In college, I was an intern in the after-sales department of a god-forsaken specialty car dealer and repair shop. The very core of that business was the auto dealership. The owner decided to include a fairly generous repair and maintenance policy as a sales incentive and the repairs and maintenance operation was expanded to take in anyone who needed repairs.
It was a fairly big operation- a warehouse with 25 fully equipped repair bays, and about 200 employees, working two shifts. What we did was take care of regular customers who bought fleets, and make sure they had their cars repaired there instead of some other specialty auto-shop- most of which were probably better at actually fixing things than we were. Funny thing is, customers actually referred us to other people, despite the fact everyone there knew almost any other place would be better. Even the ones who actually got cars there would spread the word about our warranty despite never having used it themselves.
If anything, what that experience taught me was that work does not end after the first sale. The fact that we weren’t the best around was irrelevant. Why? Unlike our competition we made an active effort to reach out and take care of our customers.
Think Beyond The First Sale!
In the US, the term “After-sales service” is not nearly as commonly used as “Customer service”. The distinction often made is that “After-sales service” is a more specific area under customer service, dealing with warranties and repairs. Fair enough. But with many concluding that customer service in general has deteriorated compared to past generations, perhaps it’s time to look at what these ideas really mean from a small business perspective.
The customer service often extends to people who haven’t even bought into your product yet. While attracting and educating potential customers is absolutely essential, time and again it has been proven repeat business is essential for sustainable growth. You can attract a lot of new customers, but if you can’t hang onto them, your business is not going to last very long.
If you have a unique product or service that happens to address an important need, this is a bit less of an issue. But say you run a dental practice, a laundry shop, an auto-repair shop, or do freelance graphic design, or are otherwise in a business that usually gets at least some competition. As much as you’d like to point out what makes your core offer so different from everyone else, it’s unlikely anyone else would care as much until they actually see your work.
And suppose your customers are satisfied, but not particularly awed- what then? Do you hope they don’t care enough to look for anyone else the next time they need it? Of course not.
Give Your Customers a Reason To Come Back- Or At Least Something Good To Remember You By
Developing an after-sales strategy can’t be ignored because this is how your brand develops a following, and hopefully, repeat business. It helps to have a good product of course. You might have a good product- but it’s possible your customers wouldn’t know how good it actually is compared to competing offers- making it extremely important to give them something else to remember you by. Why? Because I would rather have 10 regular customers that keep coming back over the course of a lifetime, than 100 new customers who’ll never do business with me again.
Your after-sales strategy should depend on the context of your business- these can be as varied as the types of business. Technical support and warranties as well as replacement policies are all standard tactics, which newbie business owners might overlook. You can also print up gift cards, or do something as simple as sending a heartfelt thank-you note for customer referrals. One strategy many small businesses use is asking customers to fill out a survey in exchange for redeemable coupons. These little things can make a huge difference.
I once found myself less than impressed with the food at a local Italian restaurant. It was fine, but I didn’t think it was really worth it. But we were won over by a glass of after-dinner sherry the owner himself made. We’d already asked for the bill and were preparing to leave then, and he didn’t need to give us anything else. The cost of the sherry was probably already included in the meal, but it was unexpected. Now whenever I pass by that restaurant, I can’t shut up about it.
Without a plan that goes beyond the first sale, you’re like a hot date who’s got nothing else going for them. Almost anyone can attract someone’s attention- winning them over on the other hand, is a totally different thing altogether.
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