Sweat the Small Stuff

Jan. 1, 2015
Why paying attention to a few little things can create a big return

Sometimes it’s the little things that earn a customer’s appreciation and loyalty. Like the self-proclaimed soccer mom who, after we did over $12,000 in repairs to her new Odyssey—including frame rails, airbags and suspension work—raved about us because we took the time to vacuum some Cheerios off the carpet near the back seat. The van had been in our shop getting very technical repairs done for almost two weeks, yet something we did in the last 20 minutes before pick up is what got noticed and appreciated.     

Then just last week I had a customer, a graphic designer by trade, say to me, “I knew you were the shop for me when I saw your estimate cover sheet.” Really? Such a little thing! It only costs us a few cents to produce and a couple of seconds to staple to our estimates. Yet because he values good visual design, that made a big impression on him. 

I remember the day I decided to do an estimate cover sheet. I went out to a car to write an estimate and noticed there were three other estimates already on the front seat. As I looked down at the estimates, one of them stood out. It was printed on off-white paper that was thicker stock than the other two. It set itself apart just by being a different color and grade of paper. 

That’s when I designed a cover sheet with an introduction from me, our logo and brand colors, a picture that expresses one of our values, and a testimonial from a happy customer at the bottom.

There’s a great book called “Influence” by Dr. Robert Cialdini that demonstrates how little things can have a large effect. Below are three of the key levers that he describes in the book with a short commentary on how I’ve used them.

Reciprocity, the old give and take. When someone gives us something, we feel obligated to return the favor. This is not something we are even taught. It’s just how we’re hard wired. And its universal. Most shops already practice this with a “free estimate.” But how can you use authentic generosity to gain a customer’s loyalty? What about buffing out a scratch at no additional charge? Or even something as simple as offering a cold drink while they wait for their estimate. We have free swag like key chains and branded Post-it notes available on our counter as well.

Small commitments lead to bigger ones. People want to act consistently. Again, this is an innate desire. When we make a small commitment, it’s easier to build on that with a larger one. This is why we always ask people if they’d like to be put on our calendar. Even if they are not sure, we just offer to pencil them in and if they decide differently, they can call us. If they are ready to schedule right after the estimate is written, we ask them to sign an authorization explaining that this gives us the go-ahead to order parts and begin interfacing with the insurance company. Once someone has agreed to be on the calendar or, even better, has signed an authorization, we can be sure that they are coming in for the repairs. These tiny commitments are often what seal the deal on several-thousand-dollar claims because now the customer is invested in seeing it through.

Social proof and making decisions based on what others have done. One of the key tools that everyone uses to make a decision is to discover what others have done. This is why bartenders will “salt” their tip jar with a few dollars. This gives the impression that others have already contributed and makes the real first tipper feel like they are just the next person to do it. This is also why testimonials are so crucial. And once you have one, whether it is from an online review or a handwritten thank you note, put it on all of your marketing materials, from your estimate cover sheet to your website. 

Those are a few examples of some small tactics that can yield a big return. I hope to cover many others in future columns, so stay tuned. And if you’d like a copy of my estimate cover sheet, I’m more than happy to share it. Just contact me at [email protected].

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