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Business and Management

Growing Your Perfect Customer

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The most powerful advertising tool you have is existing customers talking about your business to others. When THEY tell YOUR story, it can be a powerful motivational tool.

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Of course, most of the time these days, it is the phone call, email or text that can initiate the opportunity to get prospects to your lobby door. Getting them that far gives you your best chance of success for a sale.

My wife and I own a complete automotive repair and service center in El Cajon, CA, and I think for me to get my point across it’s best that you know a little bit about us. We have five employees and offer five major automotive services: complete automobile repair, complete automotive machining, automotive engine remanufacturing, engine balancing and gas fuel injection rebuilding.

I am no different from many of you who are about to read this article. I’m a family man who created his small business in his garage, grew it large enough to keep quality under control and make enough money to put the kids through college and live an average lifestyle. I enjoy golfing and racing my open-wheel modified.

When trying to communicate to others about a subject I believe it’s always best to be honest and tell it like it is. Too many times you see a false front from others who work around what they really would like to say. I like to speak from my heart, otherwise I don’t think you will get the true meaning of the opportunities to grow your perfect customer.

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Who is Your Customer?

Having a clear definition of your ideal customer is one of the most important things you can do for your business. In my experience, there are three types of customers:

The Drags

These are your most troublesome customers, who, too often are simply mismatched to your offerings. They’re excessively negative, unreasonably demanding, and maybe even abusive to your staff and your business systems. They consume considerable time and attention and buy very little. They demand unreasonable concessions on pricing, service, or product alterations, and, if you consented, would harm your business. They may refuse to pay you fair price for your offering or refuse to comply with your billing and service standards and they act dissatisfied no matter what you do for them. Watch for these indicators to flag customers you’re better off not having in your clientele.

For many years our business would take in any work or customer that came our way. It was very demanding and difficult to absorb all the problems without being choosy and controlling who we did business with. Eventually, we learned to control those situations. If you are a beginning business, you may have no choice but to muscle through the heartache of learning how to chose. It sometimes has to be experienced before you learn. I refer to this as  bottom feeder business.

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The Divas

The second style of customer consists of corporation types, such as dealerships and other large organizations. Quite simply they are very demanding and always believe they are your only customer (or at least the only one of consequence). They’re friendly enough but they tend to always be in a hurry for services – though payment from most of them will be in 30 days or so. I don’t know about you, but we have built our business around payment on delivery, which avoids costly time in chasing down already-earned dollars.

Thankfully, our experience with this type of customer has been minimal and, while a great supplement, is not our first choice for business.

The Dreams

Third and lastly, we all have those customers or clients whom we’d replicate in a heartbeat.

They make us highly profitable, are respectful of our businesses and value our products and services. They’re a good fit and they’re loyal. If only all of the people or companies who buy from us could be just like them. These are the people that you want to grow as your perfect customer. It can never be 100% but we can certainly improve upon what we have been getting.

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Much of the time, of course, we have to take the good with the bad, but times are changing and it is time to rethink how the automotive industry can improve upon value and worth for all aspects of our business. The time and opportunity is on the very near horizon for us to improve the quality of our customers who really need and want our services.

While every customer is important to your business plan, the truth is that some are more important than others, and a precious few are the most important of all. We can agree that the customer who brings us the most profit with the least amount of trouble is the one we want to clone each and every day. There are many other positive things that can go along with these type of customers, but let’s face it, we are in business to make good, wholesome dollars utilizing them. The question now is, how do we accomplish this?

As mentioned earlier, the goal is to get your potential customer to the front door. From online customer service to using social media to get insights into your audience, there are now excellent opportunities for businesses to reach out via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other networks.

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Just recently I was messaged by a Facebook friend during off hours. He had a water pump fail on his vehicle and asked for pricing and schedule for repairs. It was a very simple question that I was able to quickly answer. It resulted in a next day service that had good profit, customer and shop satisfaction, and really helped the customer out on time. By being able to answer your customers’ simple messages during off hours can easily translate into numerous sales.

Which methods work for you will depend on your business, your audience and the way you like to communicate. A quick response to a phone call, email or text always has an advantage. Once you have them engaged, you’re able to have a solid open conversation about services requested. Clear, concise answers to their questions and no interruption while they are speaking helps. A value, if you can, is to approximate service cost as you go along.

You should have enough confidence in your business to encourage them to shop around and compare. Many times customers will choose you because they feel you are friendly and easy to communicate with. Finally, offer a tour of your shop before and during services at any given time. This shows that you have nothing to hide and that their project is on schedule.

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One of the most important pieces of data you can track about a prospective customer is where and how he or she heard about your business. This is a question that should be second nature to you and your employees. Keep a record of the answer in customer files, or keep a log if you have a high-traffic business.

There are several stages of customer service that you go through as you grow your business. At some point in time you’ll find that you just don’t click with certain potential customers who walk in the door. If you are established enough, you could confidently, yet kindly, turn those customers away.

What makes certain customers ideal to you? Is it high levels of profitability, their low-maintenance nature or the types of products or services they purchase? Look at your best customers and identify specifically what makes them special. The more specific you can be, the better. They may fall into a few categories; perhaps customers who order regularly and pay their bills on time are more valuable than high-profit customers who are sporadic about payment, for example. The criteria will usually be unique to your business and how you run it.

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In conclusion, understanding your customers’ needs can lead to better insights into your audience and will allow you to develop services that are matched to your clients’ needs.

The difference between good and great customers is huge. All engine builders know that some customers are more profitable, more pleasant, more apt to buy frequently and most likely to spread good words about your business. Those customers are the ones you want to focus on and increase in number.

Growing your perfect customer is all about having that customer work for you in exposing the experience of your service and capabilities to others in an effort to drive them to your door. n

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