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Sealing the Deal

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Dean Fisher knows the hardest customers to win over are the ones that don’t want to be in your shop in the first place. Maybe they had a bad experience at another shop. Or maybe they loved their old body shop but they were directed to come to yours after switching insurance companies. Fisher, the co-owner of CARSTAR Fisher’s Collision Center in Yorkville, Ill., has experienced customers like these many times during his past 33 years in the industry—but he’d rather make friends than enemies.

“Instead of just letting them be an adverse customer, we work to overcome that opinion of us by sheer friendship—we talk with them and help them to become comfortable,” Fisher says. And he seems to be doing something right. This year Fisher’s shop has an impressive sales closing ratio of 90 percent.

With over three decades of experience, Fisher shares his tips for achieving similar success at your shop:

RECIPE FOR SUCCESS

· Greet each customer. Fisher says it’s important to delegate who’s going to greet potential customers first. “It’s easy for a receptionist to keep her head down and not look up when someone comes in,” Fisher notes. “We work really hard to make the customer feel like they’re not an interruption. We stress how it’s important for a customer to feel comfortable as soon as they walk in the door.” Something else that makes a customer feel special? Make a point to know their name. Fisher says this is a really easy customer service approach that can make the difference between making a sale and not making one—because, for a potential customer, the little things do matter.

· Create an inviting space. To help turn visitors into customers, Fisher emphasizes the importance of making your shop a comfortable place to be. He says his waiting room, for example, is inviting with its blue countertops and splashes of mauve. He chose the colors for their calming effects. He says the room also has several glass windows to keep it bright and sunny. If you don’t have the cash to do a total overhaul of your waiting room, however, no worries. Simply including warm decorations or inviting couches and chairs will go a long way to ensuring your prospective customers feel more at ease—and will therefore be more likely to choose to do business with you.

Learn their hot spots. Do they want a car fixed fast, or do they not care? What's most important to them?

· Let ’em see you how you work. Another customer-focused feature of Fisher’s shop is a drive-in estimating area. With glass doors on both the inside and outside, customers can see right into the shop and watch the activity. “We feel that this helps us close a sale, because they can see into the shop and how we work,” Fisher says. “It gets them comfortable and allows the estimator to interact with the potential customer.” The estimator’s relaxed manner assures the customer that he or she is not in a hurry to rush through the estimating process.

· Keep the potential customer engaged. Fisher says staying by a prospective customer’s side throughout the entire estimating process makes all the difference. “A huge mistake that many people make is that they estimate the vehicle and leave the customer in the waiting area,” he says. “We always invite the customer out with us. As we’re estimating the car, we’re touching the car, we’re discussing the car, we’re discussing what parts we’ll need, what will need to be replaced and why.” This inviting communication will go a long way in gaining trust and respect. “We do not separate ourselves from the customer from the time the estimating process begins,” Fisher says. “We try to become their ally in getting their car fixed.” Establishing a good rapport with someone checking out your business allows him or her to feel more comfortable with you and confident you’ll take the time to repair the car well.

· Pre-qualify and keep track. Pre-qualifying and tracking potential customers is a great way to ramp up your closing ratio. Fisher says much of the estimating at his shop is done by appointment, so the customer’s needs and the condition of the vehicle are established up-front on the phone, or in person for walk-ins. “I think that is one reason our closing ratio is so good—because we’re pre-qualifying the customer,” Fisher notes. Knowing some background history on your customer’s situation beforehand can help you establish a stronger rapport with them once they bring their vehicle in.
It’s also important to track each person who walks through your door—a tedious task but hugely beneficial. Fisher keeps meticulous track of walk-ins. Of those walk-ins, he notes who makes an appointment to come back and who walks out if an estimator is not available right away. Fisher says he’s able to encourage most folks to schedule an appointment—he only has four to six walkouts a month. Fastidious pre-qualifying and tracking allows Fisher to keep close watch on prospective customers and gain a better chance of ensuring the sale when the customer returns for his or her estimate.

· Know how to read people. This ability is critical, but the good news is that it’s not hard to master. Fisher says it’s as simple as listening—really listening—to your potential customer and not leaving them hanging in the waiting room. “Learn their hot spots,” Fisher advises. “Do they want the car fixed fast or do they not care? What’s most important to them?” He says discovering the answers to these questions is as easy as making casual conversation and taking a genuine interest in the customer’s situation. “It’s really important to show empathy for your customer and be their friend,” he says. “If it takes me an extra ten minutes, then I’m willing to do that.” Those ten minutes have gone a long way for Fisher—over the past five years the shop has been running, on average, an 80 percent closing ratio.

PUTTING THE CUSTOMER FIRST

For Fisher, his success has always been about putting the customer first. “Regardless of what is happening in your life—you just found out you got the wrong part for the second time, you had an adverse situation with an insurance company, your kid just called—when you walk into the front of the shop, that customer is the most important person to you,” Fisher says. “That makes the difference.”
 

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