Know Your Customer
Most people don’t like going to the doctor. It can be an uncomfortable experience, Greg Gaulin says. At best, you get poked, prodded, inspected and sent on your way with a clean bill of health—and often a bill for payment.
But for Gaulin, owner of Gaulin’s of Williamsville, a repair facility in Buffalo, N.Y., he doesn’t mind the doctor at all. In fact, he almost enjoys his annual visits.
“I have a very good relationship with my doctor,” he says. “We understand each other, we speak the same language. He’s concerned about me, there’s an obvious sense there. It’s not like buying a loaf of bread and the person cashing you out doesn’t care if they ever see you again.
“The fact is that he understands who his patients are, just like we need to understand who our customers are. When you understand your customers—who they are, what they need, what they expect—you can give them the service they want, the service that keeps them coming back again and again. They might even enjoy coming.”
The problem, says industry consultant Mark Hambaum, is that most shops don’t know which customers they should target, or how to adapt their service and business to them once they are identified.
“But it’s not a complicated thing,” Hambaum says, and doing so allows your shop to take its first real step toward truly serving customers in a meaningful way.
Sell, sell, sell—that’s what Gaulin was always told.
“The important thing to understand, though, with our business is that we don’t sell a commodity, we sell a service,” he says. “And the best way to deal with that service is to deal with people whom you can establish a relationship with.”
Of course, Hambaum says, you need to form those relationships with the right people. That can be easier said than done, he admits, but there are some simple steps you can take to find your target customers.
1) Look at your market. Where your shop is located, what types of homes surround you, what types of businesses, what are the people like—Hambaum says this basic understanding gives you a good starting point in understanding the demographics of your customers and potential customers.
“I mean, if I was to open a repair shop in Detroit, I’m going to see a big difference in shop expectations [from customers] than if I was in a more affluent area,” says Hambaum, who operates his consulting firm out of Detroit. “Their value perspective is simply going to be different and that’s going to come into play in what kind of service you give.”
For Gaulin, his shop is in a more affluent portion of Buffalo, and he understands that the potential for high-end customers is there.
2) Use your database. This is when you analyze which of those potential customers from your market demographics are actually coming to your shop. Hambaum suggests going through every single name in your shop’s database of clients. Look at their information, try to recall who they are, and place them in categories: A, B, C and D customers, ranging from your “ideal customer” (i.e. the people you want to work with) down to the people you don’t want coming in.
Take a look at the customer’s repair record to get a better idea of which category they should be placed in, Hambaum suggests, and take into account attitude and whether you enjoy working with them.
“It seems like a daunting task, but it’s really not,” Hambaum says. “It doesn’t take as long as you’d think, and you’ll be surprised by how well you remember each customer.”
3) Pull out your best 20 customers. Now that your customers are organized into groups, Hambaum says to pull out the best 20 from your entire database. These customers represent what you want out of your clientele—everything from sales history to phone demeanor.
When you have them picked out, it will be very telling as to what you value in your customers, Hambaum says, which is the foundation for everything else that follows.
4) Create a simple survey. Now, find out what your customer values from you. Hambaum suggests writing up a very simple survey. It can be just a couple of quick questions, and you can just ask the customers as you see them, call them, or mail or email them.
Whatever questions you choose, Hambaum says, the main goal is to better understand why that customer does business with you and what they want and expect from you to continue that business.
5) Compile your profile. From the survey, from your database, from your demographics, you should at this point have a thorough idea of who comes into your shop and why, not to mention whom you want to come into your shop.
Now, compile it into a simple profile; this is your target customer.
“From doing this,” Gaulin says. “I know that our target customer is someone who’s owned their car between five and 10 years, middle- to upper-class and an almost 50-50 split in men and women.
“They choose us for the way we treat them, the little amenities we offer and the overall service we give.”
Understand Your Shop
There are many shops that have a firm grasp of their target customers, Hambaum says, but they stop short in using that information.
The most common thing to use this data for is marketing, he says, and it’s a great tool for that. “This is the information, though, that should define your shop, and it should define your customer service.”
So, the next step is creating that definition of your business: Who are you as a shop and what do you do to serve the customers you have?
A basic step is in the appearance and perception of your facility, Hambaum says. Is the actual, physical shop a place where your target customers are comfortable? If you find your shop’s target audience consists of families, Gaulin says to have a waiting area conducive to children and their waiting mothers—clean, comfortable bathrooms and possibly a toy area. Other amenities like Wi-Fi access, coffee and drink options, televisions, magazines, books, and comfortable seating should all be chosen with your target customer in mind, as well.
Then, it comes down to how you handle them, Gaulin says.
Do you contact them in a way that best suits them? For instance, younger demographics may prefer email, text messaging or social media for regular contact. Others might prefer a phone call or a physical mailer.
Hambaum says to develop your customer service processes around the things your target customers are looking for, taking into account as much of that specific information as possible.
In the end, Gaulin says it’ll come down to whether or not your shop can build trust for those customers. Your procedures and systems have to work to do that.
“I’ve been in business for 28 years and people bring their cars to me, primarily, because they trust me,” Gaulin says. “For instance, with my doctor, I trust him and I depend on him. People want to be in a relationship with somebody with whom they can trust and depend on. You have to be the one they can look to when they have a problem.”