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A Waiting Area that Wins Customers

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Customer waiting areas have come a long way, and according to Judy Lynch, manager of collision design services at Sherwin Williams, even small details can make a big impact on customers. Lynch describes recent trends in customer waiting areas and the checklist that every shop needs to follow.

I think one of the things you have to capture in your shop today is that it has to be world class. When the general public is walking into the front office of a collision center, especially as more millennials are becoming customers, they compare the experience of walking into a collision center it with others experiences in their life. They’re comparing a collision center to a lawyer’s office, a hotel, etc. Customers will make a value judgment about your shop within the first five seconds of entering.

More and more, when we talk about lean, you think about production, but that extends to the front office, too. Recently, there has been more initiative to take a look at the office and implementing lean processes for the administrative offices. They’re realizing they can eliminate a lot of waste, save money and improve processes. By doing that, they really are taking a look at their whole customer experience, which is priceless. There is so much waste and non-value in the front office. Until they stop to take a look at that, they’re just doing the same things day in and day out.

Many shops are streamlining the process and they’re keeping it all open and visual. Some of the ways you can do that is with glass panels from the desktop up on desks so visually you can see what’s going in the front office while still maintaining privacy for employees. When the customer walks up to the front desk, no matter who is in the office, your team can see when a customer comes in the door and greets them.

It’s about making it clear for the customer. When they enter the shop, they know exactly where to go and what to do. You don’t want a customer to walk in and not know who to talk to. There is a defined area with a front reception desk. Then, there might be an area in the back where the front-office staff could hear a customer walk in and greet the person.

At this point, it’s no secret that having a “wow” factor is important. It’s become a very common refrain. There are several things that have become standard to a customer waiting area and that every shop should do just to make theirs professional. Every shop needs to walk through this checklist:  

• The area is painted every two years
• The magazines are refreshed every month, and cover a variety of interests
• Carpets and floors are kept clean
• Bathrooms are regularly cleaned
• Comfortable seating and a range of seating options are offered
• Free Wi-Fi is accessible
• A refreshment station with free coffee and water is offered
• If there is a TV, it is state of the art and the volume is kept relatively low

However, there are also new trends that shops should follow to really stand out from the pack. First, the current color standards that are popular are bright and light. It’s all about keeping things very simple and streamlined. That extends to furniture, too. We’re not seeing those overstuffed leather couches like we were maybe a few years ago. It’s really about keeping it simple and getting rid of the clutter. That means getting rid of old plants, tons of brochures, papers everywhere.

When it comes to certifications or plaques, try to make it look purposeful. Many customers don’t know what industry organizations are or what a certification program entails, but framing them and grouping them together on a wall makes more of an impact. 

Free coffee, soda and snacks are a good way to make customers relaxed while they wait for a repair. Make sure the refreshment area is well stocked. Coffee machines, sinks and other appliances should be free from leaks. These days, it’s really about a Keurig machine or offering cappuccinos, espressos or lattes.

I think one of the biggest considerations when it comes to customer waiting areas is to either do it well or not to do it at all. For example, with kid’s play areas, If you can’t find a way to keep it clean and if it’s going to end up with a bunch of broken toys, it’s better not to have a play area at all. But if you are able to, get creative.

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