Setting Clear Expectations
For Will Latuff, president of Latuff Brothers Auto Body in St. Paul, Minnesota, setting clear expectations with customers begins and ends with honest and transparent communication—and lots of it.
Since the shop’s founding in 1933, the guiding principle hasn’t changed: “Better for you, your vehicle, and the environment.” It’s this foundation that motivates every decision they make in the shop, and every interaction they have with customers. For Latuff and company, that means acting with integrity in all situations, even when no one is watching—and especially when communicating with customers. Everyone in the shop aims to be clear, open and truthful at all times, proactively updating customers, setting realistic expectations, communicating changes or mistakes when they happen and readily apologizing whenever necessary.
As communications and psychology expert Brené Brown likes to say, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”
Here’s how they put that mantra into practice.
As told to Lindsey Gainer
Be Honest & Empathetic, Even When It Isn’t Easy
Sometimes, the hardest thing for people to admit is that we’re human. You have to deliver the good news and the difficult news, no matter what. We make mistakes, we misunderstand, it happens to all of us … acknowledge it immediately and deliver solutions to correct and meet the customer’s needs. If you don’t proactively communicate with the customer, they will ask anyway and that is not a positive position to be in!
Timelines can be a source of misunderstanding at the beginning of the repair cycle. Customers may hear how long their repair should take from various sources external to the shop. Insurance photo estimates can be another source of misinformation if they severely understate the magnitude of the repairs—it creates a disconnect for customers when the estimate jumps from six lines and $1,200 to 250 lines and $12,000 plus. It can also be challenging when customers inform you of plans unexpectedly … that they need the car by a specific date for a vacation, wedding, or something important that was not shared during previous dialogues.
Regardless of the specific circumstance, the best way to navigate any difficult situation is by acknowledging the customer’s feelings. Empathy is the most effective tool to transform misunderstandings into effective communication and solutions.
Be Proactive, And Keep Communication Streamlined
We have multiple positions that communicate with the customer throughout the repair lifespan. Our CSR communicates pre-delivery, our blueprinters communicate status and updates during production phases, and our front-end estimators monitor incoming communications and assist in times of heavy workloads. It is a team effort to serve the customer and remain proactive in communications.
Text messaging is effective and a time saver. Most communication is done via texting from the same phone number because it’s important that customer communications remain in as few channels as possible. Customers may be getting updates from the shop, the rental company and insurance all via text messages, so if your shop is sending from separate text streams this could be confusing for the consumer and difficult for the shop to monitor.
Communicate Often And Be Specific…Don’t Guess!
Before and at drop-off, customers will often ask how long their repair will take. We inform them when we will be able to give them that information, not how long we think it will be.
We send out appointment reminder texts one week and one day before drop-off. We also notify the customer once disassembly is complete and set the expectation that we will be in touch again when the repair plan is updated. Once the vehicle begins the repair planning phase and until it is ready to go home, our standard operating procedure is to update every customer every Tuesday and Thursday. We also communicate any changes or delays in repair timelines right away along with the reasoning.
The second to last text goes out when their vehicle is ready for pick-up, and we include our payment policy information as well as the balance due and our hours of operation. After delivery, we follow up with a final text to verify customer satisfaction and address any questions or concerns.
Bring The Customer into Decisions
When things come up during a repair, you not only need to inform the customer so they can plan their life but also think ahead to how you can address a hurdle and communicate those options at the same time you are delivering the update. This conveys that you are committed to the customer and thinking of all the possible ways to serve them.
One of the best ways to communicate with your customers is to ask them questions. When you provide options or direction, ask things like, “How does that sound?” Or, “Which option would you prefer?” After all, it is their car, their claim, and their money … why not find out what serves them best?
The bottom line is this: communicate, communicate, communicate. Listen to what your customer is saying—really saying. Sometimes what they are saying isn’t what they are needing from you. Think with your heart and share that empathy with your customers. It’s not about the car, it’s always about what’s best for the customer.