Spending $1,858 on thank you cards for your entire customer base might seem a little over the top to most shop owners.
But for Jon Bockman? All he cares about is the ROI—all $41,151 of it.
For eight years, Bockman, who owns Bockman’s Auto Care in Sycamore, Ill., has consistently seen between a $35,000–$45,000 return on its yearly Thanksgiving and “Christmas in July” cards, which tell each customer in his database, quite simply, “Thank You.”
But therein lies the issue when it comes to thanking customers for their business—shop owners tend to overthink the simplicity of a thank you card, says Mike Carrillo. And, as the founder of AutoShopFollowUp.com, a website that specializes in improving customer retention, he’s seen plenty of shops who botch a procedure that helped one of his clients lower its attrition rate from 42 percent to 12 percent by simply sending out thank you notes.
“New customers are sexy,” Carrillo says. “The idea of spending some money to keep them there isn't as appealing. We feel like, ‘We're awesome at what we do, so if we can get them in here, they're going to stay.’ And the reality is that is not true.
“Fixing a broken car isn't enough. You have to establish relationships. They want to know who's working on their car.”
And thank you cards are an easy step toward establishing that relationship. Here’s how you plan for a consistent process for writing, sending out and tracking an ROI for thank you cards.
Standing Out from the Crowd
While thank you cards might seem like “old-school customer service,” Carrillo says it actually helps a shop stand out in a sea of competition.
“It’s a simple, inexpensive way to differentiate yourself from the competition because you actually took the time to do it,” he says. “Ninety percent of shops don’t.”
The shift away from physical thank you cards is largely a misperception of the growing millennial customer base, Carrillo says. As a millennial himself, he says that mass texts and emails thanking you for service and offering coupons are so common these days that they’re simply lost in the flood of businesses promoting themselves.
“[Millennials] don't want a completely transactional experience,” he says, “where you fix my car, then send a text message asking me to leave a review and never talk to me again.”
Bockman doesn’t send out weekly thank you cards, but instead yearly ones. And when his Christmas cards weren’t showing an ROI, he realized it was because so many businesses send out Christmas thank yous. So he started sending out thank you notes on less-recognized holidays.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
If Carrillo seems overly passionate about thank you cards, it’s for good reason:
“Because I've seen it work and I've seen it fail,” he says, which means this seemingly simple act can go awry for overlooked reasons.
Here are some simple mistakes to avoid when putting together thank you cards for customers:
Printing out thank you cards
“Don't print them out—write them. You're a human being, so write them out.”
“Customers understand how labels work and it's immediately not personalized. Everything should be handwritten, from beginning to end, inside and outside the card.”
Using postage meters
“People will do meter postage just to save money. That means it's not personal. Put a real stamp on there. It costs more money, but it looks like it's from a human.”
“You want it to be a real thank you. And when you offer 10 percent off the next visit, it becomes self serving. Sending a card with your logo on it is all the marketing material you need.”
The Card’s Contents
Keeping the cards as personalized as possible is the key, Carrillo says.
For Bockman, that meant appealing to the families that bring their cars in by employing his young son as a helper for the thank yous. His son drew a turkey on the card and wrote a message to everyone thanking them for business. As his son grew older, Bockman took over the writing duties and now employs other people to draw the image on the front of the cards.
Regardless of the actual “thank you,” perhaps the most important component of the message is the signature, Carrillo says. The customer should be receiving the card from whoever they personally interacted with while at the shop, whether that’s the owner or the service advisor.
“What you're trying to do is make yourself relatable in a very unrelatable industry,” he says. “People are nervous about automotive care because they don't understand it. So, you build that trust and rapport by establishing a human.”
You can have the best thank you card in the world—but if you don’t have a systematic process for making sure it gets in the mail, it’s all for naught.
“That's where every shop falls apart doing this internally,” Carrillo says.
While you can certainly hire an outside company to handle the thank you cards, Carrillo says assigning oversight to one individual goes a long way. When service advisors manage their own thank you cards, Carrillo says the task is quickly disregarded the second work piles up. But if you have one service advisor gather up the day’s or week’s thank you cards and drop them off in the mail, everyone is held accountable for doing their part.
Tracking the ROI
While Carrillo suggests not including coupons and deals with your thank you cards, that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve a return. A lowered attrition rate and improved customer retention can easily make up the difference for a few thousand dollars worth of cards, envelopes and stamps.
Bockman, on the other hand, includes simple deals with his cards, such as a free battery and charging system check, or a $10 tire rotation and brake inspection. They’re small deals that are designed to lead to larger jobs once the car is in the shop. And because of that, tracking an ROI goes beyond attrition rates for Bockman, and extends to the actual revenue his shop receives from those cards.