Getting off to a good start

This article was first published in the weekly CPD on January 19th 2013 - updated for 2019.

The Gold Area has an audio recorded version for listening between lessons.

In the Gold Members area I discuss the importance of your telephone auto-respond message.

You might think that something as simple as a telephone message is common-sense, but as with all things common-sense, they only appear that way when you know them.

Taking the telephone answering message as an example I estimate that as many as 90% of instructors, including many who have been in our business for many years, get it wrong. So the 'basics' aren't just for beginners!

In the last few years I've highlighted some basic marketing strategies that all driving instructors should be following, but again my (educated) guess is that fewer than 5% (and that might be a generous estimate!) have used more that two or perhaps three methods in the last 12 months.

Today I'm going to consider just one of the things from my 'marketing list' – the 'pre-start pack'.

"But before I go any further, here's a quote from 'Money Week' magazine November (2012):

“It's not pretty out there.

The UK is falling deeper and deeper into a double-dip recession.

Europe is teetering on the verge of break-up – no one knows what will happen next and that's keeping markets very jittery. For three years now, the markets have been fearful.

The banks are still bust, most of the high street names having lost serious value in the last 18 months.”

Already this year we have seen some High Street Names go into administration…"

I wrote the info and quote above in 2012 and although things have improved since then, at the time of writing this (Jan 2019) Brexit is still an unknown quantity and it's looking more and more likely that whatever the outcome it's likely to lead to slow growth and limit people's ability to spend.

Added to this the long period of recession from 2007 to 2015 has changed people's buying habits - they are a lot more price conscious. Add to this that some instructors seem to be willing to work for next to nothing (less than the minimum wage) it's perhaps more important than ever to get your sales and marketing right.

Business has been easy to come by over the last few of years (2014 - 2019) but some instructors will remember post 2007, and how 5000 instructors disappeared between 2010 and 2014...

Why am I talking of 'doom and gloom'?

Well I can assure you that my thoughts above are not meant to upset or depress you – but the businesses that will survive and prosper going forwards after Brexit will be those who understand that the world is not about to return to the way it used to be... The survivors will be those who lead the field in service and value – and remember, value is not the same as 'low price'.

Many instructors have only one method of competing – they slash their prices, but as I keep reminding people, there are others who are increasing prices (often in the same areas). Sometimes, low price offers can be really useful in your marketing – but as a business strategy based on one-to-one training, they are the slippery slope to business failure.

Burying your head in the sand and hoping that things will be better 'by next summer' is not an option for success – however, things can get better for you right now if you make a determined plan to 'raise your game' above that of your local competition.

Making sure that you are getting the 'basics' right is a massive part of the battle – and the good news is (at least for you) that most of your local competitors will fail to offer some basic customer service essentials (let alone go the extra mile!).

First Impression

First impressions

The average new driver will be worth between £800 and £1200 to you, depending on your lesson pricing. If they introduce their friends they will be worth considerably more. This means that it's worth investing a little time and money at the 'front end' to secure the sale and create a good first impression.

The pre-start pack

I use the term 'Pre-Start Pack' to describe the information that you send out to new customers before they start their lessons with you (note before, not on the first lesson). My guess is that the majority of instructors in the UK still send nothing at all.

Consider for a moment, that you arrange for a service that will be delivered in your home, this might be a tradesman fitting something, some private tuition (music lesson) or something else that requires someone to visit in person. You make a phone call and arrange for the person to call sometime next week or the week after… After the call you hear nothing, you get no further information or confirmation of the visit.

How do you feel? Do you feel like you are dealing with a professional? Do you feel that your custom is valued? Do you end up calling the service provider the day before the visit to check that everything is still OK?

Compare your feelings in the situation above to the way you would feel if you received a confirmation e-mail or text soon after the initial call, followed by a letter, brochure or other follow up info ahead of the call. Good customer service makes your customers feel good - and always remember this... It's not what we can afford that determines what we are happy to spend, but the way we feel about what we are buying (that's why credit cards were invented!).

The pack

There are a couple of things to think about with your pre-start info.

  1. The content.
  2. The delivery.

At its most basic, pre-start info would be a welcome e-mail or text – ideally directing the new customer to a page on your web site that gives them some info to think about before they get started. After a few hours setup this would only take a few minutes for each new customer. However, is a customer who might be spending up to £1200 with you worth more than just a few minutes of your time?

If you want to be seen to be different from your local competition (you do!) it's worth doing a little bit more than the 'absolute minimum' (and remember – many of your competitors will not even be doing the minimum).

Even in this age of electronic communication, people still like to receive something tangible, something physical, something they can touch and feel.

The most basic physical pre-start pack would be a letter, delivered by the postman (people like getting things through the post). The letters that I used to send out had a welcome message, basic info about my training and guarantees, info about the first lesson (suitable clothing, pick-up time, how it would be approached), terms of service and any road safety leaflets I could blag from the local police or RSO (to add a splash of colour).These days I would also include a DriverActive* Voucher with a log in code. (*DriverActive is being replaced in 2013 with a totally new system)


But now?

But if I was working full-time with learners now, I would be going further… here are some thoughts about the process:

  1. The customer books on the phone

  2. Send a confirmation e-mail or text outlining the next step (possibly directing them to a web page).

  3. Physical pack: This might offer a choice of either a book or DVD which would be packaged with a welcome letter, written terms of business and my leaflet or brochure.

  4. Delivery of the physical pack in person – call to introduce yourself. While you are there offer 5 or 10 minutes for the customer to sit in the driving seat while you explain what will happen on the first lesson and find out a little more about them.

    And of course, this visit gives you an opportunity to take the first lesson or course payment if you haven't done it already via phone or internet. I would also take this opportunity to explain my current recommendation offers and competitions.

  5. Pre-lesson phone call to check that everything is OK. The best time for this is probably the evening before, however, the same day might be OK for late afternoon or evening lessons.

Over the years I have heard several instructors complain that first lesson customers have failed to show up; what are the chances of someone who has been through a process similar to the one outlined above not showing? And in the case of seventeen/eighteen year olds this will also provide a lot or reassurance to parents (and they might well be the ones who are paying).

Building a successful, premium price business is not rocket science, but it does require you to go the extra mile with your service in terms of both business and training. The pre-start ideas discussed today will cost perhaps £5/£6 in cash and 20/40 minutes of your time… But they will go a long way to establishing strong customer trust and loyalty – the foundations of all successful businesses.

Action Point

ActionSome things to think about...

What are you doing to create a great first impression?

Think about your pre-start info... What can you do to improve it?

What are the benefits of visiting someone as opposed to just e-mailing or sending a pack in the post?

What is your current 'cost of sale' (the cost of getting a customer) and how much extra would a good pre-start process add?

What are the potential benefits of improving your pre-start process?

How will this measure help to set you apart from local competition?