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Improve Communication for Increased Sales

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Kareem Abouzeid faced a discouraging situation. Though plenty of prospective customers were stopping in for estimates, not many decided to have their car repaired at his shop. “I was frustrated with potential customers that obviously wanted to have their car fixed but somehow ended up going somewhere else,” says the owner of Knockout Collision Repair in Chico, Calif., which does $1.1 million in annual sales. “I knew we had a great shop, but somehow the communication wasn’t clear. The customer didn’t always know we’d really take care of their car.”
 

Struggling with a low closing ratio, Abouzeid sent his estimator—who wasn’t a natural at selling—to a sales training course. The results were immediate and dramatic. After attending the course, the estimator’s closing ratio improved by 20 percent. Abouzeid realized that having better communication skills—60 percent of class time was dedicated to them—was a surefire way to boost shop sales. So he too attended the course [see sidebar for contact information], and now teaches it occasionally. “We spend a lot of money to get customers in our door and a lot of time writing estimates. If those interactions don’t turn into sales, it’s a lot of waste. Without clear communication, you really can’t have a smooth sales cycle,” says Abouzeid. And smooth it now is at Knockout Collision. The shop’s gross sales increased by 21 percent in 2007 and by 13 percent in 2008.

BETTER COMMUNICATION, BETTER SALES

"The last thing you want your customer to hear about is a problem with another car." -Kareem Abouzeid, owner, Knockout Collision Center

To improve communication in his shop, Abouzeid adopted a few important policies. Here’s what has helped increase sales:

Eliminate interruptions. Employees are not allowed to interrupt estimators when they’re having conversations with potential customers. “Interruptions are the biggest cause of mistakes,” Abouzeid says. The estimator may miss an important piece of information, thus potentially affecting the sale. Or, if a technician interrupts with a technical repair question for the estimator, the customer may become distracted by the complexity of shop jargon. “It gives them something confusing to think about,” Abouzeid says, and that takes their focus away from the good care your shop pledges to provide. Worse still, a technician might interrupt with news of a problem encountered during a repair. “The last thing you want your customer to hear about is a problem with another car.”

Avoid dazzling the customer. Clearly communicating the shop’s service and high quality repairs trumps trying to impress the customer with details about your latest and greatest equipment. “They don’t understand downdraft spray booths and the equipment we use,” Abouzeid says. Focusing on that will “just push them away and confuse the communication.” You’re an expert at repairing cars, not them. “The everyday customer [just] wants to know you’re going to fix their car properly,” Abouzeid says. If the customer is more at ease with the conversation, he or she is more likely to give you their business.

Get it in writing. Abouzeid and his team keep meticulous notes on each prospective customer. “When you find out what’s important to a customer, write it in a file.” For instance, if the customer mentions that the gas gauge hasn’t been working since the accident that has them in the shop, write that down. “These moments are tests the customer gives us to see if we’re paying attention. If it’s not in writing, it may as well have never been said.” Remembering the little things helps you gain credibility with the customer and makes the difference in whether or not you get the sale.

Don’t talk money. Naturally, customers are concerned with their deductible and the cost of the repairs, but Abouzeid recommends directing the conversation away from that topic as much as reasonably possible. If the customer is fixated on price and out-of-pocket expenses, the sale is a lot harder to get. Instead, establish how you stand apart from competitors. “We’re selling the shop and quality instead of money,” he says. “Any guy in town can knock a couple bucks off the estimate to get the job.” Be sympathetic to their financial woes, but don’t get stuck on the money issue, or the sale may go bust.

NEW APPROACH TO SHOP TALK

Beyond improving sales, good communication has bottom-line-enhancing benefits that extend to your insurance company relationships, your vendors and your employees.

Negotiating with insurers who want to keep costs low can be a hassle, but Abouzeid says clear communication can help reach a middle ground. “Insurance adjustors are more willing to pay for things we need for the repairs because we’ve explained to them why they need to be done.” With tension diffused, both parties can be satisfied. “They’re still doing their job, and we’re still doing our job in a way that is profitable,” he says.

With technicians, better communication promotes greater understanding of the sales process and of the estimators’ job. “Eighty to 90 percent of estimates change,” Abouzeid says. “Rather than having the technician feel the estimator doesn’t know what they’re doing, it’s more of a team thing.” Now, techs make a note about anything the estimator may have missed in the initial estimate. This reduces conflict between techs and estimators, encourages teamwork and helps the repair process run more smoothly.

Establishing good communication with vendors leads to a stronger financial statement. Abouzeid ensures accuracy of orders, for instance, by staying away from spoken quotes for parts. “That’s how mistakes happen,” he says. “We want to make sure the pricing is correct.” The written communication documents everything, and the result is more accurate orders. That leads to better efficiency and fewer mistakes, allowing the shop to do more work, more profitably.

Abouzeid also insists on the “in writing only” policy among employees. “They can’t work on a car without a written order. Anything they need added to the estimate, they put it in writing and then put it in the estimator’s inbox.” With communication clear on shop policies and procedures, productivity and efficiency is up.

CORE OF SUCCESS

The still-challenging economic conditions emphasize the importance of good communication skills and their ability to increase profitability: “They’re the core of our success,” Abouzeid says. “If there are fewer opportunities for jobs,” he says, “we need to get most of them to get the same amount of work.” Indeed, improving communication in all areas of his business has helped Abouzeid keep the closing ratio high at Knockout Collision. “The result is a workflow that is steady, regardless of what other businesses are experiencing around us.”

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