11 Tips for Checking In Customers
Customer service starts the moment customers walk into your facility. That’s the most important time for excellent performance because it’s when customers develop first impressions—and decide whether they want to stay, says Peter Romero, general manager of Prestigious Auto Body & Painting in Goleta, Calif.
But that’s exactly where many shops falter, he says, whether they realize it or not. Front office personnel commonly get caught up in a robotic check-in routine and neglect to remember that collision repair is a new, stressful and uncomfortable situation for first-time customers. Immediately after walking through the door, customers are hit with loads of paperwork, repair jargon, discussions with insurance representatives, and meetings with rental car agents. The processes can be confusing and overwhelming.
Romero says shops need to learn to slow down and provide more comforting, friendly interactions up front to give customers the personal, quality attention and guidance they deserve.
“You only get one chance to make a first impression,” Romero says, adding that being organized, and providing a seamless experience from the start, is the best way to make that impression a great one.
Romero, with help from co-worker Jaime Alvarez and shop owner Bob McSherry, who also has consistently high customer service index (CSI) scores, identifies 11 steps to help your shop greet and handle customers in a way that boosts the image of your operation, quality of the repair process, and the overall experience you provide.
1. Greet the customer.
Bob McSherry, owner of North Haven Auto Body in North Haven, Conn., repositioned the front counter so it sits in front of a big water wall and faces the front door. The water wall catches customers’ attention and causes them to look straight ahead.
That focal point allows the two customer service representatives (CSRs) to make eye contact with every customer as they offer a kind and enthusiastic greeting, such as “Hi! How are you? How can we help you today?” Then the CSRs stand up, shake the customer’s hand and introduce themselves.
2. Triage the customer.
McSherry’s CSRs find out exactly what the customer is in for. They identify whether the customer has an appointment for an estimate or a meeting with an insurance appraiser so they can immediately direct the individual to the appropriate staff member.
3. Provide pleasantries.
Alvarez, a service writer at Prestigious Auto Body, immediately provides every customer with a comfortable chair and refreshment (water, coffee, or tea). He says that helps put customers in a comfortable and relaxed state of mind before launching into conversations about their repair needs.
4. Show empathy and concern for the situation.
Romero says he wants customers to know that shop personnel are more concerned about them personally than they are with the vehicle. He says the staff asks several questions to demonstrate compassion, put customers at ease, and show they understand the severity of the situation.
For example: Did anybody get hurt? Are you OK? Were there any children in the vehicle?
5. Ask about the accident.
Alvarez has the customer explain exactly what happened during the accident. He says inquiring about the details is another method of showing empathy for the situation.
In addition, the information helps Alvarez discuss possible safety issues with the customer. If he learns the car was pushed into a curb, for example, he’s able to explain other concerns pertaining to that specific situation, such as suspension, tire or front-end damage.
6. Take notes.
As the customer tells Alvarez about their accident, he writes information down on the shop’s “blue sheet,” a form used for the blueprinting process. He details all of the facts of the loss, how the accident occurred and the customer’s concerns.
“The customer sees that we’re taking notes, which gains a new level of trust,” Alvarez says. “It shows that we’re actively listening, paying attention, and absorbing the information they’re telling us.”
7. Acquire contact information.
McSherry’s staff double-checks the customer’s name, address, phone number and email address. They also ask how the customer wants to be contacted (phone, email, or text), and how often. The preferences are noted in the customer’s file.
8. Conduct a walk-around.
McSherry’s estimator walks around each vehicle with the customer present. The estimator assesses the vehicle’s options, features, warning lights, mileage, gas level, and captures digital images. The estimator marks all unrelated prior damage, and asks the customer if they want any unrelated damage estimated. The estimator also looks for other ways to help. If there is a car seat in the vehicle, for example, he provides the customer with replacement requirements following an accident.
9. Make a personal connection.
Alvarez says developing a bond and connection with customers is key to differentiate from other shops and establish repeat business.
“I’m a strong believer that customers want to do business with their friends. So we offer a friendship first,” Alvarez says. “If the customer can relate with you right away, they naturally develop more of a personal perception. It strengthens the cohesiveness while we’re talking.”
Alvarez strikes up conversations about where the customer is from, where they work, favorite restaurants, kids, extracurricular involvements, or sports.
McSherry also makes a point of interacting with customers’ kids. He says shops can develop amazing connections with parents if they’re able to relate with the kids.
“We ask things like, ‘Is Mom behaving today?’ ‘Are you keeping an eye on her?’ ‘Is she doing what you tell her?’” McSherry says. “We just joke around. If the kids buy in to you, you’ve got the parent, too.”
At the same time, McSherry likes to make jokes and poke fun at customers when appropriate, too.
“It’s truly unique when you have customers who are willing to have a good time. Having light-hearted conversations causes customers to put their guard down and lets you get to know them,” McSherry says. “That creates a level of trust almost automatically.”
10. Get the forms signed.
McSherry has customers sign several forms before his shop begins work on a vehicle, such as the repair authorization and direction of pay forms. That is completed up front to avoid bothering the customer later on.
McSherry bought two iPads for his front counter that are linked to his ProfitNet management system. He punches the repair order number into the system and all of the customer’s information and paperwork appears on the iPad screen. The customer can approve and sign all of the necessary paperwork at once using their finger on the iPad screen. The information is automatically saved in the customer’s file in the management system, and a PDF copy is automatically printed for the customer.
“People think we’re Neanderthals in this business. The iPads at the front counter have worked really well to modernize our image. People get a big kick out of that,” McSherry says. “iPads are cheap; that’s something every shop can do.”
11. Discuss the completion date.
Romero says the first thing customers usually want to know is when the car will be ready. That’s tough to answer immediately, however, before the vehicle is fully torn down.
So his staff explains how the blueprinting process works, and provides customers with a brochure that details all of the information needed from the insurance company before things can get started. They also explain the need to research OEM information and guidelines, and verify the availability of parts. The shop will not offer a completion date until everything is researched and parts needs are confirmed.
“It’s just a guess if we offer a completion date right away. And we don’t want to start the relationship on a false expectation,” Romero says.
McSherry also makes sure to explain how the repair process isn’t an exact science, and all of the variables that could impact the delivery date. He offers an expected date of completion, but does not provide a specific time of day. That gives the shop a bit of leeway to maintain that delivery promise.
The difference that these little things can make is amazing, McSherry says. Collision shops too often get caught up in a rut when things get really busy just trying to process customers in order to get to the next one. But the minute you don’t take time to spend an extra couple minutes with each customer, you go from having a fan of your business to just a happy customer at best.
“By changing our up-front processes, we’ve found that customers trust us a lot more. Our business has really improved since we started concentrating on this over the last three months,” McSherry says. “We’re asking questions that we know none of our competitors ask. That differentiates us and puts us in a better light. If you’re in a better light, you’ve got a better fight.”
And the new way of thinking is showing up in the shop’s CSI reports.
“We are seeing in the comments section, ‘a truly great experience.’ That’s the word I look for—experience. I don’t want people to say it was a good repair; I want them to say they had a good experience.
“The feedback we’ve received recently is the most positive feedback I’ve ever seen,” McSherry says. “When we accomplish all these things and we do it seamlessly, customers will never look elsewhere for repair needs the rest of their life. That, to me, is the definition of success.”