Stealing from your Competition

Your service shop is the best in town, right? You have the most skilled technicians. You have the latest equipment. Your prices are fair. Your restrooms are spotless. Your customer waiting area is equipped with the latest magazines, Internet access, phone service and toys for the "little customers." Your business practices are honest, and you offer the best customer service around.

You have done it all. You've implemented every recommendation from every class you have ever taken. You've invested countless time and resources to make your shop the best it can be. The question is: Are you stealing customers from your competition?

When we teach our AMI course, participants often ask us, "Are you really satisfied with your current auto service provider? What would it take to draw you away from that shop and into ours?" These are questions every shop owner should ask. The fact is, many people are already reasonably satisfied with the service they are receiving somewhere else. Notice I say, "reasonably satisfied." Most people will stick with a shop or dealer not out of loyalty, but out of habit. They may even be unhappy with some aspect of their current shop but don't feel it's worth their time to shop around.

You've worked hard to become better than the competition. You know you offer better service and better value as a shop, but how do you lure someone away from their current shop and into yours? What will get them in the door?

Let's do a comparison with an industry we are all familiar with - the dental industry. Like the auto industry, the dental industry works hard to educate its customers about the importance of "preventative maintenance." Most people now know that they should have their teeth cleaned twice a year. They also know that preventative care will prevent painful (and costly) repairs. They know that with regular care, they can extend the life of their teeth. But how many people actually follow the recommended service plan for the care and upkeep of their teeth?

What about those who do make those regular visits? How many of those absolutely love their dentist office versus those who just keep going because it's easier than finding a new one? Better yet, how many people have such a great time at the dentist that they can't wait to go back? How many people eagerly tell their friends about their dentist and try to convince them to join them for their next visit?

How are dentists luring customers into their offices and away from their competition? One trend you will see is that some dentists are replacing their dental offices with dental "spas."

Who said that dental work has to be performed in one of those vinyl chairs, with fluorescent lights, pink paint and stark surroundings? What if, instead, you entered a spa when you came into the treatment room? What if you could watch a movie while your dental work was being done? What if you could kick your shoes off and slip into soft slippers? What if you got a neck and shoulder massage to help you relax? That's what's happening in dental spas around the country. Customers are getting a unique experience.

Are the dental services being performed at "dental spas" unique or different from the typical dental office? No, only the atmosphere and experience has changed. However, the results are amazing. Dentists who are trying out the "dental spa" strategy find that their business is booming. Customers are coming in more regularly. They are looking forward to their next visit and taking pride in their dental care. Plus, these customers are so excited about the whole experience that they are telling their friends and associates!

Now don't panic. I am not suggesting that you change your shop into a spa. However, I am suggesting that you get outside of the box and think about what you can do to create a unique experience for your customers and their cars. That's when you set yourself apart, and that's what it takes to steal from the competition!

Many shops have made an effort to develop the things we mentioned in the opening paragraph (clean restrooms, curb appeal, good work ethics, honesty, customer service). Today these are necessary things, and they are things that today's customers expect. While all of this will get you a good rating with your customers, it won't take you over the top in their minds. It's not going to get you noticed. There has to be more.

It's time to step it up a notch and become the leader in redefining auto service. How could you make auto service an experience? How could you make coming to your shop something to talk about? Because that's what it's going to take to make customers walk out of their current shops and into yours.

You want your customers to come and see you every 3,000 miles. Start thinking about it. How can you make them excited about their next visit? Get your team together and start brainstorming. Think about the customer that you want to attract. What do they like to do? What do they need? How do they spend their spare time?

Here are just a few ideas to get your brainstorming started:

  • Do your customers love their cars? What if you opened a "car spa?" What if your car was guaranteed to be treated like a king for the day? What if you chose from a "menu of services" like you do "spa treatments?" Could that change someone's perspective on auto care?

  • What if you offered a way for customers to see the work being performed on their car (much like you watch your pizza being made in the pizzeria)?

  • What if you had an amazing game room where customers could "play" while they waited (foosball, darts, pinball, golf putting or video games)?

  • What if your shop had a small, interactive museum with hands-on displays of auto parts and how they interact (much like a children's museum, but for both children and adults)? How could you educate your customers in a fun, interactive way?

  • What if in the children's play area, your "little customers" could drive a toy car around a track and learn driver safety skills?
    What if they could actually "work on" a toy car with a lab coat and computer? (You could even create an interactive, electronic 'test' to take that beeps when they get the right answer).

  • What if customers earned points from each visit to your shop that they could use to "buy" special prizes at the end of the year (unique car accessories, detailing services, discounts or just fun stuff).

Stealing from your competition takes effort, but who says it can't be fun? Let your mind go wild. Turn your shop into an automotive or fun family experience, and watch your business grow. Make your shop a place where you and your employees love to hang out and that other people can't wait to visit. Make it the "happiest shop on earth." The outcome will be amazing. You can bet your local media will notice. You can bet your customers will notice. And you can definitely bet your competition will notice!