Baby You Can Drive My Car

About a year ago, my wife Linda and I bought a new car; a Honda Odyssey minivan. It’s a terrific vehicle, and despite my initial fears, I have to admit that even the buying process itself was flawless; a textbook example of what good customer service ought to be.

The dealer was courteous and dependable, and in the end he even delivered the car to our house, despite the fact that we live a good 20 miles away. Not only that, but over the past 12 months, guess how many follow-up communications we’ve received regarding our vehicle.

If you guessed “zero,” you are today’s lucky winner.

Think about this. Linda and I decide to plunk down $20,000+ dollars, and not only do we get a great car, we are pleasantly surprised with a buying experience that is second to none. From a marketing perspective, the dealer’s hard work is done. We know who he is, we like the way he does business, we feel well taken care of. There’s no reason that we would ever go elsewhere.

Well OK, there is one reason. We don’t like being ignored.

Because instead of staying in touch with us periodically — sending us a thank you note; sending us a follow-up survey; sending us monthly tips on caring for our vehicle; sending us a coupon for a free oil change; sending us a window ice scraper with his name on it (readers in warm climates, try to stay with me); inviting us to an open house to view this year’s models, and on and on and on. . . he does nothing.

Instead, I watch week after week as he buys full page ads in the Sunday paper, trying to entice perfect strangers into his showroom. I don’t know, maybe he figures that out of a family of five — one of whom, I shudder to mention, is a mere 5 years away from getting his own license — none of us will ever again need to purchase a vehicle.

But hang on just a minute. Because before we spend any more time laughing at the size of his missed opportunity, let me ask you a question. . . What does your company do to systematically stay in touch with the people who have bought something from it?

I’m going to guess from the awkward silence that the answer is nothing (sorry, sending invoices doesn’t count). People hold out their money, you take it, and you deliver a great product or service. But as soon as that’s done, you’re on to the next stranger.

I have news for you; you don’t need more customers. You need more repeat business from the people who already know you. It is just so so so much much much easier to sell things to people who have already taken the hardest step of all: Giving you their money for the first time.

But they’re not going to remember you; you need to remember them. And with that in mind I offer three inexpensive, low-tech suggestions for getting you on your way:

1. Send a thank you note when somebody becomes a new customer. If your business is the low volume kind, hand write it and send it snail mail.

2. Send a follow-up letter or email 30 days later asking for their feedback on how the buying process went, and whether or not what you sold them has been helpful/useful/valuable.

3. Send a thank you note (or even better, a gift) one year after they make that first purchase.

Bottom Line: Sure, you could do a lot more than just these three things to systematically stay in touch with your customers and clients. But I guarantee you that these alone will speed you well ahead of your asleep-at-the-wheel competitors.

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