Marketing to your waiting room

Shop owners spend a lot of time and money trying to figure out how to grab the attention of potential customers. Yet, they often forget about the one place where they have a captive audience on an almost daily basis - their waiting room. Marketing to your waiting room offers the opportunity to drive additional sales, build your brand and foster long-term relationships.

The truth is, your waiting room already serves as a marketing platform whether you intended it to serve that purpose or not. Customers are making judgments about your operations and quality of service based on the first impression they get when they walk in the door. A tidy, welcoming lobby area staffed by friendly employees provides customers with a sense of comfort and confidence about your service and operation.

But imagine walking into a shop where the coffee looks like it was brewed three days ago, the magazines are strewn all over the furniture (which is torn and tattered) and the employees barely acknowledge you when you approach the front desk. There’s a good chance you might walk right back out the door. If you stayed, you’d probably question whether the lack of attention in the waiting room was reflected in other parts of the operation.

Don’t be that shop. Even if you have a small waiting area or try to limit the time customers are in the waiting area because your emphasis on speed of service, make sure your waiting area is clean, well-organized and that staff greet everyone who enters the shop.

Now, let’s say you want to go a bit further in exploring your waiting room’s potential as a marketing vehicle. If you’re not ready for a full-court press, one easy first step is to use the space to educate customers about who you are and what you value. For example, you might consider posting information about your community involvement – whether in the form of a small banner listing the causes/charities you support or by posting certificates of appreciation or thank you notes you may have received for you sponsorship. It’s also nice to display photos of your team engaged in community service projects. This approach shows customers that you care about the local community and gives them the opportunity to get to know you and your team in a different light.

Along that same vein, highlighting your employees in your waiting room is another way to develop a relationship with your customers and increase loyalty. If you have an employee of the month program, I suggest featuring that employee’s photo and years of service somewhere in your waiting area. This a great way to better familiarize your customers with your staff and establish your shop as one willing to take the time to recognize and reward good work – a fact that should leave customers with the feeling that your employees have more motivation to do a good job.

Another method of creating credibility for your employees- particularly your technicians - is to display certifications or licenses that take a lot of work to achieve or hold special value in the industry. At my family’s service station, we found that seeing these difficult to obtain industry distinctions was an immediate confidence builder for our customers and elevated the trust they had in our services. On the flip side, we also found success by publicly recognizing our customers. We would have a “customer of the month” whose picture was prominently featured in a place where other customers could see it in our waiting area. The program started when I asked a high-profile, regular customer of ours if I could take her photo and display it. Initially, we offered a free oil change or some other discount if a customer “made the wall,” but after awhile, seeing their photos displayed became more important to customers than receiving a discount or perk. We had customers wanting to be a “customer of the month,” and it became a great way to garner buzz and connect our shop to the community.

So far, we’ve discussed marketing approaches for your waiting room that are subtle in nature and really focus on developing brand awareness and long-term relationships for your shop. If you decide you want to use your waiting room to also increase sales, technology can play an integral role.

If you can afford it and have the room, I highly recommend mounting a flat screen in your waiting room to display your marketing messages. Think of your flat screen as a roving billboard that you can easily customize thanks to a slew of user-friendly slide show applications. I suggest developing a 2 minute “slide show” that changes every six to eight weeks and includes a mix of offers, educational information and the occasional personal tidbit (team photos, a call-out to your employee of the month, etc.).

The educational information you feature should spur a dialog between customers and front counter staff. A list of frequently asked questions is a good place to start because it provides a way for you to address questions and include unique features about your shop. Maybe one of your defining characteristics is that you provide a warranty for all your work. That fact alone might lead a customer who delaying some major repairs to book the service with your shop because they know they’re protected if anything goes wrong.

Another option is to tie your messages to seasonal events. Reminding customers about getting an A/C check before summer road trips or winterizing their cars in the fall can serve as strong calls to action. Remember to tailor the information you incorporate into your slide show to your market or specialty. So, if you’re based in a college town your display might include safety tips and maintenance schedules – advice geared for younger, inexperienced drivers. If you’re in a tourist town, you might consider offering guidance about the terrain and tips for driving in weather conditions common to your area.

The offers you include should also be customized for your market or niche. Oil changes are something everyone needs, but if your specialty is tires, then be sure to provide a promotion geared towards that product.

Lastly, don’t forget to inject your presentation with items that help reinforce your brand identity. Posting testimonials from current customers or news about important employee milestones (weddings, significant work anniversaries) or local community events you sponsored helps build allegiance and trust among you and your customers.

Remember that marketing to your waiting room is a relatively inexpensive proposition and if you capture additional sales from one out of every five customers that visit your lobby, that’s a meaningful return for a minimal investment.

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