We all have a myriad of contacts that we consciously (or subconsciously) place into separate categories in our relationships. These categories include family, close friends, business associates, colleagues and acquaintances. Most people tend to act differently depending on which group they are surrounded by at any particular moment. People may relax a little, be more vulnerable around family. While perhaps act with more formality when networking with people they are not as familiar with.
The same is true with our customers. In the automotive industry it’s fairly simple to identify which category your customers fit into, if you’re paying attention. The key is to be cognizant of these customer categories so as to interact with them in the most effective manner.
- Freshman - These are the customers that haven’t taken a whiff of coffee brewing in your service lounge. They have just made their first vehicle purchase from your dealership and are in for their initial maintenance. Or, it could be the person that got fed up with the service department across town and decided to give yours a try. The sky is the limit and you can make or break the relationship quickly at this stage. At this point there is every opportunity to wow them with outstanding service. And, if you hit it off right, they’re going to be back for more. But if things don’t go well, you’ll have to go above and beyond the next time you see them – if you see them at all.
- Your Old Friend - You know the kind. These are some of your former co-workers, social media friends, and people from the neighborhood, that know you and your dealership well. They won’t go to the other side of the city to get service or buy their parts, but you aren’t connected like you used to be. In many respects they are loyal to you and your dealership, but you might not see them as often as you would like, or as often as you should. After all, they do have multiple friends (dealers) and like to spread the love around, at least a little. They might hit you up for an extra discount or a small favor now and again. They’ll visit your store if they received your mailer for the $20 oil change. However, they may well take their business down the street to “the other guy” when they receive an offer for free lifetime tire rotations with the purchase of four new tires. Your old buddy isn’t the guy you rely on, like you do with your loyalists, but nevertheless, you never want to see him disappear.
- Your Loyalists - These are your best customers and you can never have enough of them. They’ll buy every vehicle from your dealership and refer friends and family to you. They’ll spend hours in your service lounge waiting patiently for their car repair. Why? Because somewhere along the way (probably when they were “freshman”), your dealership and employees impressed them with fair prices, incredible customer service and perhaps even became their “friend.” You’ve gone above and beyond at times: Did not charge them for a simple repair, provided a free rental when their car broke down, were courteous in your follow up after their service visit, and so on. Somewhere along the way, you knew what it took to ensure their individual satisfaction. Your employees love customers like this: they are easy-going people, they constantly give you raving reviews and perfect surveys, and they spend money – time and again. You don’t have to market or advertise to them; because you know they’ll be back when the need arises. However, sometimes they get taken for granted, because they are loyal to your company. Be sure not to ignore these customers by always looking out for next year’s hopefuls.
- Next Year’s Hopefuls - These are the faces in the crowd with money in their pocket that they are willing to spend on the right car, the right service, and the right repair shop. But you haven’t met them yet. You’ve boasted about the awards you’ve won, the ease of service and the competitive prices – yet these folks are always an arm’s length away. You see them; you just can’t get to them. Your dealership spends money, sometimes a lot more than necessary, to acquire the customer. If successful, they become your freshman and later your loyalists. But, with so many other dealerships wanting to become their friend, all you can do is hope that by next year, they become yours.
The evolution of these customers is pretty clear. Just like in our personal lives, you first have to meet people in order to be their friend. Once you’ve hit things off, a fair share of them will emerge as your loyalists (and you’ll be theirs). Some will fade away completely, while others will still be your old friends. Depending of course upon how well you treat them. We all want loyalists in our life – the tried and true people we can count on, through good times and bad. So it is with our customers. We just have to make sure that they know it.