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Common Customer Service Mistakes

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The goal of every collision repair shop is, ultimately, to make the customer happy. With that in mind, the processes in the front and back of the shop should be designed to facilitate the best possible customer service experience.

But, that doesn’t mean the experience always goes smoothly. While there are a number of very obvious customer service mistakes, there are also more subtle practices and ingrained habits that you may not realize are turning customers away.

Ted Williams, manager of business consulting services at Sherwin- Williams, details the top customer service practices that every shop may not realize are causing unhappy customers and what your shop can do to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Employees using customer spaces

After so many years working in the shop, Williams says it’s common for many owners to get “inoculated” to it.

“In other words, they become resistant to the point where they can no longer see the things that are going on that are causing issues,” he says.

Those practices that are causing issues? Your employees park where the customers park, leaving no empty parking spaces; your people use the customer entrance; employees congregate in the waiting area and discuss business or make personal calls.

“It’s almost like you’re trying to brag about something to somebody who doesn’t understand what you’re bragging about.” —Ted Williams, manager of business consulting services, Sherwin-Williams

“You see a lot of stuff with techs congregating in the front office area,” says Williams. “I was in a shop recently where two techs were in the front office arguing with an estimator about an estimate in front of customers. They didn’t see it as an issue at all.”

Your employees and your customers are two different sets of people, and they need to be treated as such. Employees should have designated parking spaces and entrances after the shop opens and all employee conversations should take place either on the shop floor or in the break room.

Mistake #2: Certifications on the wall

Often times, owners think that the technical quality of your service is all that matters. In reality, that’s the expectation. That might sound obvious, but there are also more subtle mistakes that Williams says he sees in almost every shop when it comes to your facility.

One of the most frequent contenders? Certifications hanging on the waiting room walls.

“When you start looking at them, they are expired, some of them are framed in different ways and don’t look consistent and they seem to clutter up the way of the building,” he says. “The other question I have is, who are you promoting this to? Most of the people coming in here have no idea what I-CAR is. It’s almost like you’re trying to brag about something to somebody who doesn’t understand what you’re bragging about.”

He suggests either taking down certifications and plaques, or making it a purposeful statement that you utilize and communicate to customers.

Mistake #3: Assuming the customer only cares about their deductible

Williams says that it’s very common for shops to assume that if a customer is only responsible for the deductible, that they don’t care about the final repair order.

“A couple weeks ago, I was doing a training class and we were talking about cycle time and damage analysis and they made the comment that the challenge going on is that in their insurance policy, it states that every time they submit a supplement on that vehicle, we send a letter to the customer updating the repair,” he says.

That means that if a shop has five supplements on a job, the customer receives five letters stating that the cost of their vehicle’s repair went up.

“They said they had customers call the insurance company and say, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. I know I’m only responsible for my deductible but I need to look at this because this body shop is trying to rip you off. They told me it’s going to cost $2,000 to fix the car and I’ve gotten four updates in the past week and now it’s $3,000,’” Williams says.

Williams says that many customers don’t understand that the first and final estimates can change drastically and often think that if the cost of the repair has gone up, the damage is much worse than they anticipated. Instead, he says shops need to make it a point of explaining the process of an accurate repair and the purpose of a visual estimate.

Mistake #4: Not communicating to staff their decision-making ability

Not having a client recovery process in place is unacceptable, says Williams. No matter how superb your product or service is, every company that’s in business needs a service recovery process with the goal of restoring customer satisfaction and reducing the possibility of a recurrence.

“I think to some degree that we don’t empower the people in the front line to make a decision,” he says. “We don’t give them boundaries as far as what they can and can’t do.”

Staff members need to understand the leeway they have so that every decision doesn’t need to be pushed up the ladder and create frustration for the customer.

For example, does a person have the ability to extend rental cars if there’s an issue, even if the car will no longer be reimbursed by the insurer?

“Think about all of the little things that inconvenience the customer and how you can address it,” Williams says.

Mistake #5: Flubbing your delivery process

The delivery is one of the most important moments customers remember, Williams says. That process needs to happen seamlessly and needs to include details like the car being detailed and staged for delivery, all necessary paperwork waiting on the customer, the rental car is ready and your people have enough time to spend with the customer.

“From a delivery standpoint, I’m still surprised that people show up to get their vehicle and the vehicle is not ready or there’s been a rush to get it to the front and no one has done a quality control on it,” says Williams. “The customer becomes the quality control of the shop by pointing out that there’s dirt on this or this hasn’t been cleaned.”

Instead, take the time to walk around the car with the customer, talk to them about the job, answer any questions and explain exactly what happened with the car.

Mistake #6: Grabbing the keys on every drivable car that comes in

If you don’t have the capacity and throughput to deliver the car on time, even though the customer may appreciate you taking the job in immediately, they will not be happy if the delivery date is missed.

“This is an old, engrained thing that the car comes in, you need to grab it,” says Williams. “It creates a mistrust with people because we think we’re doing the right thing by getting the customer out of the wrecked vehicle and putting them in a rental car, but they’re concerned about getting their car back.

“If we can’t fix it, we need to have that discussion about when the realistic timetable is for getting the car repaired.”

You need to understand your capacity, Williams says, and the amount you can actually produce in a given period of time.

Mistake #7: Talking poorly about insurers to the customer

Avoid negative comments about an insurer or vendors that forces the customer into the middle of a situation you should handle.

Even if it seems you’re looking out for their best interest, Williams says it creates a different perception of your business.

“There are shops that have a tendency where they’re trying to put the customer in the middle of a situation with them and the insurer,” he says. “They’ll call her up and say, ‘We’re having a hell of a time with X insurance company,’ and all of a sudden they pull the customer in the middle of the situation and putting the customer in a situation where they’re asked to be judge and jury and try to figure that out.”

Unless the customer asks for details, don’t get in the weeds. Most customers are not that technically minded, so telling them all about the issues with the company will only make the customer worried.

“You would be surprised how much this happens,” says Williams. “I think part of it is that there’s a tendency for people not want to accept blame. If there’s some kind of delay, they want to make some sort of an excuse because they seem to think that if a customer hears a good excuse, they’ll be more accepting of the issue.”

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