From a business perspective, the beginning of the year is the opportune time to look at what shape your business is in and how it could be improved in the year ahead. It may be February, but it’s not too late to start the year off with a plan. Neil Pattemore elaborates.
Define your business
It may sound strange, but start by rationalising and being clear what it is that you actually do. As an example, do you offer specialist services, such as certain vehicle brands, or a specific type of work like gearbox repairs? If so, then make sure that this is succinctly and clearly communicated to your customers by stating something along the lines of ‘Experts in providing the affordable alternative for servicing XYZ vehicles’, which is followed up by an explanation that you have the necessary equipment and training to compete with the main dealer, whilst offering more attractive pricing. In other words, are your offerings of your business clear and defined, and are they being communicated to your customers properly?
Image is everything
Consider how customers see you – quite literally. What image do you portray at all ‘touch points’ of customer contact? This is across the image of your premises and the external signage, but just as importantly internally, including the design, signage and cleanliness of your reception area, the cleanliness of the toilets, the choice of reading material and the quality of the tea and coffee that you may provide – all of these create a perception of your business to your customers. This should be aligned with any advertising, mailshots, staff workwear, letter headings, invoice headings etc. – beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
It might sound obvious, but take time to keep up to date with changing vehicle technology. This is not just sending your technicians on a training course (which of course is critically important), but understanding how evolving vehicle technology and the way that vehicle ownership as part of ‘mobility as a service’ is becoming increasingly common. How this will impact your business and planning ahead to consider what actions are then required has become increasingly important (see my previous articles for more details on this).
When thinking about training, also consider customer service, reception skills, telephone manner, financial management, marketing and social media/digital management. If you don’t have the ability to employ staff to cover all these needs, consider how you can externally source them.
Communication is key
Get your customers to know you better! Increase the communication with your customers, but only when you have something beneficial to tell them. Explain what you can provide that is of interest to them, when you have made new investments that will directly benefit them, or any appropriate offers that relate to them – in other words, make sure that when you send them a letter, email or tweet that it will be considered interesting from their perspective, so that they will want to read it and not consider it ‘junk mail’. When you invest in your business, it is often to provide a better service for your customers, so don’t be shy about telling them!
Don’t forget to ask your customers if you can contact them by email, or as an RSS link from your website. This will automatically keep them informed of any news that you upload to your web site, which you should update regularly. Make it easy for customers by doing their thinking for them. Keep a record of your customers’ details and send them timely reminders of when an MOT, service, air-con refresh, replacement tyres or a winter check is looming. However, make sure that you comply with the GDPR requirements!
Develop better ‘green credentials’ by planning how to minimise the environmental impact of your business – and again, don’t be shy about telling your customers what you are doing. Be proud of your green credentials, as this also supports the image of you being a responsible business.
Set pricing appropriately
Everyone likes a good deal, but there is an important difference between price and value. Set your prices to reflect the value of the product and service you provide and do not be scared of explaining the true value-for-money that you provide. Promote the difference between price and cost. Look to add value to your product and service offer.
No one likes paying ‘top dollar’, but if there are additional benefits at no additional cost, it is good old value for money.
Ask for feedback
It’s good to talk, so create customer feedback opportunities. Positively ask customers for their feedback and comments. It confirms that you are interested in their opinion to help understand what you are doing well, but most importantly, it should help identify potential areas of improvement. Often it is not the mistakes that we make that we are judged by, but what we do to put them right. Always follow up customer comments, both good and bad.
Build and strengthen relationships
Spend time to build, manage and maintain relationships with higher volume customers. If you have regular (especially larger business) customers, keep in regular personal contact. Discuss their specific needs and ensure you meet those needs. Equally, ensure that they value your side of the relationship – don’t be afraid to challenge them when necessary, but this must be in a structured and justified way to maintain a professional relationship. This is particularly important if they start to become a significant part of your business.
Invest in people
It has been said that a business is only as good as its employees, so employ good people in the key positions. Review your business activities and ensure that the critical functions are controlled by the best people you can employ. If a particular person is not performing, try and develop their skills. If all else fails, you must consider more drastic action. Think carefully about appointing the people who manage the key areas – simply promoting a good technician may not make them good workshop manager.
If the above ‘pointers’ have given you ‘food for thought’ then identify one thing a month to improve your business. You will be surprised how quickly small changes can make a big difference, so take time to continually review what you are doing well or doing badly. Build on the successes and resolve the weak areas.
Finally, celebrate your success! Make a splash, invite the local press, your customers and suppliers to a special event and let people know why you have been successful. Success breeds success!