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Clearly communicating about repairs

Time spent on hold after phoning Latuff Brothers Auto Body is time well spent.

The shop’s hold message communicates to potential customers and reporters alike why Latuff Brothers is the best place to have a vehicle repaired—the shop does pre- and post-repair scans, follows OEM procedures, has advanced training to repair advanced vehicles, and more.

Will Latuff, president of the St. Paul, Minn., shop, and part of the fourth generation working in the family business alongside his brother. Robert Latuff, says that message has purpose.

“It’s about communicating what we do and what makes us better for you and the environment when we repair your vehicle,” he says. “It’s all about building trust with the customer.” 

Latuff, who’s been part of his family’s business since 2003, says his shop tries to communicate and educate customers at the outset of the repair process to get ahead of any potential issues. 

The effectiveness of the shop’s strategy is borne out by its $3.2 million revenue for 2020.

According to Dusty Dunkle, president of Customer Research Inc., which helps collision repairers and other related businesses track their customer satisfaction indexes, communication is one of the three or four areas companies always survey customers.

He says poor communication can trump an otherwise positive customer experience, even a perfect repair. Could a shop communicate too much with its clients?

“I think that’s impossible,” says Dunkle.

Communicating with and educating customers about what goes into a proper repair is a vital part of getting their business. Discussing the necessity of an insurance claim, modern vehicles’ complexity, and how the repair process plays out are all ways to build trust with customers.

Need a Claim?

One of the first questions Latuff often helps potential customers field is whether or not they need to file an insurance claim.

Customers may be unfamiliar with the claims process in general, he says, so the shop consults on what the car requires to be fully repaired and the cost to “help them make that decision and navigate.” That discussion comes down to “what the repair will actually entail and why we’re the right choice.”

Latuff says the shop doesn’t go in-depth into customers’ insurance policies—he directs them to their agent so there’s no confusion. 

However, he says, detailing at the outset what a vehicle really needs, and what’s required by its manufacturer to be properly repaired can help down the line when there are “points of friction with third-party payers.”

By outlining needed operations, including advanced driver-assistance systems calibrations and others that are similar, Latuff says, customers are more likely to help later on should his shop need it.

Most customers get ADAS.

Latuff says he also explains early on to customers calibrations and the ADAS components they put back into working order, noting their knowledge of such technology varies.

“Most of them have an idea of the bells and whistles on the car for ADAS features.” he says. “Where we come in is we inform them of what we need to do because of the accident, and because of the repair, and how to make sure [the vehicle] goes back to them in the correct state.”

And even if the intricacies of calibrations, the skill and time and everything else required to carry them out doesn’t necessarily register with all customers, if one of their vehicle’s advanced driver-assistance systems isn’t functioning following a repair, customers notice.

“Even without full understanding,” Latuff says, “they’re going to know if it’s not working properly when they get it back.”

Informing customers about ADAS and needed calibrations, he adds, does not involve much, if any of a sales pitch.

“They want to be safe in their vehicle and safety items are nothing you should ever have to negotiate your integrity on,” Latuff says. 

How to inform insurers. 

While education and communication are vital to earning customers’ business and guiding them through repairs, they aren’t the only party involved in repairs that can be helped by more information. Will Latuff, president of Latuff Brothers Auto Body, says the recent repair of a Dodge Ram pickup in need of a rocker panel replacement was delayed by a week because the customer’s insurance company didn’t have access to the OEM repair procedure. “We even provided the OEM procedures to them and they questioned the validity of them,” Latuff says, noting the insurer only had access to repair information through its estimating system. Eventually, he says, the shop went through DEG to press the issue, finally getting third party confirmation through the estimating system that the procedure was correct. “It took a lot of work, a lot of time for my employees to fix that vehicle properly,” he says.


Text, but listen. 

Asking customers for their preferred means of communication is a great way to make your body shop stand out, says Dusty Dunkle, president of Customer Research Inc., a firm that consults with automotive industry businesses to track customer satisfaction and more. While it can be a difference-maker, it doesn’t mean you can ignore how customers prefer to be contacted. Businesses aren’t required to ask customers if email is an OK form of communication, so long as customers have the ability to opt out or unsubscribe, says Dunkle, The same is not true for text messages, he says—before that first text is sent, the customer needs to give his or her expressed consent. “Give that customer that choice and then follow that rule,” says Dunkle. A web of federal and state laws, such as those pertaining to “do not call” lists, also applies to text messages, alongside telemarketing, he says. Certain states have stiff penalties on the books for violating such laws, with some fines exceeding $10,000. “There’s a whole level of legality around all of it,” says Dunkle, noting that customers annoyed by errant messages can be moved to action. “Dissatisfaction can turn to legal options.”


Keep them updated.

Latuff says his shop focuses on laying out expectations about the repair on the frontend, researching repair procedures and using the blueprint to verify needs.

After that, customers are given updates about the repair process, through their preferred means of communication, Latuff says. Some want phone calls, while others prefer texts.

“Usually it’s a quick text message,” he says, “‘Hey, we finished the damage analysis, here’s the updated repair plan.’”

Ultimately, Latuff says, the goal of all his shop’s communication throughout the repair process, from that initial phone call to delivery, is “all about building trust with the customer.”

“Yes, we’re fixing their car,” he says, “but it’s not all about their car.”


 


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