Customer Service and Retention – by Greg Marchand
For the past year I’ve been publishing articles related to the more technical aspect of servicing automobiles. However, this time I’d like to draw attention to an aspect of auto repair that gets far less attention, yet truly sets repair facilities apart from one another. That aspect is customer service.
It sometimes goes without saying, but excellent customer service generates higher customer satisfaction, which in turn leads to customer retention. Customer retention means you spend less money on advertising, have higher gross profits, and can enjoy your work day more! Working in an industry that has a very poor reputation for customer satisfaction can lead to some rather miserable days! There are many simple, easy things you can do to improve customer satisfaction at your repair shop.
I recently published a book titled Service Management Made Simple in an attempt to share some industry best practices with those who got into the auto repair business because they were good at fixing cars but not necessarily because they’d always wanted to be in business. In the automotive repair industry we consistently have to fight the reputation of being crooks, rip off artists, or overpriced scoundrels. We all know how customers feel about us, and it often annoys us, but why do they feel that way?
In the customer retention classes I conduct, I encourage participants to put things in a different perspective. Have you ever walked into a convenience store to buy your favorite beverage, walked up to the counter expecting to pay $5.99 and been told “I’m sorry but you’ll have to buy 5lbs of hamburger, 24 hamburger buns, and a bag of chips or I can’t sell you that.”? You’d probably walk out of the store if you had been told that, wouldn’t you?! Yet isn’t this exactly what we do to our customers each and every day?
A customer comes in for a $75 alignment and is the told they need a ball joint, tie rod end, and a new tire or there’s no sense on performing the alignment. Not to mention they may receive a phone call a few hours later raising the repair estimate because something broke or something else was found to need attention. This, in part, is where the industry reputation comes from.
Every customer has to have their vehicle worked on, and very few customers understand anything at all about their vehicle. This leaves them feeling very vulnerable even before they walk into your repair shop. When we as humans feel vulnerable we each react in very different ways. Sometimes we clam up and don’t speak, sometimes we act with aggression, and sometimes we just plain get upset and point fingers. The combination of feeling vulnerable and being sold something they didn’t “go to the store” for has given our industry the reputation it has.
As a small (or large) repair shop, how do you overcome the industry reputation that you may, or may not, have helped create? I would suggest that creating an exceptional customer experience, increasing your fixed-right-first-time record, and continuously building trust with your customers will get you past the industry reputation. Doing so consistently will not only result in more customers, but will make your operation more profitable and work more enjoyable.
Creating an exceptional customer experience for each customer doesn’t have to involve a ton of work. There are often very simple, inexpensive, and easy to implement ideas that you can use to create these experiences for your customers. Sometimes just getting out of your own repair shop once a month and having your oil changed, tires rotated, or a minor service performed at another area shop can provide you with these ideas. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel!
When travelling, or shopping around town, notice how other businesses accommodate customers. What conveniences do they provide? How do they handle long lines? If a customer is disgruntled, how was the situation handled or how could it have been handled better? Most importantly, how do businesses similar to yours educate their customers as to what is wrong and how it must be remedied?
Overcoming a customer’s anxiety and avoiding the appearance of “selling” something to the customer is a matter of education. Selling is, in the end, nothing more than educating a customer on the benefit(s) they will receive from spending their hard earned money. With customers knowing little about how their vehicle operates, let alone what it takes to diagnose and repair a modern automobile, this education process becomes extremely important. Tools that can be used to help a customer understand what is wrong and what the fix is include keeping old and new parts around (either on a clean cart or wire tied to peg board in the waiting room), utilizing educational displays that show vehicle systems, and walking the customer to their vehicle to show them in person. There are even animated, electronic products available that can help educate customers at the service desk.
Even if you are happy with your current customer base, there are still reasons to increase your customer satisfaction. Creating an exceptional customer experience, increasing your fixed-right-first-time record, and building trust enables you to increase gross profit, reduce the stress of dealing with customers, and keep the same customer base. In short, you can work on fewer vehicles in a day and make more money!
Greg Marchand, owner of AAT, Inc., has over 25 years of unique and extensive experience in the automotive industry. Throughout Greg’s career he has focused on bringing higher levels of customer satisfaction and improved customer management processes to the automotive industry. He currently designs and delivers curriculum for the Service Sales Academy in an effort to help automotive repair shops increase customer retention. Greg holds an MBA in Environmental and Organizational Sustainability. You can connect with Greg at his website, LinkedIn, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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