The Secrets to Gaining Customers for Life

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Resting on your laurels can be a costly mistake for a business owner.

Just because word-of-mouth marketing has often brought customers to your door, for example, doesn’t mean that’ll continue forever. 

“Hope is not a marketing strategy,” says Norm Angrove, the automotive refinish director for PPG Canada and a collision repair industry consultant. “The first thing body shops have to realize is that, when it comes to marketing, past success guarantees nothing when the rules change. 

“And the rules are changing. So, the question body shop owners have to ask themselves is: Are they on the right side of change?” 

Once a shop owner establishes their marketing plan, developing clear, measurable goals in the process, they need to disseminate a consistent marketing message if they hope to gain repeat customers. 

And, in 2020, accomplishing that feat requires businesses to stay connected with customers. Now, more than ever, consumers have an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” thought process. 

That means that, these days, the owners of businesses like body shops need to use search engines to retarget customers, they must tell frequent, visual stories on social media, and they must reach back out to customers promptly after making contact. 

If those sound like daunting tasks, these tips can help. 

UTILIZE REMARKETING 

Many days, Travis Mailhiot’s job feels like a juggling act.

The general manager of NCA Auto Body Repair in Hooksett, N.H., Mailhiot has just two coworkers at his disposal. So, when it comes to tasks like marketing, the second-generation collision repairer needs to be extremely efficient with his time. 

In that respect, remarketing has offered a major assist to NCA, a $500,000-per-year shop. Remarketing, or “retargeting,” is a way to connect with customers who previously interacted with a business’s website or mobile app, and it allows businesses to position their ads in front of audiences as they browse a search engine like Google or its partner sites. In short, the marketing tactic helps increase brand awareness, or remind audiences of your shop. 

Many businesses utilize remarketing because it can reconnect shops with past customers in a manner that’s cost-effective, considering the probability of winning over an existing customer is better than attempting to secure the business of a new one. 

“Let’s say you’re searching for ‘auto body repair, Hooksett, N.H.,’” says Mailhiot, who has long had a passion for marketing, and is formulating plans to start a digital marketing agency. “And, if you click on our ad, you find us, but you don’t call us, because maybe it’s late at night. Throughout the next week or so, if the (potential customer) has a Gmail account for example, sometimes in the Gmail account it might show ads, or you might go to a website and it’s a completely different subject, but they’ll remarket our ad as a display ad on that website. It’s like a display partner, basically.” 

Jay Baer, the founder of digital marketing company Convince & Convert, says remarketing is an efficient marketing tactic because, by using it, business leaders are strictly communicating to people that know their business. 

The easiest ways for body shop staffs to utilize remarketing include taking the following steps, suggested by Google Ads Help: 

Target all your website visitors and app users. To reach an audience that has 

already visited your website or your app, Google suggests using the “Google Ads optimized list” function made available by the search engine. 

Use a bid strategy that optimizes conversions. Google’s “enhanced cost-per-click” 

function will automatically adjust a business’s manual bids for clicks that seem more or less likely to lead to a sale or conversion on its website.  

Use dynamic remarketing. A Google Ads product suggestion engine can show 

services to people who previously viewed those services on your website. The suggestion engine will also decide which type of ad layout is likely to perform best, based on the consumer and the type of device they’re using. 

Mailhiot, whose shop frequently does fleet work, opts to pay a third-party company $500 per month to handle such marketing endeavors, though he notes that similar companies charge around $1,000, depending on their package of services. 

And the shop owner believes it’s worth every cent. 

“It’s that ‘drip effect,’” Mailhiot explains, “where that bucket fills up eventually, and that customer sees the ad enough in the back of their mind that maybe they might not do something now, but … it’s always going to show up.” 

MASTER SOCIAL MEDIA 

These days, virtually anyone under the age of 40 largely grew up in the age of the Internet, and of cell phone usage. Such consumers aren’t so much “computer literate” as they are fluent in the languages of text messaging, Facebook and YouTube. 

And body shop staffs have to meet their customers where they’re at, by consistently utilizing technology to their advantage. In 2020 that entails not just making consistent social media posts, but typically posts that tell an intriguing story that sticks with customers. 

Body shop operators need to understand that quality social media posts focus on connecting with customers, Angrove explains. And the best way to do that is by having a dedicated social media manager on staff, he says.  

Most experts agree: body shops should be utilizing Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for making social media posts. While Facebook’s mass audience is well-established at this point, it’s worth noting that YouTube and Instagram are steadily overtaking long-established social media platforms like Twitter, due to their highly-visual nature. YouTube trails only Google in terms of being a frequently used search engine, Baer notes, and Instagram is the fastest-growing social network. 

The key when making social media posts is to make sure you’re providing additional value to customers by educating them, says Stan Medina, the owner of Certified Collision Works in Corpus Christi, Texas, a 10-employee, $1.3-million-per-year shop. 

“You want to share knowledge,” says Medina, a 26-year veteran of collision repair. “You want to come across as an expert in your industry.” 

Medina also feels it’s increasingly important for shop staffs to not just have photos in their social media posts, but photos that show behind-the-scenes access at your shop and front office, so they can put a face to your business. By putting a face to your business, you can share your shop’s unique story with potential customers, drawing them in. 

Consider: As of 2019, Instagram boasted nearly 500 million global daily active users of its “Stories” function, according to smartinsights.com. That digital marketing website notes that the Stories feature—which enables users to share multiple photos and videos which appear in a slideshow format—on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook tend to interest consumers because that style of storytelling isn’t just visual, but also meant to be consumed in the moment, so they feel especially timely and current. According to Hootsuite’s 2019 Social Trends Survey, 64 percent of marketers have either utilized Instagram Stories in their social media strategy or plan to within the next 12 months.

When it comes to social media, Medina also feels shop staffs shouldn’t just encourage reviews, but also answer all reviews they get online, from sites such as Google, Yelp or Facebook. After all, search engines like Google pay close attention to reviews when they rank order results from consumers’ searches. 

“If you get a bad review, say, ‘I appreciate your feedback, and we’re going to take action. Thank you for your feedback,’” he says. “That’s how you build trust. Because people are going to read your reviews, good or bad, and they’re going to see how you react.” 

MAINTAIN CONTACT

Most experts agree: body shops, by and large, often drop the ball when it comes to customer follow-ups. 

Yes, it’s easy to overlook follow-up communication when you operate in a business that, in the words of Angrove, is a “grudge purchase,” as collision repair is. Still, maintaining contact with your past customers is necessary, nevertheless. 

The PPG executive suggests that shop owners have someone on staff dedicated to calling customers back within 36 hours of their repair, simply to thank them for their business, if nothing else. At the very least, he feels shop staff should follow-up with their customer database once per year. 

Ideally, those messages should also “reinforce that the [collision repair] business is built on referrals and, if they have any friends or family members that might be in need of services, that you’re going to give them the same type of service that you gave them,” Angrove says. 

Maintaining contact with clients in that manner, he adds, is low-hanging fruit that a lot of shops are overlooking. 

It’s also imperative, in 2020, to encourage customers to leave reviews. 

“You just want to make that part of your process,” says Baer, a co-author of the book Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth. “Give somebody their vehicle back, and then send them a text message the next day, or later that afternoon, saying, ‘Thanks very much. By the way, ee’d love it if you left us a review, and here’s a link for how to do that.” 

Ultimately, a great way to retain your customers is by marketing to them over years, rather than weeks and months. Fortunately, that can be accomplished easier than ever these days, by sending past customers periodic emails, for example. To do so effectively, Baer says shop owners and their marketing staff need to think like documentary filmmakers. 

“Think of your [message to customers] like a documentary: ‘Let us show what a day in the life is like for us,’ and have a level of education,” Baer adds, noting that a short, 2-minute monthly video is a great way to keep in contact with your client base. 

“To help retain a customer,” Angrove says, “the key prongs are developing a strategy, being committed to that strategy, and being consistent. Shops tend to go 2 miles wide on initiative and 2 inches deep on execution. Commit for the long haul―that’s the key.”

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