restaurants, hairdressers, mechanics, bankers, lawyers, doctors, dentists, insurance agents and more. Most of these people own vehicles and are great potential referrals. But the challenge is finding a way for shop personnel to access this database.
    One shop has devised a monthly drawing for a dinner for two, two movie tickets, a free tank of gas, etc. To get in the drawing, the customer has to list 10 favorite vendors they regularly use on a drawing ticket and deposit it into a barrel in the shop waiting area. Some of the vendors are then contacted to provide prizes for the drawing and a special discount is offered by the shop to repair any dents or dings on their commercial vehicles. The entire process is a simple outreach to the community in order to connect with many businesses and solicit commercial vehicle repair work.
One last chance
    It would seem we have now tapped most of the customer’s connections, but if not, we have one more shot at it. When the vehicle is delivered, there is one more way to prompt referrals. Many shops provide a Thank You form or send a Thank You letter. By simply providing (or sending along) a coupon for $75, $100, or a discount on paintless dent removal, windshield chip repair or other vehicle service, more referrals can be requested. To be effective, the letter or attached Thank You form should read as follows: “This coupon (or discount) can be used by family, friends, business associates or your employer or employees.”
    Now you have taken advantage of this initial contact with the customer to prompt as many referrals as possible. All that remains is to follow up after the repair with birthday greetings, anniversary greetings, drawing prize opportunities, and enclosed coupons for discounted services. An astute shop manager will also collect a customer satisfaction statement when every vehicle is delivered. At least a couple of these statements should be mentioned in the coupons or flyers that are sent out to prior customers on a regular basis.
    With just these simple methods of tapping into your customer’s circle of contacts, you should easily be able to generate 10 more jobs from each customer in the long run. And that should make a significant difference in the amount of business coming to your shop every year.
    Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," “Tom Franklin’s Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops,” and “Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth.” His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or he can be emailed at: tbfranklin@aol.com.