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As a business, it’s important to maximize both your client base and your per-transaction dollar amount. In the auto service industry, it’s also your job to keep your customers’ cars in the best condition by pointing out when they need various types of service. In short, when a client comes in for an oil change, but their car could use a brake job, too, trying to sell them the extra service just makes sense. But what do you do when that customer’s car really does just need an oil change? It may be a rare occurrence when there is genuinely no work a car could benefit from, but it happens. What you do when it does can have a profound impact on your bottom line.

Having recently purchased a used car, I took it in to my local shop for an oil change. However, since I couldn’t find service records that indicated whether or not the car had its timing belt and water pump replaced at the proper time, I asked the mechanic to see if he could determine whether or not it had been done. I told him if he couldn’t definitively tell me the parts had been changed, to go ahead and perform the service. Several hours later, he called to tell me he found the chalk marks on the belt indicating it had been changed. Not only did this news save me an unnecessary expense, but it also proved to me my local shop could be trusted. They had every opportunity to sell me a service I didn’t need, and they chose to forgo the extra money in favor of doing the right thing.

However, this wasn’t just a selfless act of honesty. Call it karma, say what goes around comes around or just chalk it up to good business practices, but the shop gained a loyal customer that day. And the next time I take my car in for an oil change, I’ll be more likely to have any recommended services performed. Because I know this shop values my continued patronage enough not to make a quick (and dishonest) buck off of me, I feel confident in their expert advice. I’ve since recommended them to several friends and associates.

In the oil and lube business, much is made of car counts and ticket averages when discussing profit. And, while it’s hard to argue not selling extra services improves the ticket average, it is clear that faithful, returning customers will keep your car count where it needs to be.

However, just because a particular client’s car doesn’t need anything but an oil change today doesn’t mean you can’t make them aware of future services. If you notice the brake pads are getting a little thin or the tires don’t have many miles left, it’s always a good idea to say something like, “You’ll want to think about having your brakes serviced in a few months” or, “Those tires will probably need to be replaced before your next inspection.” Letting clients know what work their vehicle will need and when prepares them to come back to you when the time comes. And when they do, they’ll tell you what they want done; no need for you to sell anything!

This practice is important not just to those in the oil and lube world, but in virtually every other service industry. Earning trust is one of the key components to building a strong and loyal customer base.

A while back when I purchased a home, I needed some plumbing work done. Though my plumbing experience is limited, I had a basic knowledge of what needed to be done. Being new to the area I found a plumbing company via the Yellow Pages and asked for an estimate. They told me I was going to need my whole house re-plumbed for the pricey sum of $5,000! Naturally, I wanted a second opinion, so I called another plumber. This guy told me in detail what I actually needed (far less than a full re-pipe) and quoted me $800. Which one do you think I chose? Since then, I’ve needed one or two more minor plumbing jobs done, and which plumber do you think got my business? Since having a good experience with the second plumber, I haven’t felt the need to shop around further. We’ve built a relationship, and when I hire him, I’m confident I’m getting a fair deal. The same goes for auto service and repair. Once you’ve gained a person’s trust, they’ll keep coming back. When they recommend you to their family and friends, you’ll likely gain new customers, too.

One way of improving your car count and new customer retention rate involves how you handle first-time clients. The first time someone comes to your shop for an oil change, you may tell your employees not to try to sell them any extra services, even if their car may need it. (Of course, if it’s a safety issue, this does not apply.) Instead, just give them an oil change and send them on their way. While this in no way guarantees they’ll be back, having a good experience with no unforeseen expenses the first time around is more likely to leave a good taste in that customer’s mouth. As you build a trust-based relationship with the individual, they’ll be much more inclined to heed your future advice when it comes to taking care of their vehicles.

These days, car owners have a wide range of options when it comes to having their oil changed, state inspections and other general maintenance performed. Getting customers in the door and cars in the bay is half the battle. Once they’ve come to you, it’s imperative they have a good experience. If they have a bad, or even less than good, visit to your shop, you’ll likely never see that customer again. The most successful shops and business owners plan for the long haul. Build a relationship with each customer, and look for every opportunity to build trust and grow your good reputation. Knowing when not to try to sell extra services can be just as important to your bottom line as selling those line items when the timing is right. The more loyal customers you gain, the more big-ticket fixes you’ll pick up over the life of their vehicles. So, on those occasions when the only thing a customer’s car needs is an oil change, be sure to seize the opportunity to prove your honesty. The next time you see the customer, you’ll be glad you did.

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