Quickly Build Rapport with Customers

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Dec 2017 Serve

The way Greg Luther sees it, establishing lasting relationships with customers at his body shop is fairly easy; mainly, you just need to listen and be empathetic. He knows building good customer rapport is key, too—because, whether you operate a body shop, a service department or a parts counter, you aren’t likely to last very long without repeat customers.  

“The most important thing is to know who your customer is,” says Luther, the collision center director at Helfman Collision Center in Houston.

Ross Harms, general manager of Lewis Automotive Group in Hays, Kan., concurs.

“I think sometimes businesses, as a whole, will fail because they start treating the customer as just a person that they’re going to herd through their business. … The biggest thing you can do is learn about their interests. Get to know their name well, their family members, and recognize them by face.”

Treating customers with compassion has served Luther and Harms well during their lengthy careers, as both oversee facilities with CSI scores well above 90 percent. And there are some subtle, occasionally overlooked, keys to building rapport with customers, which they outline below.

Connect Quickly. 

Luther, who has had various managerial roles in his 25-year career, aims to build personal relationships with customers the second they walk through the door in Houston. He wants to make sure that customers don’t just feel like a number at his facility.

“You need to address them by their name,” Luther says. “Look them in the eye and greet them, and go out to the car and go over things with them. Treat them like a friend, not somebody you just met.”

Be Forthcoming.

In Harms’ opinion, honesty is the best way to earn lifelong customers. He makes sure his employees explain pricing clearly, as well as clarify all concerns a customer might have with their vehicle. He aims to have service department staff thoroughly explain work that has eventually been completed on a vehicle, and then suggest what issues may need to be addressed during the customer’s next visit to the dealership.

The overall goal is to keep customers comfortable, and free from potential irritants like pressurized sales pitches.

“A lot of that helps, I think, build rapport with customers,” Harms says.


Maintain Proper Perspective.

Luther has seen this scenario play out with multiple young employees in the past: A customer walks into his body shop, and the first thing the employee asks is who will pay for their vehicle’s damage. Luther would prefer to see his employees focus more on satisfying a customer’s needs and showing empathy.

“They should focus on the work that needs to be done and what the customer needs, what the customer’s expectations are,” he says. “Who’s paying for it can come later.”


Don’t Shove Them Out the Door.

Eventually, time needs to be set aside to educate customers. That’s why Luther emphasizes scheduling a time for customers to pick up their vehicle, so that an employee can explain all work that has been performed.

Similarly, Harms likes to have an employee walk customers to their vehicles following repairs and thank them for their business. But the relationship building certainly doesn’t stop there; both Harms and Luther maintain contact with clients long after they stop by Lewis Automotive Group’s facility.

Using information collected and stored in CRM software, customers are sent follow-up emails. Mailers are eventually sent out, perhaps offering free air conditioning checks as summer approaches.

It’s important, Harms says, “that you’re reaching out to them and keeping in front of them. … And doing it in ways where it isn’t just trying to sell them stuff all the time.

“I think doing that over time builds a lot of trust, and the customer treats you like they do their dentist and their doctor—they come back to you each time.”

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