Customers today are a lot more demanding and they expect a lot from the tire specialist since they have more choices as to what to buy and from whom they buy. Customers want a modern, clean, professional store appearance; straight talk from sales people; and a comfortable waiting room. They also want a short turnaround time for getting their vehicles back on the road.
This could present a gloomy future for those firms that do not focus on these typical customer needs. On the other hand, it presents a golden opportunity for the astute tire specialist who operates a customer-oriented program. The successful companies will be those that focus on customer needs.
The independent tire specialist will have to address how he is perceived by prospective customers or risk a loss of sales. True, half the battle may be won if your service is good and the tire replacement or repair work is done properly, but you still have to get people in the door.
You must ensure that you are responding to the real needs of customers rather than some hazy impression about them. Webster's Dictionary defines a customer as ``one who buys goods or services on a regular basis.'' To ensure that your company has ``customers'' in the true sense of the word and not just one-time buyers, everyone in your organization must be clearly focused on top-quality service.
Surveys have shown that 68 percent of customers quit because of the indifference of the owner, manager or some employee. Customer loyalty is worth at least 10 times the price of a single purchase and the average business spends six times more to attract new customers than it does to keep old ones.
In past years, customer care has all too often been an area in which the tire and auto companies have been notoriously negligent. Countless stories have been told of dirty, cluttered shop areas, long waits for service, poor workmanship and a bad attitude on the part of service employees.
It has only been in recent years that a number of tire specialists realized they had a problem and that something had to be done.
Indifferent attitudes towards customers in today's fiercely competitive marketplace will simply drive them away. If you give customers what they want, they will return.
Customers are more fickle in the tire business than they are in many other markets. A customer's brand loyalty can easily be wiped out by price, by bad service or by a competitor's better advertising.
Even if you feel that you really care about your customers, look at your business through your customer's eyes. Would you do business with you? Are you concentrating on the right things? Have you checked out your competition?
Female buyers now represent nearly half the automobile market, and they influence much of the rest of it. The Power Report, a newsletter published by the J.D. Power and Associates, recently noted that women were the principal drivers of 46 percent of the new cars registered for personal use. And almost half of the principal drivers of sport/utility vehicles are women between 30 and 50 years old. Hence, as women buy their own vehicles in increasing numbers, they also buy their own tires.
A third of these buyers thoroughly price- and brand-shopped when it came time to replace tires. Although they studied newspaper ads and used the phone to comparison shop, most depended on referrals from friends and relatives and favored outlets closer to jobs or home. After becoming aware that their tires were worn, the remaining women selected a supplier impulsively.
When questioned, women gave a litany of complaints about tire and auto outlets-dirty restrooms, dark and dingy waiting rooms, impolite or unconcerned sales and service personnel, confusing prices, long waits for service and unfulfilled delivery promises.
There is no doubt that a customer's surroundings go a long way towards influencing whether he or she will return or not. Add to that the fact that tire buyers are exposed to an increasing number of shopping alternatives.
So retailers will have to move beyond the routines of clean restrooms and white-coated service managers.
They have to become consumer specialists as well as tire specialists. They can no longer just be storekeepers.
The way to stay alive in this competitive industry is to develop consumer skills in your dealership.
The final test is to carefully examine your operation and see it as a customer would see it. Would you shop there or would you go to a competitor?
Remember that your competitor may be doing the same type of research as you are doing and coming up with the same answers.
How then do you differentiate your dealership from the competition? I guess the best answer is well-known: We try harder!