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Win Customers for Life

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A big part of excellent customer service is providing customers with a unique and memorable experience. Quality repairs alone don’t impress these days; that’s an expectation. It’s your shop’s level of service that sticks out in customers’ minds.

But customers only have wrecks once every several years. What can you do to create an experience that will keep you top-of-mind?

Some shops have found success in long-term customer benefit programs. For example, several repairers have introduced “Detail for Life.” It’s a program that offers free vehicle details and inspections four times a year for life to customers who have a certain minimum repair bill.

“Detail for Life” is a slogan developed and trademarked by Dave Dunn, co-owner of Masters Educational Services and owner of Dave’s Autobody in Galesburg, Ill. The title requires permission and a fee to use. But the underlying idea of the program is something that all shops can take away: Providing lifelong benefits to customers creates a memorable experience by establishing constant engagement.

The whole point is to drive organic growth—more referrals based on existing customers. “Detail for Life” users say it’s a customer service strategy that generates relationships, trust, loyalty and repeat business.

Three shop operators shared exactly how the detail program has boosted their service offering and bottom line.

McCollum Auto Body, Portland, Ore.

McCollum Auto Body implemented the program because the shop does a lot of direct repair work. Joey McCollum, director of business development at McCollum, says insurance customers often only remember working with the insurance company. He says they may not even remember the shop’s name years down the road, so it’s critical to offer an excellent, long-term customer experience even after their repair is completed. Every customer with a minimum $2,500 repair bill is given access to lifelong details.

“Value-added services keep us top of mind, and customers appreciate them,” McCollum says. “After 10 years of use, we’ve found that most of our customers take advantage of the program.”

McCollum’s technicians perform about three details a day, and the detail department is regularly scheduled out weeks in advance.

The program does generate some business costs, but it’s very minimal. McCollum says the details require just a few dollars worth of materials, and technicians can knock the jobs out in less than an hour. The benefits of the service far outweigh the costs, he says, because it impresses customers and allows the shop to develop lasting relationships.

Service Booster: McCollum says the detail program has allowed him to illustrate the culture of the business, and his desire to develop relational interactions rather than transactional ones. Getting customers in the door several times a year develops a rapport with them and strengthens the relationship, something that’s otherwise not possible to do.

“They get to know our front office staff, and we learn a lot about their families and interests. Customers sometimes even join us for lunch when they’re waiting for their detail,” McCollum says.

That’s important because people do business with people they know, like and trust, he says. The lifelong detail benefit shows the shop cares about customers, and provides multiple opportunities to nurture the relationship. That personal connection improves the ability to better serve customers in the future.

Shop Impact: The more frequently a customer comes in, the stronger the connection grows, McCollum says. That goes a long way in their desire to go to the shop for future needs, and reduces the chances they will look elsewhere for repair work.

This is a long-term customer benefit. Dave McCollum, general manager at McCollum, says it took about two years before seeing the business payoff, mainly because it takes time for relationships to form. He says he’s noticed a positive impact of the program in visual ways.

“A ‘Detail for Life’ license plate frame is installed on all qualifying vehicles. You can’t drive around town without seeing one of those, and we constantly take on jobs that already have it,” Dave says.

He adds that the program is commonly mentioned on Internet review forums, such as Yelp, and post-repair surveys. Several customers comment about how impressed they are to receive an unexpected benefit, and how the shop is able to go above and beyond the call of duty to create a positive experience.

Tip for Success: Joey McCollum suggests giving the program a retail value. Customers have the option to buy-in to the program for $995. Not many do that, but the purpose isn’t to sell it. The price tag associates an actual dollar amount to the service being offered to the customer for free. It carries more value and meaning to the customer by explaining what the offering is worth.

Noaker’s Auto Body, Duncannon, Pa.

Noaker’s Auto Body implemented the detail program in 2004 as a way of sending customers home on a good note. Every other time they do business with the shop is for something bad or frustrating to them, says Bob Noaker, president of Noaker’s. It’s important for customers to associate the shop with good and pleasant experiences.

“Fixing a customer’s car properly doesn’t mean much when it comes to satisfaction with the experience,” Noaker says. “They expect us to have quality equipment and training. We’ve found that customers like and remember great service.”

Customers appreciate the benefit. Noaker says about 50 percent of them use it religiously; the shop averages five details a week. Some customers even add other items to their repair bill so they can qualify for the program, which requires a minimum bill of $2,000.

Service Booster: Noaker says this is one way to show customers that the shop is committed to going beyond their expectations to develop long-term connections. Even if customers don’t capitalize on the benefit, it makes them feel good to be offered something that wasn’t expected. They are sent home with something tangible that they didn’t have previously, which makes them feel like they got an additional bargain for the money spent on the repair, he says.

That ends the customer’s repair experience on a bright note, and establishes a memorable experience before they head home, Noaker adds. That’s critical because the customer’s mentality during vehicle delivery can make or break the entire experience, and impact their desire to maintain a relationship with your business.

Shop Impact: “We have definitely obtained customers for life. Satisfaction surveys have revealed strong comments in favor of the service offering, and we’ve seen many of those people back multiple times,” Noaker says.

And it’s translated into more sales. Noaker’s also operates a mechanical segment, which is where the program has had the most immediate impact on the shop’s bottom line. Noaker says getting customers into the shop regularly for a service benefit has given opportunities to conveniently up-sell mechanical items such as oil changes, headlight restoration, tires and wheel alignments. His staff up-sells an average of $1,000 monthly—$12,000 annually—to detail customers.

Tip for Success: The program should be used to take your service offering to the next level, but it can’t be solely relied on to impress customers, Noaker says. It should be one aspect added to an overall smooth customer experience strategy. There have to be multiple things done right throughout the repair in order for the program to work. For example, if you do a poor job of communicating, customers won’t come back to your facility regardless of the free services you may offer.

Auto Body Hawaii, Kailua Kona, Hawaii

Auto Body Hawaii’s goal with the detail program is to offer a service benefit that keeps customers engaged with the shop between repairs. About 40 percent of the facility’s customers are repeats, so taking care of them to maintain that number is critical.

“Most customers don’t remember specifics about repairs they received long ago; they certainly won’t remember how well their paint matched,” says Rissa Matsumoto, vice president of Auto Body Hawaii. “What they do remember, and continue to talk about, are services they’re still receiving today. That’s been an important element to our service because it shows we care about their business and are willing to do whatever it takes to remain in good standing with them.”

Service Booster: The detail program, which is made available to all customers with a $2,500 repair bill, allows Auto Body Hawaii to better serve clients in several ways. In addition to the detail, technicians use a checklist to check the vehicle for other automotive issues, such as tire pressure, wheel alignment, brakes, fluid levels, door latches and registration. Technicians also spend time inspecting previous repairs to make sure everything is performing as it should. Lastly, vehicles in Hawaii are required to undergo annual safety inspections. The shop offers to do that while the vehicle is in for a detail, which some customers forget is a state requirement.

“That provides customers with constant peace of mind that they’re driving a safe vehicle. And that builds trust with our shop. That’s what customer service is all about, and that’s what builds business,” Matsumoto says.

Shop Impact: The detail program has helped turn negative repair experiences into positive ones, Matsumoto says. For example, one customer recently had a tough time dealing with her insurance company to cover the cost of repairs. Ultimately, even though that negativity wasn’t the shop’s fault, it could have affected her experience.

“When we introduced her to the program, the customer’s mentality switched and she seemed to forget about the other challenges,” Matsumoto says.

Tip for Success: Dale Matsumoto, president of Auto Body Hawaii, says it’s helpful to schedule details in advance. Whenever possible, the shop schedules customer details months ahead when they pick up their vehicle. He says some customers feel like they’re a burden on the shop when they schedule a free service, which sometimes causes them to avoid doing so. Prescheduling appointments helps to encourage customers to take advantage of the service and improves the chances that they will come back.

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