Back when you opened your business, one of your first considerations was probably, “How am I going to get customers in the door?” It’s a reasonable thing to think about, and, depending on when you opened, it could have had a lot of different answers.
For example, if you opened 25 years ago, part of your answer might have included naming your shop something like AAAA Transmissions, so you’d get good placement in the Yellow Pages. If you opened more recently, you were probably more concerned with a terrific web site.
But one of the things we’ve learned through ATRA’s What’s Working study is that, while advertising has its place, nothing is more important for bringing customers in the door than good word-of-mouth referrals. Find any two shops in the same neighborhood — one busy the other barely hanging on — the difference will almost certainly be the way customers talk about their experiences in those shops.
Word-of-mouth has always been an important part of a shop’s success, but never more than it is today. Social media has taken a simple referral — or complaint — from reaching a few, well selected targets, to where it could affect the impressions of dozens or even hundreds of potential customers.
One of the biggest problems with achieving good word-of-mouth advertising is that what’s important to you as a shop owner isn’t necessarily important to your customers.
“We make sure to use the best clutches on the market…” “We include all the latest updates and modifications…” “Our warranty can’t be beat…” All important services to offer, but nothing that the customer didn’t expect. And great word of mouth doesn’t come from meeting the customer’s expectations: It comes from exceeding them.
That can be difficult to understand from our side of the job. Great parts, good procedures, and a terrific warranty have to be part of our business model. But if they aren’t important to the customer, what is? To understand that, it might be helpful to think about a service that you may need someday… to put yourself in the customer’s shoes.
Think about this: Businesses all fit into one of six categories. They can be a product or service, and each of those can be regular, repeat, or irregular.
A regular business is a product or service where you’re regularly billed and use every month.
Next comes the repeat business. This would be more like a restaurant, a retail store, or a doctor. We use these businesses only when we need to, but whenever we need that product or service we go to the same place. Think of your favorite Italian restaurant: You’ve been going to Gino’s for 20 years. It’s just a place you’ve become comfortable going.
Finally, there’s the irregular business. This is where our industry falls in. It’s a business you probably never used, and you know very little about it or its competition.
Use this to put yourself in the customer’s shoes:
You drive up to your house and see water pouring from under the garage door. Your first thought is probably going to be about the cold shower you’ll be taking tonight. What do you want right at that moment? Not a water heater. You want hot water.
It may seem like a small difference, but when you feel that tightness in your throat as you watch the water pouring out, that difference matters.
Your customer has the same sense of urgency when it comes to transmission repair. They need to get the kids to school and find a way to work tomorrow. And they’re looking for someone to make them whole again.
By understanding what’s important to the customer, you have a better chance of providing services that will make the customer sit up and take notice of your shop… in a good way. And that’s what it takes to earn that stellar word-of-mouth advertising.