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Engaging your best customers

July 21, 2010
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Editor’s Note: This article is included in the July 2008 issue of Professional Carwashing & Detailing®. If you would like to submit an article or topic idea for the Management Tip of the Week, please e-mail Editor Kate Carr.

Economic downturn is something that you have no power over. There are two ways to address economic slumps. One involves throwing up your hands in surrender. “My customers aren't interested in purchasing, so why waste resources peddling something with little chance of being bought buy my customers?” The other involves controlling your response in a measured and calculated manner that makes the most of your resources.

A small percentage of customers

You didn’t get into business so you could fold the first time any concern about the viability of your operation came into question. For the majority of full-serve carwashes and detail shops, most of your profit comes from a small percentage of your customers. This means that the significance of reaching out to your most valued clients must take a priority on your new, revised agenda.

What you need to do is foster your customer relationships in a fashion that will have you at the top of their minds when they decide to make a purchase. Are your customers aware of everything you can do for them? Are you making sure they don’t forget about you? At some point they’ll have a need for your services, and it’s your duty to make sure they come to you when that specific need surfaces.

If they don’t know, they can’t buy

When you’re reaching out to customers — whether it’s through a newsletter, buying incentives, or other special treatment — you’re not only displaying how much you value the relationship you share with the customer, but also cheapening the customer’s relationship with your competitors. But more importantly, you need to reach out because if your customers don’t know about certain products and services, there’s absolutely no way they’ll buy them. And in tough economic times, that can be the difference between your business folding or prospering.

Let me also stress that there’s a strong need to have superior customer service during times of economic decline. The loyal customers you hope will keep coming back to your business are the same loyal customers who will refer other business to you. Customer service that’s a cut above the competition will yield surprising results for your operation.

Flexibility and creativity in sales

Selling is both an art and a science. High achieving companies have a detailed, thorough selling process that still allows their sales team members some flexibility to drive creativity. One important part of any selling process is the interaction through which customer needs are revealed and understood by the sales professional.

Many sales persons have an agenda and are charged to “sell the special” rather than slow the process down and understand customer needs. When I say this, I’m talking about both present and potential future needs that could be met by your products and services. In my selling model, I emphasize the importance of asking appropriate questions with sincerity, in a genuine attempt to understand how to meet relevant customer needs. This resonates a lot more with a frugal customer than an effort to “sell the special.”

When times are tough, we sometimes assume that all our customers are becoming especially thrifty. This way of thinking does not allow for the possibility that the customer may indeed want to buy. It essentially paralyzes the salesperson. If you are convinced that customers aren’t going to buy, change your thinking to: “How can I help educate my customers now so when they are ready to buy they can make a more informed decision?”

Educate your current customers on your entire product and service offering. If done well, you may even garner additional referrals that you would never have received without using this kind of process.

Charlie Fewell has over 30-years working as a trainer and management head for AC Delco and now runs his own business consulting firm Charlie Fewell & Associates that specialize in transitional leadership and business development. For more information visit