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Real, practical social networking where you’d least expect to find it

Rodin's The ThinkerI’m a lifelong learner. If I had to describe myself in one word, it would be curious. And once again, I’ve found that learning something in one discipline can be important in another. In this case, implementing DemandForce at the auto shop I ran for a while has turned out to be important knowledge for a new project I’m starting on. One company was in auto maintenance, and the other is in people maintenance. Except for the second word, I don’t think you could think of two more distinct business lines.

I wrote briefly about DemandForce here. We used it in an auto shop I was helping to run. The owners wanted to adopt social media technology, and they desperately needed somebody to establish good systems for their company (everything from safety to accounting).

The essential elements of DemandForce are simple:

  • Keep track of all customers – when they were in, what they had done, their vehicles, and the vehicle mileage (as of the last service).
  • Send reminder notes to customers about scheduled maintenance – based on a calculation of the mileage they drive per year. (For example, if the customer has a 5-year-old car with 60,000 miles, the software assumes 12,000 per year, or 1,000 per month. So when it’s approaching three months since the customer has been in, they get a reminder about changing their oil.)
  • Provide a thank you email to customers after each service.
  • Provide a simple way for customers to rate the service.
  • Certify those reviews – because DemandForce could access our shop software database – as coming from real customers

Let’s look at the benefits, first to the customer (how many marketeers start there, rather than concentrating on the benefits to the company??):

  1. Customers don’t want to keep track of their automobiles – they just want them to work reliably. Keeping track of their repair history, and matching that with the car’s expected mileage means the software can send reminders for major services. For example, “It’s time for your 100,000 mile checkup. This service includes the following things…”
  2. Customers don’t know that certain maintenance functions should be done, say in the spring or fall. So most are happy to get a reminder to change their windshield wipers before the rainy season. And very few have any concept that some of these reminders can save them a lot of money. For example, most cars with timing belts need to have them changed at regular intervals (commonly 60-100,000 miles). If you don’t change the timing belt and it breaks, some engines can be damaged beyond repair.
  3. Wow, you sent me a thank you note? That’s incredible! I thought you were just grease monkeys. You made me feel like you appreciate my business!
  4. Sure, you gave me great service – delivered more than you promised and returned my car earlier than I expected. And I’ve got my wheels back! I’m going to give you a great review because I want all my friends to know how smart I am to use your services.
  5. When I go looking for reviews on service providers, I always wonder if they are real. You guarantee that these are real reviews from real customers. That means that I can trust them when I’m looking for a provider. Thanks for making my job easier!

OK, the customer is happy because we provided real value, and all they had to do was bring their car in and give us their email address (DemandForce can also do postcards, but that’s much more expensive).

Now, what does it do for me, the business owner?

  1. Increases business – a lot. People forget to service their cars. They don’t know what services they need. But a car is a big investment, and most people want to take care of this costly friend. And this marketing technique is seen as friendly, rather than invasive.
  2. It helps ensure that customers are driving safe vehicles. We want them to live to come in again…
  3. It makes for happy customers. They feel valued. They appreciate that you care about their opinions. Happy customers refer your business to friends. Isn’t this what viral marketing is all about? It’s a one-to-many relationship. One customer tells five friends. Each of them tells five friends, and so forth. In a way, it’s almost like multi-level marketing, but we don’t have to pay anybody.
  4. My business gets more reviews, and I’m asking people to review my service at the peak of their emotional high. “Ol Daisy is purring like she used to. I’m happy! Life is good!” At the auto shop, we averaged almost 1 review per day. So in five months, we generated 72 reviews. If you look at Yelp ratings for a typical businesses, you’ll see that this is a really large number of reviews.
  5. More good reviews means more new customers. Since these are certified reviews, Google likes them. People looking for auto repair in Walnut Creek can immediately see that I run the best shop in town. The more computer literate people are, the more likely they are to find me this way. Reviews beat advertising every time.

Now let me tie this all together.

I’m now working with a company that provides home health care, mainly for seniors. There’s no equivalent of DemandForce for this industry. DemandForce only covers a few disciplines: auto repair, chiropractic, dental, optometry, and spas. I wish they covered home health care – our population is aging rapidly, and it’s really hard to find unbiased reviews of suppliers. And the stakes are high – it’s one thing to kill Ol’ Daisy, and quite another to kill Grandma.

I can’t duplicate certifications for reviews – and it’s important, wish I could – but I can build many of the other features and functions of DemandForce, and tailor them for a home healthcare business. Most companies that have implemented CRMs (customer relationship management systems) use them for sales and sales prospecting. Not many businesses use CRM systems to inform and remind their clients. And the review process for most companies has been left to Yelp. Yelp has many problems, and is not well liked by most businesses. Many people question the validity of their reviews. And what’s more important is that a large percentage of people who leave reviews on Yelp do it when they’re upset. Remember, our DemandForce reviews were done when people were on an emotional high.

Once again, I’ve learned that learning is good. It’s good just for the sake of learning. If you’re smart, everything you learn can be used somewhere else, at some time. I’ve found this to be true all through my career. So if you’re a learner, take heart. Often dreams can be justified.

Posted in Management thoughts, Marketing, Startups.