Auto Shop Coaching Blog

The Key to Attracting Your Ideal Customer

Look at everything as if you were seeing it either for the first or last time.Betty Smith

Several weeks ago I took my car to a local tire retailer to resolve a slow leak. As soon as I arrived at the service counter, it became obvious that “Jeff,” the service writer, didn’t want my business.

He didn’t smile, didn’t greet me, but he did say the following: “Sir, I need you to step to the other side of the counter because I’m with a customer.” After several minutes it was my turn and I made him aware of my tire situation.

“Sir, I won’t be able to get to it today. We’re backed up with other work.” To which I replied: “But it’s 5:55 pm and your sign says you close at 7:00!” He became more insistent: “I can’t get to it. My guys are loaded up, so there’s nothing I can do.”

Jeff was clear on what he couldn’t do. What he didn’t know, was that “Glen,” the District Manager for the location, and I were friends. I decided this would be a great time to give him a call to catch up on old times.

I told Glen that I was at his shop and Jeff couldn’t look at my tire. He advised me to go back to the counter and give Jeff my phone. The look on Jeff’s face was priceless as I handed him my cell and said: “Glen Franklin would like to speak with you!”  I don’t know what Glen said, but Jeff suddenly became a different person. “Mr. Twiggs my apologies, I’ll have my guys stay late and we’ll get you taken care of!”

His team worked on my car with the speed of a NASCAR pit crew! He treated me like a VIP.  As I left the shop, I wrestled with the following question: What if Jeff treated every customer like they were close friends with his boss?

Here’s the big takeaway: You never know who will walk through your doors. The lady with the old car may have new money. That irate fellow you just spoke with may have an Instagram following. The key to attracting your ideal customer is to assume that everyone is a VIP. 

This is important because VIP’s associate with others who are like them, and studies show that the customer who’s” wowed” is three times more likely to refer you than one who’s merely satisfied.    

Stay with to learn two specific strategies to help attract your ideal customer.

Tailored Recognition

Discretionary effort is that extra level of effort that’s not required but can be given by employees if they really wanted to. Helping a customer with a flat tire after closing hours would be an example of discretionary effort. In his book Bringing Out The Best In People, Aubrey Daniels reports on an employee engagement survey conducted on a sampling of employees working in small businesses.

Only 23% of the participants said they were working to their fullest potential. 44% of the respondents admitted to only doing what was required and nothing more. Jeff from my previously mentioned story would fall into the 44% group. So what can be done to get your people to go the extra mile?

A tailored recognition program is a great place to start because you will get more of whatever behavior you reward. If you want to create a culture where everyone goes the extra mile, then implement a recognition program that rewards those who do. The key is to tailor the recognition you provide to the interests of your employee.

Is your writer a football fan? Then recognize her raving customer testimonial by giving her tickets to the Ravens game.  Is your technician motivated by time off? Surprise him with a day off with pay for staying after hours to help a stranded customer. When discretionary effort is consistently rewarded, your customer will feel like a VIP.

Formal CSI Program

In a previous blog, I wrote about the importance of being self-aware, as it relates to keeping good employees. When it comes to providing VIP level service, the shop owner who is self-aware has the ability to look at his shop through the lens of his customer. Having a system in place to get feedback on their experience is critical.

Do you have a formal CSI (Customer Satisfaction Index) program in place? Many of the shops I work with pay an outside company to randomly contact their customers and ask specific questions related to their experience.

The customer is asked to rate their experience in several areas based on either a five or ten-point scale.  The total number of respondents are averaged to come up with an overall score. This number is a key indicator of whether or not your customers are being treated like VIP’s.

If you prefer to do it yourself, you can make random CSI calls asking specific questions. I recommend having someone who didn’t wait on the person to make this call. People are more likely to open up to someone they perceive to be neutral to the situation.

You can also use Survey Monkey to create questions that you email out to your patrons. Generally, those who respond to survey’s without any prompting are either in the extremely happy or extremely dissatisfied group, so offering an incentive for responding will help you to get feedback from those who aren’t in one of the extreme groups.


As I was leaving the shop, Jeff said: “You should have told me you knew Glen.” To which I replied: “I shouldn’t have to!” If you commit to a tailored recognition and formal CSI program, your people will be motivated to treat your customers as if they were the boss.

P.S. Interested in a CSI program but don’t know where to start?  Email and I will send you a list of questions to ask along with a listing of companies that can survey your customers.

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Eric, the Accountability Coach, is an Executive Coach at ATI and has coached since 2009. Eric came to ATI having managed over 60 different automotive repair facilities and having supervised over 500 employees at a given time. He loves seeing members progress beyond what they thought was possible and improve their shop to the point where they can leave for weeks at a time and come back to a business that's better than when they left.