The Art of a Great Phone Greeting
Three seconds. That’s all it takes.
Angela Chmura is reminded of that fact every time she looks over the progress reports for Goff’s Collision Repair Centers, the four-location business her father started in eastern Wisconsin nearly 50 years ago.
Having grown up in the company—and being a co-owner and main operator since 1996—Chmura has seen just how much the collision industry has changed. Financial figures and key performance indicators dominate the minds of many owners and their insurance partners. Those metrics are the difference between success and failure, she says.
Now back to that first measurement: three seconds.
“There are so many points in the claims process that were being measured, but everything starts with getting the customer to come to your shop—and it starts with that first phone call,” Chmura says. “It’s your shop’s moment of truth. If you can make the person feel comfortable in the first three seconds of being on the phone with them, there’s more of a chance that they’ll be showing up at your shop with a damaged car that needs to be fixed.”
Answering a phone correctly should be the simplest way shops land customers, says Steve Trapp, collision services development manager at Axalta Coating Systems. Add extra emphasis on should be.
“Every shop owner you talk to is going to tell you they have this down,” he says, “and, you know, depending on who’s working [their front counter] that day, maybe it’s true. Often, it’s not.”
Shops are too reliant on the talent, skills or personality of the person handling the phones—not to mention the type of mood or situation the customer on the end of the line may have caught them in that day. The key, Trapp says, is to make sure you have a simple, yet thorough standard operating procedure (SOP) to eliminate the variables that can lead to a shop’s ineffective phone use.
And Trapp points to Chmura and Goff’s Collision Centers as one of the best he’s seen in the industry at dealing with this topic.
Chmura outlined the policy she teaches to her staff, and how using a similar procedure in your shop can lead to more business and better customer service index (CSI) scores.
Goff’s Collision Centers sees roughly 500 customers per month between its four locations, and is very much a customer-service-focused company—always has been, Chmura says. Goff’s uses a third-party CSI company to generate its ratings, and Chmura says she and her team focus heavily on obtaining scores at 98 percent and above.
“That’s our baseline goal,” she says. “Anything below, we consider to be a failure.”
Achieving those numbers starts before the phone rings, she says.
The first—and most obvious—step is having people in place who fit those customer service positions in both skillset and personality. Beyond that, though, are two very important factors.
Knowledge Training. Each employee that answers the phones in a Goff’s facility must have full knowledge of the requirements and expectations of all the shop’s DRP agreements. They need to know how quickly a particular insurer wants the car taken into the shop, how soon it wants estimates, whether it supplies rental cars, etc.
“We need to be able to foresee the customer’s needs before they call,” Chmura says. “There are so many different things insurance companies require or expect, and that’s what the customer is going to need from us. You have to have a well-trained person who can have all the information they need to handle that first call.”
Phone Set-Up. Trapp says to make sure the phones are set up at the counter in a way that’s conducive to achieving the goals of the call. The phone should be easily accessible, as should the shop’s computers and scheduling systems. Service advisors should not be searching for anything while on the phone. It should all be within reach.
Trapp also suggests placing a small mirror near the phones and having the employee smile into the mirror before answering the phone. It’s kind of goofy, Trapp admits, but it can change a mood pretty quickly.
Chmura’s father, Bob Goff, instituted the mirror concept decades ago, she says.
“It’s a little gimmicky,” Chmura says, “but it proves a point: If you’re happy, a smile comes through.”
The overall goal each and every time a customer calls your shop should be setting up an estimate appointment for their vehicle. Appointments are key, Chmura says, because it allows your team to be fully prepared when the car is dropped off—as long as this five-step process is followed:
Step 1: A Simple, Consistent Greeting. Remember that three-second rule? The first words said when picking up the phone are crucial, Chmura says. Cut out any adlib by employees. Stick to a standard, cordial greeting. This is the one used at Goff’s: “Good morning (or afternoon), Goff’s Repair Center. This is [name] speaking. How may I help you?”
Step 2: Dig. Most often, Chmura says, the customer will simply say they need an estimate or that they need work done on their vehicle.
There are exceptions, though. Occasionally the caller will ask for store hours or for directions to the shop.
“We used to just give the answer, and that’d be it,” Chmura says. “But we realized we were missing out on a huge opportunity to book an appointment. Those types of questions should be trigger points for you.”
Now, when given those questions, Chmura’s staff replies something along the lines of: “We’re open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Are you looking for an estimate? We take appointments.”
If the customer says yes, Chmura says to ask them what day/time best fits their needs.
Step 3: Get the Right Information. Once you’ve established a proposed appointment time, Chmura says to start compiling as much information as you can. She says her list mirrors that of the forms she has walk-in customers fill out prior to an estimate. The two most crucial, she says, are vehicle make and model and insurance provider.
“You need to start with that,” she says. “You tell them, ‘We need a little more information to confirm the appointment. What kind of car do you have?’ After they give it: ‘Is this going to go through your insurance provider?’”
Step 4: Give the Right Information. This is where your staff’s knowledge training comes into play. Depending on the vehicle and the insurance provider, Chmura says your employee should be able to identify exactly what that customer’s needs are going to be for that repair.
And you need to bring those up.
“So, say the person is insured with Liberty Mutual,” she says, “Then the person on our end can fill in the blanks, knows they need to come in right away and will need a rental car, because everyone with those policies needs the rental. Then you can say, ‘We have an Enterprise Rent-A-Car onsite, and let me see when they can have a rental car here for you, and we’ll schedule your estimate appointment.’”
Step 5: Finalize the Appointment. Don’t be pushy, but make sure to confirm an appointment before hanging up the phone.
“People are calling you for a reason,” Chmura says. “They aren’t just bored and wanted to call a body shop. They need an estimate.”
And always make sure to check if the customer has any questions or concerns prior to ending the call.
Enhancing the Overall Repair Experience
That initial phone call sets up the entire repair experience for the customer, Chmura says. Not only is it likely to be your shop’s first impression on that customer, but it also needs to provide your staff with the information it needs to meet and exceed the customer’s expectations through the rest of the repair experience.
“The small information you gained is so important,” Chmura says, “and because you’ve set up an appointment, it allows you to then know who the customer is and what their needs are when they do come into the shop.”