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Ross Smith has a simple motto for the front-office staff at his high-volume shop, Kelly Paint and Body in Aiken, S.C.: If the customer calls, you lost the game.

“If you haven’t already called and answered that customer’s question and you have to scramble around to do so, then you’ve already lost the game,” he says.

It sounds simple but the J.D. Power U.S. Auto Claims Satisfaction Study backs up that claim. According to the study, which measures consumer satisfaction with claims settled in the last six months, the quickest way to dissatisfaction during the claims experience was if the customer felt he or she had to put in “a great deal of effort” to find out what was going on with the vehicle.

“It’s going to be a lot better experience when we make that first call and get that call before the customer calls and asks, ‘What’s going on with my car?’” Smith says. “One of the things we work hard on is cutting down on the incoming phone calls as much as possible by being very proactive with the customers.”

Luckily, Smith says there are more tools and strategies than ever to help facilitate customer communication during the repair process that are not only more efficient, but also create more meaningful relationships between the shop and the customer.

And while these tools are helpful, they shouldn’t act as a replacement for genuine customer interaction, says Richard Fish, owner of five Fix Auto locations in Southern California. Instead, they should be used as a supplement to build trust and a more meaningful relationship. Smith and Fish discuss the tools and strategies they use to maintain better customer communication.


1) Set proper expectations.

sample text. Our customer service rep handles all that up front with the customer,” Smith says. “They see us putting it in so they know we care.”

The point, Smith says, is managing customer expectations. Sending a sample text ensures the customer knows what to expect and that it’s not spam. During that meeting, the CSR also walks the customer through the typical communication process so they know when to expect an update from the shop and what the update will entail.

“The first call will be when we take your car apart. Then your next call will be if there’s additional parts and as the car moves, we’ll call you,” he says. “We walk them through the process of how we typically do it. We want them to have that right expectation, instead of them going home and thinking, ‘They’re going to call me this afternoon or in the morning.’ We try to set that expectation.”


2) Utilize rental reservation programs.

Smith uses Enterprise’s Automated Rental Management System (ARMS) software to set up rental reservations for all his customers. He says that by doing so, he avoids having to call the local Enterprise branch, and he’s able to ensure that vehicles are reserved for the customer and available when the customer arrives at his facility.

“It saves us time and gives us documentation that we have it handled and it goes straight into [Enterprise’s] system. In the past, we would call them in, but oftentimes, we would have customers show up and the guys in the branch hadn’t done their job,” he says. “As our partner, we don’t have to do that work but one time, and we don’t have to worry about the customer having a reservation when they show up.”

Now, he says that by simply taking 10 minutes in the morning to send electronic updates to the insurance carriers, he avoids having to field excessive phone calls from both insurance carriers and customers. 

Smith says that the customer communication process needs to begin at check-in, which is an opportunity to set expectations. As part of his thorough check-in process, he focuses on two strategies that shops often miss. First, the customer completes the check-in sheet, which then goes into the management system. On that check-in sheet, the shop asks what method, what time of day and how often they prefer to be communicated with.

“Some customers want it every day and some people say, ‘Just call me when my car is ready,’” he says. “We find out from them what we desire.”

The CSR then verifies all the phone numbers and information with the customer and notes the preferred method of communication in the management system so that all staff members who may come in contact with the customer are aware of that preference.

“We want to be sure we have accurate information, an additional number, if they want to be texted with. If they do, we’ll send them a “Sometimes that involves two or three people’s times,” he says. “Sometimes the receptionist doesn’t really know what’s going on; she has to get out to the customer service rep or the production manager, and if they don’t know the status, a third person might have to be involved. It’s a huge time-saver for us.”

Smith says that it also cuts down on the miscommunication that can occur among staff when updating customers.

“All the miscommunication that can happen during those calls, when someone doesn’t really know what they’re telling the customer,” he says. “If I’m proactive and I get to the customer before he calls me, I can call him on my time, instead of being out with another customer or having to take a message.”


3) Send updates throughout the repair process.

When Fish initially began using the Update Plus feature of CCC ONE, he says he didn’t expect the in-process text updates to become a valuable method of customer communication for his shops.

“I think the updates are very good, and if you look at our CSI comments, a lot of people say positive things about it. It’s very rare that someone asks us to stop doing those updates. It’s almost unheard of,” he says. “I think that’s a very effective update tool that a lot of the population is migrating to and seeing as more acceptable and less invasive than a phone call.”

The shop uses both automatic text updates when the car moves into a new stage of the repair process and customized text updates when more detailed information needs to be communicated to the customer. The shop can also send pictures and video to the customer via email or text message.

However, Fish also notes that he still believes in granular updates and that an automated update should be viewed as a supplement, not the only method of communication.

“We still call our customers on the phone twice a week—Tuesdays and Thursdays—and give them a granular update on what’s going on with their repair,” he says. “I would caution anyone, it is not a singular source for doing customer updates.”

Fish says he’s also started to look into a function that he describes as “artificial intelligence-type updating.” The system will scan all jobs for changes in delivery time, scale the call patterns accordingly and alert the shop of particular custom- ers that should be notified. He says that’s been particularly valuable when it comes to jobs that may not benefit from bi-weekly calls, such as longer jobs that don’t need as frequent of updates.

“For example, if your estimated delivery date changed or a part was on back order, those would be filed and those would be red flagged to you and you would be able to decide what would make sense as far as communicating with customers,” he says. 


4) Communication doesn’t stop when the repair does.

Fish says that one of the biggest problems with collision repair is that most drivers only get into an accident every seven years. Top-of-mind awareness is difficult to achieve, he says, and he was looking for a way to extend his brand and remain in contact with the customer. Fish started using the post-repair text message function of his management system to do that. Now, the customer receives a text message one month, six months and a year after the repair.

“It’s a lighthearted follow-up text that says, ‘It’s been a month since we fixed your Toyota. Hope all is going well with you, if you have any questions please give us a call,’” he says. “I think the post-repair updates have been very helpful. They’re brand-building updates that go on for another year. That was a way to extend our brand for another year with those clients that were fundamentally satisfied.” 

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