A Worthy Investment
As you cycle through your inbox, deleting generic email after generic email, you come across a message from Autosmith.
It stands out. It’s not some lifeless message clearly copied and pasted for every customer in a database. It is, in fact, more than an email: It’s a video featuring the owner of the Colorado Springs, Colo., auto repair shop.
“I just wanted to send you a thank you for referring John Smith to us,” Jamie Dodd says on screen. “It was so wonderful to meet him. Referrals are always the best form of compliment! As a thank you for your referral, your next oil change service is on us. I look forward to seeing you then. I hope you have a wonderful day!”
This email represents everything Dodd, co-owner of Autosmith, has done to ensure your future business. Since taking over the shop in September 2013, Dodd and her team managed to increase annual revenue from $373,000 to $507,000—a 35 percent increase—in 16 months with minimal investment. After spending $3,000 on renovations to the lobby and website, Dodd’s only “investment” has been the time spent getting to know and servicing her customers. And according to the shop’s Mitchell 1 SocialCRM system, which reports CSI scores at 99 percent and a 300 percent increase in referrals, it’s safe to say she’s doing something right.
“We, as shop owners, really need to start investing in our customers and who they are, versus just counting cars and counting money,” Dodd says. “Because that time that you spend? There is a return on that investment.”
Dodd grew up used to an intimate brand of customer service in southwest Kansas before moving to Colorado Springs in 2000 with her husband, Darren, then a technician at Autosmith.
“Any place you walked into, they knew you by name,” she says of Kansas. “I wanted to bring that kind of hometown atmosphere into our place of business.”
After 13 years of administrative work in a counseling center, Dodd spent a year training for her professional life coach certification. With plans to purchase Autosmith, she and her husband believed those people skills could improve the shop’s customer service and help the business grow. She wanted to market the shop as an alternative to the stereotypical “grimy and dirty” auto care experience, leading to a comprehensive branding approach for Autosmith’s commendable customer service.
“To set ourselves apart from all the other shops in town, we needed to drastically change the way we relate to our customers,” Dodd says. “My vision for our shop was to build relationships, build community and earn trust.”
Remodeling the Shop
While Autosmith had a good standing in the community, the shop’s interior and exterior exemplified the stereotype from which she wanted to distance the company. So when Dodd stepped in, revamping the shop’s aura was first on the list:
- The uneven, concrete floors are now tiled.
- The grey walls and trim are now blue and white.
- The office moved into the parts room and out of the lobby, which is now outfitted with comfy sofas and armchairs, snacks and beverages, and free Wi-Fi.
- The outdated restrooms were completely remodeled.
- The shop sign and exterior color scheme was redesigned from black-and-white to a refreshing red-white-and-blue paint job that kept the old logo, yet catered to the shop’s target customer.
“It’s clean, crisp, professional, and that's the type of customer we want to attract,” she says. “We wanted to keep that clean look all the way through the shop.”
The new shop image and color scheme extends throughout Dodd’s rebranding efforts, including brochures, business cards, uniforms and the shop’s online presence.
Your website, Dodd says, is typically a customer’s first impression of your shop. Working with a local company, Dodd gave Autosmith.net a fresher, simpler, more responsive layout, while making sure it reflected the company’s values:
- The home page includes a video of Dodd detailing the shop’s qualifications and dedication to the customer.
- Under the “Trust Matters” heading, you’ll find several testimonials praising the shop’s customer service, as well as a link to 105 reviews—99 of which own five-star ratings.
- Included is a comprehensive FAQ section for vehicle maintenance.
“A lot of shop owners are very reliant on cookie cutter templates for their websites—that doesn’t really give the customer an idea of who you are and the philosophies behind your business,” Dodd says.
Dodd views each customer interaction as a potential future transaction and utilizes their time in the lobby as a moment to connect.
“If they know you're sitting down with them to sell something, they're going to be more apprehensive,” she says. “But if you just visit with them, they're going to tell their friends, ‘Hey, Jamie just sat down and talked to me. It was a really great interaction.’”
Dodd understands one-on-one interactions aren’t every owner’s cup of tea—but by practicing with family and friends, she says anyone can overcome the awkwardness of small talk. She eases any discomfort by approaching customers with a smile and asking simple questions.
“Talk about the weather, local sports teams or even what they do for a living,” she says. “You will be surprised how quickly a customer will open up to you if you take the time to get to know them.”
“Also, if you have access to their repair records, do some research,” she adds. “Your customer will feel valued. It's a win-win.”
As a certified professional life coach, Dodd understands the importance of giving space. As auto repair can inherently be a stressful transaction, Dodd sees it as an opportunity to allow people to vent about pressures in their lives.
“I've had people share huge things with me that they probably have not shared with anyone else,” she says. “They tell me our discussions feel like therapy sessions. As business owners, I think it's really important that we stop thinking about the next question and really start listening to what our customers are saying.”
And if you don’t take Dodd’s word for it, listen to Jacqueline Tomrdle, who’s been using Autosmith since the beginning:
“I feel that I am being listened to and dealt with honestly when I take my vehicles to Autosmith,” Tomrdle says. “Jamie gives down-to-earth customer service on a first-name basis that lets you know that you are more than a transaction. It's important to me to know that she cares about her customers. It keeps me coming back.”
Service doesn’t end when the customer drives away, Dodd says. Part of her customer service branding comes through online reviews, which provide an opportunity to display Autosmith’s dedication and expertise.
When a two-star online review claimed Autosmith quoted too high for a failed starter, Dodd kept her cool and created a win-win scenario for her and the customer.
“The win here for us is I acknowledged the quality of my technicians, the accurate diagnosis we gave the customer, the quality parts and warranty we offer, and saving face online; the win for the customer was I reminded him we helped him get his car out of our lot, without paying a tow service, and how glad I was to hear he was able to get his car back on the road,” Dodd explains. “All of this was accomplished without shaming him because he chose not to repair the vehicle here. This response is published online and rather than not responding to it or reacting poorly, I seized the opportunity to highlight the quality of our work.”
The Final Touch
Dodd is always thinking of ways to extend customer service outside the Autosmith walls, leading to personalized video messages for customers. Working with a company called BombBomb, Dodd says the video emails—which offer monthly specials, thank customer for referrals and have an above-average open rate of 21 percent—extend the shop’s brand to customers’ inboxes.
Her efforts have already netted a 25 percent increase in first quarter growth in 2016, and she shows no signs of slowing down—when it comes to advancing her business, Dodd believes time invested in customers will always produce a return.
“By creating that trust level with customers, I’m winning their business for life,” she says. “I'm actually taking the time to get to know them and care about them. And I think people can sense that.”