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Three Tips to Deal with Declined Service

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A potential customer arrives at your shop with a damaged vehicle. After getting an estimate and not liking the price, the vehicle owner promptly departs. But, that driver is now operating a car that has structural damage that’s compromising the safety of the vehicle.

What are you, as a shop operator, to do in this situation? Try to stop the customer from leaving? Or, let the customer go, knowing they’re driving in an unsafe car?

It’s a scenario all body shop operators want to avoid. No one wants the customer to walk out the door without getting his or her vehicle repaired. Not only is it unsafe for the customer, but the body shop loses a client. 

So, how can a body shop operator present their case to the customer?

“Sometimes I’ve declined repairs, but usually if a customer doesn’t want to do the repair, they don’t come back,” says Cam Mashburn, one of three owners of Mashburn’s Collision Center, a shop that has served customers through generations of family since 1981. The almost $2 million shop tells every customer that it stands behind a lifetime warranty and customer satisfaction guarantee.

Joshua Martin, owner of Martin Auto Body in south Texas, has also turned away a potential client in the past when he or she refused to see eye-to-eye with the shop regarding what’s deemed a safe repair. While it’s a rare occurrence over the 25 years the Martin family has been in business, Martin says the shop’s approach to dealing with the customer in those situations is important.

His approach pays off. About 90 percent of customers coming into the shop are from positive referrals.

“At a certain point, you’re taking the customer’s lives into your own hands,” Martin says. 

Below, Mashburn and Martin share their tips for handling customers who are hesitant to pay for a collision repair.


Tip No. 1: Take time to explain the repair process to the customer.

No matter what, the operator should ask the customer if he or she wants to schedule the car for repairs, Mashburn says. 

“Always, always, always ask them if they want to schedule it for repair,” Mashburn says.

Mashburn says you need to learn exactly why the customer is rejecting the job. Mashburn will also lay out why the shop chose to do the repair in each case (See sidebar “How to Handle Different Customer Requests”). 

Martin says that an operator needs to be personable with the customer and never treat the customer like a number. He recommends emphasizing not only the customer’s safety, but also the safety of the passengers in the vehicle, especially if children could be impacted.


Sidebar: How to Handle Different Customer Requests

Cam Mashburn, owner of Mashburn’s Collision Center, shares his approach to four typical customer objections to repairs. 

If the customer does not want to pay the deductible, Mashburn says a shop owner should say, “If you want us to take that deductible out, we’d either have to cheat the insurance company or pay it out of the shop’s back pocket.” Mashburn says his shop does not cover deductibles in any fashion. When the shop operator is straightforward as to why he or she can’t accommodate a price cut, Mashburn says the customer usually realizes why and backs down.

If the customer and the shop operators are struggling to agree on a supplement price, Mashburn says he explains why the shop needs to do the supplement and lays out what the shop’s price is versus the insurance company’s price.

 If the customer prefers an aftermarket part in his or her vehicle, Mashburn says he handles that unique situation delicately. He feels that, when it comes to the type of parts going into the vehicle, he is against using aftermarket parts for the sake of the customer’s safety. 

If the customer simply wants the vehicle repaired a different way, Mashburn recommends a shop operator sympathize with the customer. But, the shop should never let a customer dictate the repair. Phrases to use during this situation include, “This is the way we fix the car and why.”


Tip No. 2: Make the conversation memorable for the customer. 

Mashburn says that, often, the shop operator must go to extra lengths to show how a repair could impact the safety of the vehicle.

For instance, customers often ask him if they can see the car being repaired. When that occurs, Mashburn takes the customer through the shop floor, explaining what each department does in the repair process.

“A lot of people want to see the mixing room, how the paint is mixed and how the car is sprayed with paint,” Mashburn says.

He also sends the customer short videos of his or her car being repaired. Often, the customer feels more at ease with the repair by seeing how the car is progressing each day. Through his shop’s CCC ONE management system, he’s able to easily text videos to clients.

Martin recommends saying that, if it were his car and his family, he wouldn’t feel safe putting them back in an unsafe vehicle. When the customer wants to put in an aftermarket part, Martin often shows them the OEM repair procedures and how it states that, to return the vehicle to factory standards, OE parts need to be used.

Overall, when a customer wants their car repaired a certain way, it’s best for the owner or manager to visually show them in person how the shop’s repair can benefit them.


Tip No. 3: Use carefully worded phrases with clients. 

Mashburn feels shop operators need to focus on letting customers know their vehicle is in the hands of a family body shop. Mashburn typically takes care to carefully write customers’ estimates and asking them questions to make them feel comfortable. He’ll ask about clients’ jobs, family members, or what brings them to town, for example. 

Ultimately, asking questions provides an opening for Mashburn to connect with customers. 

Martin suggests explaining to customers why the estimate or repair plan is written the way it is. He says to take an extra five to ten minutes and make sure the customer knows that there are items written on it for safety reasons, even if they cost the customer more. 

If necessary, he’ll be fairly blunt and tell the customer, “Your vehicle is not safe at all to drive.” In those cases, Martin has had a wrecker come tow the vehicle away and total it.

And, if the customer is still trying to push the issue of a repair being too much money or a part costing too much, Martin will tell them, “My liability and the shop’s liability are involved here. It’s not good business for me to fix the car this way.”


SHOP STATS: Mashburn's Collision Center   Location: Lawrenceburg, Tenn.  Operator: Cam Mashburn, one of three owners Average Monthly Car Count: 65  Staff Size: 10 (3 body techs, 1 painter, 1 painter's helper, 1 body helper, 1 parts guy, 3 owners)  Shop Size: 12,000 sq ft; Annual Revenue;$1.7 million


SHOP STATS: Martin Auto Body   Location: Victoria, Texas.  Operator: Joshua Martin Average Monthly Car Count: 25-30  Staff Size: 3 (1 owner, 1 body tech, 1 estimator)  Shop Size: 8,000 sq ft; Annual Revenue;$600,000


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