Bogi Lateiner has worn just about every hat someone in the automotive repair industry can wear, including television host of All Girls Garage, professional speaker, industry consultant and owner of Phoenix-based 180 Degrees Automotive. Over the years, she’s become an expert on recruiting customers, even speaking about the topic at the 2016 Ratchet+Wrench Management Conference.
The No. 1 key to building loyalty and respect with your customer base, she says, is authenticity. Everything you bring up is going to be seen as a sales tool unless you genuinely care about your customers as human beings and work toward giving them a positive experience.
Lateiner gave Ratchet+Wrench six foolproof ways to not only get customers through the door, but also turn them into lifelong customers.
1) Create a welcoming space.
Whether we like it or not, Lateiner says, our world is a visual one, and customers may be on edge if they’re uncomfortable in their surroundings. When new people walk into your shop, you need to be cognizant of what they may be thinking.
“While you don’t need to have the Taj Mahal of shops, you need one that immediately speaks to the customer through all senses, that says we’re not what you’re expecting on the negative side of things,” Lateiner says.
She says this means having a well-lit, attractive space. As soon as your customers walk in the door you should provide a personal approach, introducing yourself and offering to show them around the shop, listening to them and answering any questions they have.
Lateiner says that 180 Degrees Automotive is completely tailored around the customer experience, and displays amenities and fixtures that are appealing to the eye. This includes comfy couches in the waiting room, art on the wall, a variety of snacks and flowers.
From the minute customers walk into the shop, she says they’re greeted by a customer service rep who gives the customers all the information they’ll need and holds their hands (so to speak). If someone misses an appointment or disappears, the shop gives them a call to reach out and make sure they’re doing OK.
2) Stay organized.
Organization is also a key component, Lateiner says, both in your offices and throughout the rest of your shop. Customers are likely judging you based on how well you take care of your space—and they’re assuming you’re going to take care of them in a similar fashion.
“If you can’t keep your desk clean, how are you going to stay organized enough to take care of my car?” Lateiner says the customer will think.
She says bathrooms should be cleaned regularly and kept neat, and your offices should be kept free of major clutter.
She recommends shop owners ask someone—not a customer or family member—to walk through the shop and give honest feedback on how it looks.
“We don’t always see what customers see. We’re in there every day, so we don’t always notice it,” she says.
3) Get Involved in the Community.
Getting the company out to local events, like local business groups or charity events, is another important aspect in building your brand and name recognition.
“One of the biggest mistakes we make is to work too hard in our business,” Lateiner says. “One of the best things you can do from a marketing perspective is to be out and active in the community.”
She says that one of the best way to do this is to get other staff members involved with the efforts, especially service advisors and other customer-facing employees. If your employees are out making relationships with potential customers in the community, they’ll reinforce what your company stands for.
4) Partner with local businesses.
180 Degrees is located in a small, tight-knit community on the outskirts of Phoenix, and Lateiner says her area is all about supporting small businesses. Becoming a part of that close-knit community is vital for the shop’s brand recognition and future referrals.
Lateiner found that she can bring in referral customers while boosting the recognition of other nearby businesses. This is huge, as 80–90 percent of 180’s customer base comes through referrals.
“When a customer refers us to someone new, we give the new customer a discount for coming in, as our way of saying thank you for giving us a try and taking a chance on us,” Lateiner says.
This often comes in the form of coupons to local pizza shops, or gift certificates to cover a customer’s lunch at a local restaurant.
5) Follow the three rules of social media.
When using social media, Lateiner refers to the rule of threes: whether through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other service, your shop’s account should be one part culture and personality, one part useful information, and one part shameless self-promotion.
“You earn the right to self-promote by sharing who you are as a shop and sharing information that people can actually utilize in their life,” she says.
A lot of times, she says, people just fall into advertising on social media with their business, sending out content based on what they do and what they offer. But, she says, you should really look at it as a kind of networking event where you can communicate, interact and engage with your customer base.
If you constantly broadcast how awesome you are, your followers are eventually going to get burnt out. With your social media accounts, you should strive for high engagement numbers where you start and maintain actual conversations with your followers.
“It doesn’t matter how many thousands of followers you have, if those people aren’t coming into your shop and turning into face-to-face relationships at some point, then what’s the point?” Lateiner says.
6) Advertise your shop’s personality.
Lateiner says that the “claim to fame” of many shops is that they fix cars right the first time—but, she says, this is simply advertising the bare minimum.
“That’s like saying, ‘I’m a restaurant and my food doesn’t make you sick.’ As an auto shop, the bare minimum is that we fix cars right,” she says.
What you really need to focus on in your advertising, she says, is to step beyond “fixing cars right” and communicate your personality as a shop and what you stand for. This means limiting the words in your advertisements and focusing on images and feelings you want to provide the customer.
That centers around creating a clear culture within the shop, and knowing to what you want to aspire. The staff at 180 Degrees makes a list of positive words she wants her shop to be described as, like “non-intimidating.” If, at any point in their visit, a customers says those words, she knows she’s done her job right in building a welcoming community.