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The Keys to Eliminating Customers' Concerns

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SHOP STATS: Dave Dunn's Auto Body  Location: Galesburg, Il. (main location) Operator: Dave Dunn  Average Monthly Car Count: 200 collision repairs per month; 500 details (all locations) Staff Size: 52  Shop Size: 12,000 square feet Annual Revenue: $8 million (all locations combined)  

There are, essentially, two types of consumers in the world, and Dave Dunn feels he’s familiar with both. 

When a customer walks in to Dave Dunn’s Auto Body in Galesburg, Ill., the shop owner knows there’s a 50-50 chance that the customer will be sold on an estimate.  

How does he know this? Because, Dunn says, there are transactional buyers who spend time researching the product and are concerned about the purchase, and then there are relationship buyers, who are looking for a long-term, trusted advisor they can trust. 

It’s similar to how anyone can take the Myers-Briggs personality test, a 16-type personality quiz, and find out if they are an introvert or extrovert.

“Transactional buyers start out with a fear that they’re paying too much or are going to be taken advantage of,” Dunn explains. 

But Dunn notes that, according to research, the transactional mindset can often be converted. Often, people come in with a transactional mindset because they don’t understand all the issues associated with the transaction. 

The secret to overcoming a customer’s transactional mindset lies in the timing of performing estimates. 

 

The Backstory

Dunn’s body shop opened 43 years ago and has evolved with the times. For instance, 10 years ago, Dunn only owned and operated one location, and his facility was producing less than $8 million in annual revenue, with fewer than 50 employees.

And, 10 years ago, Dunn’s team was writing estimates before tearing down vehicles.

Fast forward to the present and Dunn now operates a pair of collision repair facilities in Galesburg, Ill., and the nearby Quad Cities area. His collision repair business produces approximately $8.5 million in annual revenue and is well-known in the industry for its customer-first operations.

 

The Problem

A decade ago, Dunn and his team approached repairs and the associated conversations customers in a flawed manner, he acknowledges. 

Dunn had begun to look at the interaction with the customer from a personality perspective, and he realized that offering free estimates was not helping the shop. In fact, it was helping the customer find the wrong answer to their problem. 

If someone were to walk into the body shop and ask, “Do I need an estimate?” most body shop teams would say, “No. You need a repair.”

But, if a shop operator were to answer yes and then immediately start writing an estimate, Dunn says the entire transaction between the customer and the body shop is built upon the wrong premise. It turns into a simple money transaction—and it certainly doesn’t build a relationship.

“You’re looking for a relationship type of customer,” he says. “You want to give them a home.”

But Dunn noticed that writing the estimate immediately, while failing to perform a complete teardown at the same time, resulted in a lot of customer-pay customers shopping around. 

 

The Solution

Nowadays, Dunn is also operating a facility that only schedules estimates by appointment and doesn’t advertise free estimates.

“We’re definitely not the cheapest choice for the customer,” he notes.

Dunn and his staff encourage customers to book estimate appointments, though the shop will still accept walk-in customers.

“We won’t turn down walk-in business, but the appointment always takes precedence,” Dunn says. “We sort of have the market trained that you need to get an appointment at any Dave Dunn’s Auto Body.”

Those appointments offer Dunn’s team the chance to sit down for 15 minutes to an hour and address a customer’s lingering concern or doubts. 

Dunn says the customer is likely to ask one of two questions:

  1. “Is my car going to be any good when it’s done?” Or … 

  2. “What’s the fight with the insurance company going to be like?”

The estimating team typically addresses those questions with answers such as the following: 

  1. “ I don’t blame you for thinking that it might not be the same. We all know and have seen that vehicles have been repaired improperly but that’s not going to happen here.”

  2. “We are here to be your advocate for the insurance company and to handle any concerns.”

Then, Dunn’s staff hits customers with a soft, but direct, sales close:

“Would you like Dave Dunn’s Autobody to handle everything for you?”

Dunn calls it the “magic close.” The team outlined the pain (the damage) for the customer and then offers to perform the miracle (the repair).

 

The Aftermath

Since switching to the aforementioned process, Dunn’s business captures 90 percent of the customers coming into the body shop for an estimate, he says. His team has also been able to save on time wasted within the repair process.

Dunn’s triage team of estimators take the vehicle and write the estimate while performing a complete teardown. This procedure eliminates time wasted in writing an estimate, finding hidden damage and writing supplements.

 

The Takeaway

Dunn has found that the best way to approach the overall estimate conversation is by acknowledging to the customer that it’s okay to be nervous, embarrassed, upset, or stressed about the process. The body shop team needs to take a step back and realize how accustomed they have gotten to performing repairs but it doesn’t mean the customer needs to be.

 After all, the customer doesn’t write hundreds of estimates every year.  A collision repair only happens every 7 years or so for most vehicle owners.

Body shop staffs need to largely divert attention from the negatives associated with repair work, and “put on a good face for the customer,” Dunn says. 

After all, he adds, “A doctor wouldn’t tell you all about the death rates associated with an illness, but (instead) focuses on the successes.”

 

Expert Advice: Evaluating an Estimate

Rianne Twining, collision production manager and estimator for Preferred Collision Center of Muskegon, Mich., has a routine for convincing customers that only one estimate is needed when they want multiple.

First, don’t brush off their request. I will write more than one estimate, if requested, but I’ll ask questions first to determine why they want more than one.

Second, show the customer how one estimate is more cost-effective. If the repair is customer-pay work, the customer might not realize we can write one estimate for multiple areas of damage.

Third, do not rush through the estimate. Ask questions about the accident, take adequate photos and verify steps. Verify parts, procedure, material usage, and options. 

Lastly, offer the most cost-effective solution to the customer. While I do provide other avenues for an estimate, the best decision is the customer’s decision.

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