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Are Customers Any Tougher Now than They Once Were?

I received an email recently from one of my readers who seemed to feel that I’m teaching the industry to be too nice to customers in an effort to get their business. Is there such a thing as being too nice? Maybe if you spend so much on a customer that you could never have a chance of making it back, but other than that I can’t see how you can be too nice. The gentleman also seemed to feel that customers are more demanding, harder to sell, and possibly nastier than they used to be. I think they just have a lot more information available to them than ever before and it’s making them feel like they are in control.

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Are Customers Any Tougher Now than They Once Were?

It's Your Business

Author: Terry Greenhut
Subject Matter: Shop management
Issue: Customers, then and now

It’s Your Business

  • Author: Terry Greenhut
  • Subject Matter: Shop management
  • Issue: Customers, then and now

Don’t let know-it-alls trick you out of using your sales tools

21st in a series

I received an email recently from one of my readers who seemed to feel that I’m teaching the industry to be too nice to customers in an effort to get their business. Is there such a thing as being too nice? Maybe if you spend so much on a customer that you could never have a chance of making it back, but other than that I can’t see how you can be too nice. The gentleman also seemed to feel that customers are more demanding, harder to sell, and possibly nastier than they used to be. I think they just have a lot more information available to them than ever before and it’s making them feel like they are in control.

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YouTube, Google

There seem to be a lot more people these days who profess to know everything about anything. They generally believe whatever they see on the internet and once they do, they adopt it as if it were their own. They will push their opinions on anyone who is willing to accept them. Yes, these are the know-it-alls, that class of people we all hate but with whom we have to do business. Since they aren’t going away any time soon, and there’s more and more of them, it’s up to us to learn how to deal with them effectively. One of the keys for us is to remember our ultimate goal – and it isn’t to win an argument. It is to make a profit on every sale and keep our customers. Contrary to what we have been taught all our lives, the customer is not always right but always is the customer. For that reason alone he or she deserves our respect. That isn’t to say we roll over and play dead for them. We become the ultimate diplomats and still get what we want by giving them what they really need. One of my favorite responses when someone says something completely off the wall is to agree and follow it up with a question that takes them is a totally different direction. For example, if a customer says, “I know I can get that done cheaper at another shop.” My response might be, “I’m sure you can, but can I ask you this? Do you ever want to go through this repair again?” There are many other questions you can ask as well, but the point is that when you agree with someone there is no argument. Having done that you can get you point across by asking the right questions.

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That black box under the car that hardly anyone understood, even many general mechanics, can now be learned about by watching videos on YouTube where everything is made to look easy until people try to do it themselves. Often it gives “would be” car-owner-transmission-mechanics a false sense of security or bravado in dealing with us.

Search engines have been a big help and at the same time a great hindrance to us doing business the way we did it for so many decades. Now you can Google just about anything and get pretty darn good answers, which makes users feel they don’t really need to see or talk to live people anymore to get the information they need. In many cases that’s true, but not so much when it comes to diagnosing and repairing something as complicated as a transmission. Heck, even we experts at times had trouble in the old days figuring out why a two- or three-speed transmission with no electronics wouldn’t work right. Today they can have three or four times as many gears and an array of gizmos to make them work that would keep the engineers at NASA busy trying to figure them out; so can our customers really get accurate information on how transmissions need to be fixed and what they will cost from the internet? Sometimes they can, but not often. However, they do believe they can because anything they see on the internet must be true. If you want to believe that I still have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

Degree of difficulty

I’ve always felt that dealing with customers in our business is very personal because we don’t sell an off-the-shelf product. It’s not like a name-brand commodity like a bottle of aspirins that are exactly the same no matter where you buy them, so if Walmart has them cheaper than CVS you go there because there’s no difference to be noticed other than price. We, on the other hand, repair a complex piece of equipment based on what’s wrong with it, what parts we will need to put into it and how long that process will take. We have to factor in the degree of difficulty it takes on each one and our exposure to warranty issues based on our previous experience with that type of transmission.

To do our job properly and be fair to our customers and ourselves, I believe that we must have the opportunity to diagnose the problem and price the job properly before presenting our findings to the customer. Owing to all of that, we can’t blurt out a price over the phone on the customer’s initial call, even if he or she has done research and thinks they know what’s really happening with their vehicle.

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If being too nice to customers means doing or investing more to get their vehicles into the shop where we have a chance to follow our procedure (one that we all know works well) then I’m all for it. Any money I spend on towing or shuttling customers home or to work and back to the shop when the work is done I will get back many times over in repeat business and referrals if I can make them feel safe, secure, and wanted.

Are customers taking advantage of us by using the tools they now have at their disposal? They would be foolish not to try, but let’s face it; they’ve always tried every trick they could think of to get us to quote a price when we weren’t ready to or to lower a price once we had given it to them. So what’s changed? Nothing in that regard. They’re still trying to do the same thing. They just have a few more tools now. They used to put us up against another shop they had called or information a friend or relative had given them. Now it’s the internet, just another source of information.

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All that any of it means is that we have to be sharper than ever and even more willing to go the extra mile to bring customers in than we ever had to before, but the one thing we can’t do is let customers scare us or trick us out of using our sales tools, the ones we know work with people and have for a long, long time. Although their tools and information sources have changed, people haven’t. They still respond to our sales techniques the way they always have, so not only do we need to keep using them but we need to get better at them, more polished and quicker at formulating responses.

Happy customers

Keeping customers and getting referrals is a whole other matter. For that, not only do we have to treat them well by keeping our promises and providing them with less stressful ways of paying for their repairs and picking up their vehicles, but we have to make sure we don’t waste their time by not having the job done when promised or by not thoroughly testing to make sure our work is perfect before trying to return the car to the customer.

Will we always get it right the first time? We know we won’t, but we can’t let a vehicle out of the shop that doesn’t feel 100% right. The car that came in with a 1-2 slip and has a soft 1-2 shift after you finish rebuilding the transmission will be back to haunt you shortly, and when it comes back it can be a far worse situation than if you never allowed it to leave in the first place. The customer is put out for having to go through the whole routine of bringing the car in again and leaving it, the fact that the car has been driven may have caused additional transmission damage and your techs, even if they are getting paid to fix it, hate working on the same car with the same problem again.

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We need to lose the phrase “It’s good enough” from our vocabulary. It’s only good enough when it’s perfect and even then it can turn around and bite us somewhere down the road. While we can’t completely guard against that, we can cut down on the possibility of it if we make certain it’s right when it leaves the shop.

Whenever you get a comeback or a never leave it would behoove you to go into “survival mode.” We know that either one of those scenarios will eat up most, if not all, of the profit you would have made from the job, so at that point you have to switch from money-making mode to survival mode, meaning that you need to salvage what’s left after there’s no money to be made by treating the customer even better than when you were selling the job and making very certain that it goes out right this time. Picking up and delivering the car to the customer to help make up for the inconvenience and giving out a loaner or rental car that you pay for will help a lot.

Make sure the car is spotless when you return it to the customer after a comeback has been handled. We all seem to be good at doing that on a fresh job, but after a CB, in our haste to get the car out the door, we sometimes don’t do the greatest cleaning job on it.

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When a car is dropped off at your shop always ask customers if they have taken everything they need out of it. Make a point of asking if they took their cell phone, wallet, and any keys they might need.

Make it very clear to your employees that they cannot disturb anything inside a customer’s car, even trash. Leave the radio alone, don’t open the sunroof and try to return the seat to its original position.

Another way to keep customers happy after a repair is to take the time to explain what you did for their money, what they should expect the vehicle to feel and sound like, and if there is anything they might experience that can cause them concern but is normal to the operation of the vehicle. That tends to make them feel better and it cuts down on fake comebacks.

The last thing you do with the customer is the one they are likely to remember most. It is to thank them sincerely for their business and ask if there is anything else you can do for them. Who knows what good things that question might lead to?

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