You know the old saying: Finding customers is one thing—keeping them is another.
Wait, is that not a saying? Well, it should be. It doesn’t matter how good you are at snagging customers—if you don’t hang on to them, you’re basically spinning your wheels in an endless cycle of acquisition.
So, what’s the best way to retain your customers?
Dale and Chase Bowman of AM PM Diesel Services gave a great presentation on just this topic during June’s Diesel Connect event. Moderated by Fullbay’s COO, Chris O’Brien, the two discussed what goes into gaining and keeping customers, and then took some questions from the audience.
Here’s five of the top takeaways from the presentation.
1. MSAS ARE YOUR FRIEND
“A master-service agreement,” Chase told us, “holds both parties accountable for our labor times, certain conditions, shop performance, etc.”
Wait, so why isn’t this a more common topic of discussion? It turns out MSAs aren’t a huge thing in the industry—at least, not with attendees: when the audience was asked if they had MSAs in place; Chris reported that 63% did not.
So…why are they so great for shops?
Dale shared an experience from before he used MSAs: He regularly wrote off at least $1.5 million of “unclaimable repairs.”
“Basically a customer would quit answering their phone, [we] couldn’t collect on it. They sent it to corporate, they were disputing it…there was always a reason why, even though we’ve done the same job 25 times.”
For whatever reason, a local manager would just decide not to pay a particular invoice. A shop owner can attempt to get it, but that can be tiresome and time-consuming.
The MSA with a corporate office provides the kind of protection you need. An MSA has been reviewed and approved by the higher-ups in a corporation, along with their legal teams. “When I call that corporate office and go, ‘Hey, we got $30,000 worth of invoices; can you explain to me why they’re not getting paid?’ They say, ‘I’ll get back with you.’”
The MSA can spare you that $1.5 million loss at the end of the year.
It also protects the customer, in case you were wondering. The amount of data shared by AM PM can help customers set up budgets and gauge how much they’ll be spending on their fleet every year. Everyone likes to know what might be coming down the pipeline towards them!
2. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS COMMUNICATE
AM PM Diesel Services has weekly standing calls with large customers. “It’s not just us and corporate,” Chase said. “It’s us and all locations for that customer.”
He went on to point out that transparency is a big part of communication. That means admitting when you’re wrong, or have made a mistake (Brian Still of TDI Fleet Services touched on mistakes in this article about communication in sales). It also means holding each other accountable and, in the words of Chase, not pulling any BS.
Dale told a story about a client that could not seem to retain drivers. “The customer said, ‘We don’t know what the problem is. I told them, ‘I know what the problem is … have you actually looked at your trucks? When I get in your trucks, I wear Latex gloves—not because I’m working on the truck, but because I don’t want to touch the steering wheel.’”
Folks, let’s think about how grody that steering wheel must have been to send potential drivers running for the hills.
Dale turned the problem into an opportunity: AM PM Diesel Services began cleaning that client’s trucks, inside and out. It consumed two labor hours per day.
Transparency also includes showing customers where their money is being spent: “My customers really respect [reports being pulled from Fullbay],” Chase said. “Customers want to know.”
This kind of open communication results in more of a partnership than a classic shop/client relationship. Yes, the shop is making repairs and keeping the fleet running, but everyone is working together to do so.
3. MAKE YOURSELF INDISPENSABLE TO YOUR CUSTOMERS
AM PM Diesel Services has built a reputation around being the go-to people for their customers. Do their shops do everything? No. But if there’s something they don’t have in-house—say, tires—it’s a good bet they’ve got vendors who will handle it.
“If they need a tow truck, our customers don’t call the tow truck company,” Dale said. “They call us, and we call the tow truck company.”
“I’d rather call one person,” Chase added. “I don’t want to make 12 phone calls. That’s time and money. I have another 12 phone calls I need to make.”
We should probably practice some transparency ourselves and acknowledge that AM PM Diesel Services is a larger operation (with 18 locations!) and it may not be possible for every shop to emulate that level of turnkey service. The point, to borrow from Stacy Conner’s excellent presentation around labor rates, is to look at what value you offer. And then offer more.
4. CUSTOMER RETROSPECTIVES ARE CRITICAL
AM PM Diesel Services sits down in some form with their customers quite frequently. Large customers get a retrospective every week; other customers every quarter. And every customer has a yearly meeting where they go over the previous year, exploring what objectives they met, where things may have fallen short, and budgets for the next year.
“I can’t stress this enough: having facetime with your customers—being in front with their employees—is the most important thing you can do,” Chase said. “I fly all over. Constantly be with your customer.”
This ties into the communication aspect we described above, but it can really stand on its own, too. Scheduled catch-ups increase the trust in the partnership and make sure both parties are on the same page.
5. NEW BUSINESS STEMS FROM HAPPY CUSTOMERS
Marketing is great, but a lot of the business AM PM Diesel Services attracts is through word of mouth. “Everybody talks,” Chase said. “Drivers talk, large fleets talk. ‘Who’s doing your maintenance?’”
You know the routine: if a fleet manager or driver is happy with how maintenance or repairs were handled, they’ll pass on your name (or website, or card, or whatever) to someone else. So—not that you needed the reminder—it’s in your best interest to treat your customers fairly and do good work.
THAT’S JUST THE BEGINNING
Dale and Chase provided a ton of information—way too much for us to reiterate here. But you can hear more from them in the Shop Owner Roundtable they did with Chris and Fullbay CEO Patrick McKittrick a few months ago!
Just remember: practicing open communication and doing good work are the two biggest hurdles you’ll face as a repair shop. If you can build a trusting relationship with your customers, you’re setting yourself up for success.