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How to Upsell to Customers

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It’s the kind of reaction that everyone in the collision repair industry dreads.

After bringing a customer out to pick up his freshly repaired vehicle—a vehicle the shop’s staff had worked hard to repair—Jay Bornhorst was only met with disappointment in the customer’s voice: “I don’t remember that door ding being there.”

“It’s always uncomfortable when you’re walking out to a shiny, clean car that we thought we did a really nice job on, and they find a scratch that was most likely already existing,” says Bornhorst, manager of ABRA Auto Body and Glass’s Plymouth, Minn., location.

Bornhorst realized that he needed to find a way for the customer and the shop to agree on the preexisting damage before the repairs were completed. What he didn’t realize, though, was how this would also provide a solution to another problem: upselling additional work.

With ABRA’s help, Bornhorst created a standard operating procedure to help document opportunities for additional services, or customer-pay jobs. While the procedure helped protect the shop against complaints, it also forced it to become more effective at upselling, a tricky process that can often be difficult for shops to complete successfully.

Since implementing the procedure, Bornhorst has watched his closing rate on additional services increase from 5–7 percent to nearly 30 percent of repair orders. And it’s also contributed to an increase in customer satisfaction.

“You would think it would be the opposite,” he says. “But when they pick their car up, it looks so much nicer. The pride in their vehicle goes up, our CSI scores go up, and our revenue goes up.”

It’s not a difficult or complicated process, and it’s one that can be adopted in any repair facility. In fact, Bornhorst says there are just seven key tips to creating an effective upselling procedure.

STEP 1: Be Consistent

Consistency is key to capturing additional service opportunities, Bornhorst says. In fact, Bornhorst advises against trying to qualify the customer or make assumptions based on their vehicle.

“You don’t know what’s important to that customer,” he says. “Somebody might have a 2008 BMW and a couple door dings don’t bother them. ... But then you get somebody who has a 2005 Ford Focus and that was the nicest car they’ve ever bought brand new, so that same door ding really bothers them.”

Without that consistency, other distractions throughout the day can also pull estimators away from having a conversation with the customer.

STEP 2: Prepare the Customer

Rather than surprising the customer with a lengthy check-in procedure, let them know during the initial phone call to allow 15–20 minutes to go through the check-in process.

“If we don’t set that expectation, they think they’re just walking in, handing us a set of keys, signing a piece of paper and they’re out of there,” Bornhorst says. “If you tell them, ‘Wait you need to walk around the car with me,’ and they’re not prepared for that, they’re already annoyed.”

STEP 3: Have a Drop-off Conversation

Make sure the walk-through of the vehicle is done at drop-off. Do not wait for the estimate, or for the repair process to start.

“The critical component is that this has to be done at drop-off,” says Scott Krohn, executive vice president of operations at ABRA.

During the walk-around, the estimator uses a check-in sheet, which outlines the inspection procedure and provides space for the estimator to document the preexisting damage and the additional services that were offered to the customer.

“The drop-off is when you have to have that conversation with the customer about what’s related and how we can give them a significant discount if we do the work in conjunction with all the other work we’re doing,” says Krohn.

When making recommendations for additional services, Bornhorst says it’s important to present it as an opportunity to take advantage of overlaps in service.

“If a customer comes in and they have minor impact on the front bumper but the bumper’s full of rock chips, we definitely wouldn’t want to paint over a bunch of rock chips and make the bumper look worse than when it came in,” he says. “We’re already taking the bumper off, mixing the paint and prepping the panel; all those things are already being taken care of with the main repair. So, if they’re willing to throw in another couple hours of labor, we could repair that entire bumper cover so it looks new. For us, it’s very little extra effort at the time of the repair.”

STEP 4: Create an Additional Services Menu

ABRA created a laminated additional services menu, which is available at the front counter and the estimators’ desks. The menu lists common types of additional services, such as paintless dent repair, headlight reconditioning, paint protection film, vehicle detail, bumper scrapes and chips, windshield rock chip repair, windshield replacement, alloy wheel repair, and clear film adhesive, along with standard prices.

Bornhorst says that the menu provides visibility for the customer.

“People are very busy today and the more of a one-stop shop for a customer you can be, the more convenient it is for the customer,” he says. “It also makes it more comfortable for them to think it looks like other people probably do the same thing, otherwise they wouldn’t have this menu.”

Krohn points out that it’s a sales tool for the estimator, as well. In addition, listing standard prices takes away the need for writing an estimate.

“If you tell the customer, ‘I’ll write up an estimate and call you later today and let you know what it’s going to cost,’ there’s a pretty good chance you’re not going to capture it,” Bornhorst says. “But if the person who’s doing that sale says, for $75 we can take care of it for you, more often than not, the customer is going to say, let’s get it done.”

STEP 5: Provide a Discount

Bornhorst says that by emphasizing the discount that’s available to them now, rather than waiting to do the repair later, customers are more likely to take advantage of the service at the time of repair.

“To fix those rock chips without a claim may be $400, but since it’s tied to a claim, it’s only $100,” says Krohn. “They’re taking advantage of the fact that they’re here for another claim already. We get additional business, the car looks right when it’s done and they get a discount.”

While the prices are standard on the additional services menu, other discounts are applied on a case-by-case basis. For paintless dent repair, for example, Bornhorst says he looks at the margin he’s working to identify a discount that’s enough to get the customer’s attention, but also capture revenue for the shop. At times, he says the discount can be as much as 25–30 percent on certain repairs.

STEP 6: Train the Estimator

Make sure the right employee is doing the check-in process, someone who is trained to look for the right kind of damage and is comfortable with asking for the sale. For Bornhorst, that employee is the estimator, who is trained on the check-in process and how to give the customer a fair price for an additional service right at the car.

The standardized check-in form used by the estimator also acts as a coaching tool to verify that the estimator identified the opportunity, correctly priced the service, and asked for the sale.

“I’m always auditing that check-in sheet to make sure we’re actually identifying all the opportunities and to make sure we’re having that conversation with the customer,” Bornhorst says.

STEP 7: Track the Results

Bornhorst not only uses the check-in sheet as a coaching tool for his staff, but he also uses it to track his shop’s monthly capture rate of additional services.

Bornhorst says he expects to see 15 percent or higher of additional services captured based on the number of repair orders going through the shop.

“If I’m below that 15 percent, that’s a perfect tap on my shoulder to start going out and auditing that check-in sheet,” he says. 

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