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Compassionate Care

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You’ve just been in an accident—a terrible one. Thousands of dollars worth of damage. You’ve never been through the repair process. You don’t know what to expect. You’re stressed, anxious and scared as you walk through the front doors.

And Jennifer Burtis is there to greet you.

It cannot be stressed enough how important that first face-to-face interaction with a customer is—yet many body shops may not be as cognizant of that fact as Burtis. It is the genesis of the entire customer-shop relationship, and it could ultimately determine the customer’s satisfaction with his or her repair experience. They need to not only trust in your shop’s abilities, but also be primed for and properly informed about a process they are likely ignorant about.

It might seem like a daunting task, but when Burtis discusses her day-to-day schedule as Brown’s Collision Center’s lone customer service representative, she almost makes it sound too easy.

“As soon as those people walk through the door, they are my most important person in that moment,” she says. “It doesn't matter if it's a tiny little door ding or a vehicle that got towed in—each person is an individual, and each person is just as important as the next. That's my mindset.”

In the two years since Burtis joined the Bentonville, Ark., shop, her simple customer service approach has shown great results: Shop owner Keith Brown says his shop hasn’t been the same since she joined, and that there’s been a noticeable positive increase in customer satisfaction. It’s all thanks to Burtis’s daily routine, which is entirely structured around creating a warm environment in the shop and keeping the customer pleased throughout the repair process.

It’s important that customers walk into an office giving off the right vibe. I want people to feel at home and welcome when they come in, so I keep it like I would my own home.

I get here every day at 8 a.m. and make cookies in a little toaster oven. I put them out like grandma would on a plate on the front counter, where everybody can see them. I also make iced tea, lemonade and coffee, and have those things available for our customers.

People really like it. They’ll say, “That’s so sweet and thoughtful.” And out of that goodness I become a happier person at work.

I come in every morning with the mindset of helping anyone that walks through the door. Obviously they're here to get their car repaired, but it’s also about their emotional needs. Some people are extremely stressed out and just need some compassion.

My approach to customers really depends on the situation. Sometimes it means not sitting behind a desk and coming out into the lobby and sitting with them at their level. That barrier can put some people off.

LEADING WITH COMPASSION: Jennifer Burtis arrives to Brown’s Collision Center every morning with one goal: Help anyone who walks through the door. I’ll ask, “Are you OK?” You can tell when someone comes in and they can't think straight. They're stressed out, shook up, and just asking them if they're OK goes a long way toward easing things for them. They’ll noticeably calm down.

Sometimes people just can’t handle the experience because they have no idea what to expect. They’re just thinking about their wrecked vehicle and how much it’s going to disrupt their life. You have to read their body language when they walk in. Some people want to talk about the accident, so you put off the logistics. If they’re really a mess or overly nervous, I’m not afraid to get up and give people hugs or pats on the shoulder.

Then I’ll follow up with, “Can I get you anything? A drink? A snack? What can I do to help you in this moment? Everything is going to be fine. Your vehicle is going to be fine. You're OK, and that's the most important thing.” Anything that will put them at ease and help realize that their car is already here and they can trust us with it, and that the main thing they should be thinking about is their loved ones.

When someone comes in, they usually don’t understand the repair process, and that’s pretty easy to tell right away. It’s important that I set the tone for the entire experience and properly explain everything.

We have a customer information sheet that has all the basic information. Sometimes older people can't see well, or sometimes they're shook up and can't fill out the form, so I'll sit down with them in the lobby and fill it out for them. Then I'll say, “You don't have to worry about a thing. We're going to get this estimate started for you. At that point, after get the preliminary estimate, we will get an approval from the insurance company and then we will get you scheduled in.” Then I explain that we can have rental cars for them at drop off, and that while the repair is happening, we will send texts and call them with updates.

If need be, I'll give rides to customers when they leave. I'll use my personal vehicle to taxi people around, which I don't mind at all. I'm glad to do it.

Once the customer leaves the shop, staying in touch with them is key. When they leave, I will give them my personal business card as well and say, “If you have any questions or concerns, you’re not going to bother me. Feel free to call me. That's what I'm here for.”

On Fridays, I’ll schedule next week’s repairs for the following Monday by calling all our customers to confirm they're still coming and if they're going to be needing a rental. Again, it’s just another touch point with the customer. They know me and trust me at this point, and it’s just nice to know that I’m taking care of their rental for them. After I do that, I set those rentals up through Enterprise to make it convenient when they drop their vehicles off.

After those phone calls, I’ll send thank-you cards to customers, thanking them for their business, and letting them know that we’re always here for them if they have an accident.

SETTING EXPECTATIONS: Jennifer Burtis says many customers are ignorant of the repair process, which is why she spends significant time explaining what to expect to customers.An important part of my job is doing customer follow-ups, which I schedule a couple times a week for the previous week’s customers. I call and ask if I can have a minute of their time. I just want to make sure they’re completely delighted with not only the repair, but also the repair process. We want to know if there’s anything we could have done better.

Nine times out of 10, they’re very positive about us. People seem to really appreciate that we follow up, and they are really surprised and happy that I’ve called.

If they have any complaints, I’ll make a note. One person said, “The repair was great, but the rental was kind of small.” And I explained, “I'm sorry. We're just a concierge for Enterprise, and we only have the cars available to us on site.” I came away from that conversation learning something. I now always try make sure we have the kind of vehicle they need on site.

If I’m not interacting with customers, the rest of my day is keeping the shop neat and tidy. I’m constantly walking around, fluffing pillows, vacuuming, dusting, cleaning windows. That’s usually what I’m doing from 4 p.m. to when I leave around 5:30 p.m.

I’ll also go out and tidy up our children’s area, which is filled with children’s books and coloring books and a few little toys, because sometimes people come in with children and they're worried about their children running around. It's a family friendly atmosphere. We even have little Dum Dum suckers for the children.

I’ll make note of anything we need to stock up on in the office. I’ll also think of new decorative pieces to place around the office and pick things up on my way home. If a holiday is coming up, I’ll usually find some decorations on clearance for that. For Easter, I bought some fun little stuff, like baskets and eggs. It just creates a happier atmosphere.

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