5 Keys to Generating Service Referrals

April 18, 2018
If you want to consistently earn customer referrals, you need to focus on building relationships.

In Ray Eichenlaub’s experience, treating each customer like a VIP tends to add up.

“We all know that if someone’s happy they’ll tell two people … and if someone’s not happy, they tell 10 people,” says Eichenlaub, the service director at Evanston (lll.) Subaru. “You always need the positive word-of-mouth.”

Evanston Subaru’s service department enjoys a 54 percent customer retention rate, and regularly generates referrals from longtime service customers. Eichenlaub knows those service referrals are invaluable, and help ensure that his department receives consistent business year after year.

“It’s not uncommon for folks to be on their fifth or sixth Subaru from us,” he says. “That happens all the time—treat people right and they’ll treat you right.

“We pride ourselves on doing what’s right. And it works; we watch our business grow, year after year.”

Eichenlaub, whose department has boasted an average growth of 5–10 percent annually for two decades running, explains the keys to generating service referrals.

1. State Your Expectations.

While there are numerous actions that can be taken in an effort to garner service referrals—such as having an experienced staff, transparent pricing, and a habit of sending out thank-you notes—you would be well advised to start by clarifying how you expect your staff to treat each client. After all, your facility isn’t likely to receive many referrals until you consistently provide customer service that’s above reproach.

“Make sure your employees understand what you expect,” says Eichenlaub, whose facility does roughly 100 repair orders per day and approximately $5 million in annual revenue. “You know, that you expect them to walk up to the car, you expect them to shake customers’ hands and take  their time and not rush.”

2. Adapt with the Times.

In Eichenlaub’s experience, it’s of vital importance to listen to the demands of your valued clients, and address their needs as they evolve. Evanston Subaru, for example, recently addressed clients’ requests by adding express lane service, a move that has earned rave reviews. Eichenlaub says changing customer demographics also helped inspire the decision.

“You have to listen,” says Eichenlaub, whose facility has a 906 customer service rating on Subaru’s 1,000-point scale. “The express lane is something that’s probably going to become 70 percent of our business within a year or two. People are receptive to it, and you have to listen, [or else] they’ll just go elsewhere.”

3. Develop a Relationship with Customers.

While Evanston Subaru uses texting and emailing to gain feedback from customers, Eichenlaub also remains a big believer in taking a personal interest in clients, rather than letting them simply bury their faces in their smartphones while in his employer’s waiting room.

“I’ve known customers here for 20 years, and they’re like family to me,” he says. “They come in, and they know my kids, and I know their kids, and so on.”

4. Get Out in Your Community.

Eichenlaub pridefully notes that his employer participates in several charitable endeavors and events that benefit organizations like Wounded Warrior Project, and the United Service Organizations (USO). And, he feels strongly that Evanston Subaru’s business benefits at the same time, due to a trickle-down effect.

“You need to put your face in front of the folks, and let them know you’re here—and not just for sales,” Eichenlaub says. “You know, you’re here for service, and you’re here to help them out if they need it.”

5. Work the Drive.

If, as a service department leader, you hope to receive customer referrals, it helps to occasionally work in close proximity to your advisors and technicians. That can help you take inventory with regard to how your department’s customer service can improve.

“You need to be out there,” Eichenlaub says. “You need to make sure your folks are doing what they need to do.

“You just get out there, shake their hand, you smile, and you give them a fair deal. You do it consistently, and then they’ll keep coming back, and they’ll tell their friends and their kids, and their brothers and sisters.”