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If Pat Darby knows one thing to be true, it’s that customers are almost never happy to be in the position of contacting a collision repair shop.

“It’s a great feeling to have people leave happy, because they’re definitely not excited when they come in,” says Darby, customer care manager at Mayfield Collision Center in South Euclid, Ohio. “So when they come to pick their car up and it looks gorgeous, that’s all we need. That’s the best part of the job.”

And while the shop works as a whole to produce the future happy customer’s properly repaired vehicle, the process leading up to the repair is where Darby’s true talents come into play. As customer care manager, Darby is a jack of all trades at Mayfield, helping with phone calls, setting up rental cars and handling the shop’s bank deposits.

“Whether over the phone or in person, Pat’s attitude comes through loud and clear,” writes marketing manager Cheryl Senko in her FenderBender Award nomination for Darby. “She is an unsung hero at our company. Every day she manages dozens and dozens and dozens of phone calls, and greets numerous customers and vendors. Pat handles each and every one of these interactions with a smile and a pleasant helpful attitude. Her efforts set the tone, often disarming the customer, and are an influencing factor in our high CSI. She is the only person at our South Euclid location that touches most every customer multiple times.”

Darby highlights her strategies in approaching emotionally vulnerable customers and how her due diligence and organized schedule help them feel at home in her shop.

We usually have about 15 drop-offs per day, all while trying to handle around 70 phone calls. That’s between estimates, appointments, people walking in, dropping cars off, picking cars up—I get them started when they walk through the door, just so they’re not sitting around doing nothing.

I don’t want to be seated when you come in the door, so I stand up and wish them a good morning or good afternoon. If they are people I recognize, I address them by name. And if I don’t know them, I ask, “How can I help you this morning?” and then go from there. We try to keep every appointment scheduled so I know all the important information about the customer’s vehicle before they walk in. That definitely puts them at ease if the front office knows what they’re talking about.

I have to be organized. The second I get disorganized and I can’t help a customer as best I can, that ruins everything. I have a routine I go through that I go back and forth with. It keeps me grounded. I’ll do deposits during the day. I pick a certain time when we’re not as busy, usually after lunch, when I can have time to answer phones and do my deposits at the same time.

If someone is calling because they have an accident, we always want to make sure they’re OK. You always want to show empathy. Show them that you care, that you’re glad that they’re OK. And then just go from there. I find out just a little information so I can figure who’s the best person to refer them to. Because we have certain people who help with specific insurance companies, or they might be a repeat customer that someone has helped several times.

We have customer service managers up front, so they do the estimating and they help the customer with any questions and help with the repair process. They also help me out on phone calls if I get swamped. If it’s a repeat customer and they’ve been here 10 times, I know who they usually deal with. I’ve been here 20 years, so if I hear their name, I’ll usually know who it is. We’re on a first-name basis. 

Handling that many calls, you like to keep conversations brief and get the necessary information, but sometimes I have to stay on longer. Sometimes they’re teary and crying, and I’m not just going to pass them along. I try and help comfort them a little bit, and once I can do that, then the process can go more smoothly. We don’t push somebody off just so I can get off the phone or anything like that. I want to make sure they get taken care of. 

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