Some marketing specialists claim that a brand is a promise. When you look at your business, does it project a promise to your customers? If not, why not?
The automotive service marketplace is crowded with competitors. The competition is, to say the least, cutthroat. Savvy service shop operators and tire dealers are always searching for practical ways to gain an edge on the other contestants in the field.
In particular, this contest for automotive maintenance and repair dollars pits bigger companies against smaller ones—including large chains and franchises against mom-and-pop operations. During my travels, I find that this David-versus-Goliath issue is a common topic among all service personnel.
Most likely, the folks reading this column are trying to fight the proverbial good fight: Selling tires and automotive services to the best of their ability, day in and day out.
Many of them whom I meet give a big sigh of relief, then say they sense they're doing more right things than wrong to survive.
It's enlightening to ask owners and managers why they've reached this conclusion. Usually, they explain by saying that no customer has come back with a baseball bat, looking to tenderize the skull of a manager or technician at their business.
Wow, that's certainly one way to evaluate your business.
Let's take a different look at how your business is doing. To do that, let's apply that marketing definition I mentioned a moment ago — see if and how it relates to your tire dealership or service shop.
It's challenging — sometimes impossible — to evaluate your own business objectively. But if you want to survive in this marketplace, you need to recognize if you've established a brand.
If you think you have, then what does that brand promise?
It's revealing that some bosses immediately respond that their businesses are projecting the image they desire (whatever that may be). For instance, they may tell me that the business' brand promises and delivers the friendliest service, the quickest turn around, the lowest price, etc. Perhaps they expect it to telegraph high-quality services or the best value in local auto repair.
However, your own image of your business may not match motorists' perceptions of it—and that's what matters. Surely, tracking customer satisfaction is both an art and a science. Nevertheless, you should still tackle it.
Many businesses routinely perform telephone follow ups with customers in order to monitor impressions of the shop or dealership. They also try to nip any negative reactions in the bud — address any problems promptly and courteously. Others have used a variety of mailed inquiries to cull customers' reactions.
Today, more retailers of all kinds are using Internet inquiries to gauge customer impressions and levels of satisfaction. They're also monitoring avenues such as Google reviews and social media.
Over the years, I've known shop owners who've decided to finally gauge customers' impressions of their businesses. Sometimes, they were stunned to find that many customers had no more than a lukewarm feeling about the service and the staff.
The groundswell of warm, fuzzy feelings they expected just didn't materialize. Therefore, it appeared that they had not established a brand or a promise.
On the one hand, it's prudent to define the kind of “brand” you prefer your service shop or tire dealership to be. It's another thing to achieve that goal in the minds of consumers. You need to reevaluate and make improvements when motorists don't think you're delivering on your promise—simply put, your brand isn't succeeding.
If you're serious about the long-term health of your business, you should commit to tracking customer satisfaction carefully and consistently. Take constructive criticism to heart and make the necessary corrections.
That's the only way to make your perceptions of your brand and your customers' perceptions agree.