5 Steps for Inspiring Confidence in Your Customers
A now long-term customer for Upland Collision Craft came to be because he was unhappy with the week-and-a-half wait time he was given for his daughter’s vehicle at another collision repair shop which he went to.
At Upland, he had a very different experience. First, that customer was greeted by two Ralphs: Ralph Lugo and Ralph Perez, co-owners of the shop.
Next, one of the two Ralphs took the new-to-them customer around the shop and explained the processes it would take to repair the vehicle. The extra time spent explaining the process won the customer over as a new client.
Lugo and Perez say they pride themselves on their business’s positive, five-star Google reviews and high customer retention rates. Since 2009, the two owners have grown the business to three buildings and 13 employees.
They say the first interaction with a customer can make the difference between a long-time customer and a person who walks out the door and into another shop.
Sharon Gregory, consultant with PPG’s MVP Training program for over 20 years, says she has seen customer service representatives be too overwhelmed with other tasks to even take time to make eye contact with a potential customer. While she says the first step for owners is to hire good sales staff and people that like talking to other people, Gregory has spent her career teaching soft skills to collision employees and management.
The owners of Upland Collision Craft and Gregory share tips to engaging a customer in rapport and making an impression toward a long client relationship.
Step #1: Take Time to Acknowledge the Customer.
A huge difference can be made simply by saying "hello" and letting the customer know the staff is aware of his or her presence, Perez says. He says it is important to not let the customer stand around and wait for someone to approach and ask why he or she came into the shop.
“They might need a handshake or they might need a hug,” Perez says. “You never know if they’re having a bad day or not.”
Lugo and Perez’s turnaround for initially speaking to customers is 5–8 minutes.
Gregory says she has been in shops where, too often, the front desk staff is overtasked and stressed. They don’t have time to build those connections. So when a customer walks in, the staff might see him or her as an imposition.
“They need time to develop these conversations, build those relationships and care for the customer as if they were their grandmother,” she says.
Gregory says even if the employee is busy talking on the phone, making eye contact with the customer can work. Eye contact can be a form of a nonverbal "hello" and means the staff has seen the customer and will be with them shortly.
“Most people will be patient,” Gregory says. “What makes most people blow up is when they are standing there for a few minutes and no one even acknowledges them.”
Step #2: Listen Attentively.
Similar to maintaining a marriage, a shop’s relationship hinges on listening to the customer’s concerns, Perez says.
A customer needs the full attention of staff, Gregory says. Nonverbal communication like a head nod or an, “Uh huh, I understand” can show that you are paying attention to the customer and not the surrounding noises of a phone ringing or a technician running around.
The nonverbal communication cues only take a second out of the staff’s time but makes the customer feel validated, she says. If staff does not possess these skills right off the bat, Gregory says the owner can have them attend seminars or lectures to improve skills. But, if the employee attends training, the owner needs to be able to give him or her constructive feedback that is not condescending or negative in the aftermath.
Another good way to show you are listening is by asking questions for clarification, she says. The staff can ask to reiterate what he or she heard.
“People buy on emotion and from people they like,” Gregory says.
And, make sure the staff member is listening and not just hearing. For example, if his customer is worried about internal damage to his or her vehicle, Perez says he will go and grab the shop’s scan tool and explain how it works to the person.
He says an employee can show the customer he or she is actively listening by responding appropriately to their needs. If the customer is in a hurry, he says to respond quickly. Or simply repeating back what the customer says can show empathy.
Step #3: Be Mindful of Language.
“The problem is we’ve become so desensitized by the whole accident thing, we forget what it is like to have someone wreck their car,” Gregory says.
The most effective and two least-used words used in an interaction are, “I’m sorry,” she says. Instead of viewing those words as admitting a wrong, she says to use them to empathize with the customer.
The staff can start by saying what they observe. If they are unsure in these skills, she says a good way to practice is to start by taking notes, then begin to repeat what they see. Phrases like, “I can understand why you are angry” and, “Getting into an accident is never convenient and it is scary” can go a long way to build trust, Gregory says.
Perez says to speak to the customer in a language he or she understands. He says to stop using fancy words. Say phrases like, “We can reassure you that … ” and then fill in with a promise for a service.
Perez says the person manning the front desk should carry a tone that is soft, caring and compassionate.
Step #4: Establish a Connection.
In order to establish rapport, it is necessary to engage the customer in chit-chat regarding something you notice about them, Gregory says. Stop yourself from immediately asking how the customer will pay for the repair.
She says the connection could simply be about the fact he or she is upset or have kids in tow.
Do anything to start a conversation, even if it is just an, "I'm so sorry that happened to you! I know how scary that can be but we can help you with everything that you will need to do to fix that vehicle."
Mostly everyone in the shop has been in an accident, Perez says. The key is to make them comfortable and before approaching them about a similar experience, pay attention to their body language. He says he’s seen customers come into the shop and want to vent about the accident.
If they weren’t at fault in the accident, a staff member can try to make the customer view the repair as an opportunity, he says.
Step #5: Follow Through on the Conversation.
Once the customer leaves the shop, follow up with a text or an email updating him or her on the repair, Lugo says.
Make sure the service is executed as it was initially promised, Gregory says. Staff should follow up with the customer after he or she left the shop and the initial conversation. This can be done through a phone call, text message or even by sending a postcard.
Lugo and Perez at Upland Collision Craft use their management system, Summit, to provide proof that they will fix the customer’s vehicle properly. They provide a print-out of the results from the diagnostic snap-On tools.
“By giving them proof, it offers peace of mind,” Perez says.