It’s Your Business
- Author: Terry Greenhut, Business Editor
- Subject Matter: Shop management
- Issue: Keep in touch with customers
Customers need care at each step in the process
20th in a series
Is it enough to do an excellent job of repairing a customer’s car? Maybe it once was but not anymore. Today’s customer expects more, much more. The entire experience of doing business must be spot-on if you expect to get outstanding reviews and a lot of referrals.
The process begins with the way you get people to make the first contact with your business. Whether they see an ad in cyberspace, meet you or a representative of yours at a trade show or other local event, or contact you due to a referral, everything they see and hear has to project the idea that if they call or come to you they will be treated better than anywhere else.
Best ad themes
Always advertise quality and caring, never price. The exception might be a price on a small service designed to attract new customers to try out your shop. If you advertise a very low price for any kind of a service, legitimate customers won’t believe it, so you will lose them. The “something for nothing crowd” might take advantage of it but probably won’t buy anything else so there won’t be any money to be made from them. Whenever you put a special price on any job ask yourself, “Would a real customer, someone with whom we can have a future, believe that we can do it for this price?”
Your best bet is to advertise the types of repairs and services you offer and what you are willing to do for a customer. That, along with business hours, the warranty you offer, on what kinds of vehicles you work, whether you have towing available or a shuttle service and the types of payment you accept are all items that consumers look for when they Google their needs.
Answer to impress
Whenever your phone rings, answer it with the assumption that it’s a brand new customer on the other end that you need to impress, because you never know when it will be, but never take an old customer for granted by assuming that they are now your friend because they did business with you in the past and it went well. You have to use the same procedure for talking to a previous customer into the shop as you would a new one. If you get lazy and quote a price before checking out the problem, you can easily lose this customer.
Talking the new caller into the shop has to be done with caring and compassion for their situation. Out of whatever number of shops they call, you want to be the one who makes them feel the safest about bringing their vehicle in to be checked. Notice I didn’t say “fixed” but “checked.” If you talk about fixing anything the subject of price immediately comes up and that’s something you don’t want to deal with until after they have come to the shop and given you a chance to check everything out. Then, and only then, will you be in a position to give a sincere and accurate quote.
Control the conversation
Your telephone voice has to sound wide awake and happy to be answering a call. It has to convey trust and confidence. It is very important that you control the conversation, not the caller. You do this by asking questions. When you ask a question, it forces the other party to think about an answer even if they don’t want to give you one; thinking about an answer is an automatic response. When you make another person think, you are in control. The other person can steal control from you by asking a question, in which case you can easily get it back simply by asking another question. If, for example, a caller were to ask, “Can I get a price to repair my car?” Your answer, in the form of a question, would be, “Sure you can. What time would you like to come in and have me check it for you; would now be good or is 2:30 better? Sometimes that’s all it takes, just one simple offer of an appointment.
Callers who quickly agree to let you check out their problem are admitting that they called with the expectation that someone would take charge and lead them through the process, which is just what you do when you offer to check out their problem. That’s what they really want no matter what else they ask. Even if it’s about price, they still know that their problem has to be checked out. One of my close friends in the business always offers to check out the problem at no cost. He believes, and I agree, that customers don’t want to commit to spend any money until the vehicle is actually being fixed. He has enough confidence in his sincerity and sales techniques that he doesn’t feel he has to bait the hook with any up-front fees.
Some callers will badger you for a price. This can happen because they have some preconceived notion of what the price might be and want to see if you are in the same ballpark, if they want to see if they have enough money to proceed, or if they think they can get a better deal. It might be that they saw some generic price on the internet, or they might think they know what a friend paid for what they believe is the same job they are inquiring about. It could also be that they are just telephone shopping for the lowest price they can find. In any event, you can never break down and quote a price, as tempting as it might be, and as much as they have been wearing you down. As soon as you give in to quoting a price, they will hang up on you and all will be lost. If I was going to get hung up on, I would rather it be for not quoting a price than for trying to pull a number out of the air. At least then I stuck to my values and didn’t allow the customer who was trying to control me win.
Your facility needs to look good to your customers. It must be well maintained and free of any trash or junk that anyone can see. Junk cars need to be removed, not only for aesthetics but also to allow for more customer parking. Your signage must be adequate so drive-bys and callers who you’ve directed to the shop can find it easily because if they can’t they might just keep on going down the road and stumble into another shop.
Your office and waiting area needs to be nice but not necessarily too comfortable. You really don’t want to entice people to wait while their vehicles are being checked or repaired. Some might feel they have to, but you don’t want to make it too easy for them to hang around. Offer your customers a way to get to work or home.
Customer in the loop
Keep in touch with customers throughout the process. They are happiest when they know where things stand. Avoid the five o’clock surprise at all costs except if the surprise is that the bill is going to be less than what they authorized. If you can’t have the work done when promised notify the customer early enough for them to make other transportation arrangements or loan or rent them a car to use.
Try as hard as you can to get it right the first time. Even though you are offering a good warranty and are willing to take care of any problem promptly and courteously that isn’t enough for some customers. They applaud results, not attempts. If you have a comeback make it top priority. You already took this person’s money with the promise you would fix the car right. You owe it to this person to move him or her to the top of the list. Make sure you get it right this time. Customers might put up with having to come back once but more than that is really pushing it.
Try not to get involved with jobs that other mechanics have failed to fix. Often it’s a huge waste of your time, and if you can’t fix it, the customer forgets about all the others who have tried and makes you the bad guy because you were the last one to touch it. You really don’t need to play hero. You’re there to fix what you can and make money doing it. That is your prime directive. When you stray from it you open yourself up to all kinds of problems.
Check back, ask questions
Follow up after vehicles have been delivered to make sure customers are happy with the entire process of doing business with you. Call a few days after doing a job to make sure it came out well. Ask if there is anything at all they would change or improve about the experience. They might not be all that forthcoming with an answer. They might just say everything was okay, but that doesn’t help you zero in on any specific issues so you may have to dig a little deeper by picking the process apart yourself. You might ask how well you answered the phone. What made the customer decide on coming to you as opposed to anyone else? Were they offered a tow if the vehicle didn’t run well or if they were afraid to drive it or were they offered a ride home if they drove in? How were they treated when they arrived at the shop? Was an estimate produced in a timely manner? Did the shop stick close to the estimate? Was the job finished when promised? Were there any pleasant or unpleasant surprises? Was the vehicle returned clean and functioning properly?
If all of your questions were well answered, laying the groundwork for future business; you might then ask, “Would you be willing to recommend us to your family or closest friends and will you come see us again when you have the need?” If they don’t give you the answer you want, ask them why. You can’t learn anything from the experience if you don’t find out exactly what went wrong.
Keep the entire process as professional as possible. You don’t have to be a stuffed shirt about it but you shouldn’t get too familiar with customers either. You just don’t know how they will react to it. You never want them to feel you are putting on an act for them.
If you handle it all well you can build a strong clientele that will provide you with steady and profitable work, which is about all any of us can ask for.