Most tire dealers understand the importance of retaining customers after they woo them into the store the first time. However, many owners and managers miss the importance of getting the vehicle itself back in the bay. Make no mistake about it, getting the customer to come back regularly is a dealer's top priority.
However, a critical, poorly understood corollary to this axiom is: Bringing the customer's vehicle in time and again acquaints a technician with its mechanical and electronic idiosyncrasies, thus reducing his ``learning curve'' for that vehicle.
Shrewd service managers agree that keeping a known vehicle within the customer base is one of the best-kept secrets to improving profitability. In short, it amounts to working much smarter instead of simply working harder.
In previous columns, I discussed how whole-vehicle inspections of used cars can generate profits via legitimate service sales. I also described how helping one customer locate a car buyer-particularly one within your existing customer base-builds good will and strengthens customer loyalty.
However, some shop owners who excel at selling used cars, vehicle inspections, etc., reminded me that keeping a familiar vehicle within the flock is almost as important as keeping the customer.
Any dealer who monitors marketing and promotional expenses knows luring the customer into the store the first time can be frightfully expensive. But once you hook the customer, it's considerably more cost effective to do whatever's necessary to keep him in the fold than it is to pursue new service prospects.
These savvy service managers argue that a similar rationale applies to the vehicle itself. For example, once you get the customer and his vehicle in the door you always climb a certain learning curve getting to know both the owner and the vehicle.
With the owner, you learn his driving habits and personal quirks. Good service personnel agree that learning the vehicle's overall ``personality''-including its weak points-is usually more difficult and time-consuming than getting acquainted with its owner.
Service managers who monitor technicians' time and productivity carefully understand that they often don't recoup all the labor time techs spend literally learning an unfamiliar vehicle on the job. They can only hope to recover this time on subsequent jobs on the same or similar vehicles.
This means that when another one of these vehicles comes in with the same symptoms, he knows where to look first for the cause.
Therefore he diagnoses and repairs the vehicle substantially faster and more profitably than a competitor could.
Aggressive service personnel explained that once they've invested time learning a vehicle, they prefer to capitalize on that knowledge by keeping the vehicle within the customer base as long as practically possible.
That boosts profitability simply because technicians work more efficiently on familiar vehicles than unfamiliar ones.
This conclusion may sound downright trite. But if in fact it's so self-evident, why do service shops allow so many worthy, serviceable vehicles to slip away into the hands of car dealers?
Usually a vehicle that is traded in to a car dealer seldom returns to your customer base, so it actually costs you two ways.
First, you lose the potential service sales from that vehicle-not to mention the profitability resulting from your techs' familiarity with it.
Second, you may end up competing with that new-car dealer for maintenance on that vehicle, especially during the warranty period. Even if you perform routine maintenance on it, the fact that it's new effectively takes that customer out of the prime service market for a few years.
Finally, insightful service personnel argue that there's an important psychological factor working in their favor here. When they have maintained a vehicle for a long time, it's typically in excellent condition.
The vehicle's condition, backed by the shop's service records on it, give the vehicle greater value than another vehicle of the same make, age and mileage.
Not only does this make it easier to market this car to another customer, it also makes the vehicle's new owner more inclined to spend repair dollars on it down the road instead of discarding or trading it.
So fostering a willingness to invest in this car completes the circle of keeping a known quantity within your customer base.