Creating a Phone Process That Works

Jan. 26, 2024
With only seven seconds to form an initial impression, how your staff answers the phone is pivotal in shaping the customer's experience

When someone calls your shop for the first time, you have a small window of opportunity to win their business…about seven seconds, to be exact. 

“The individual who picks up the phone at your collision repair center serves as the Director of First Impressions,” says Sheryl Driggers, Coach with Collision Advice and former co-owner of Universal Collision Center from 2001–2021. “Research indicates that it typically takes only seven seconds to form an initial impression, making that initial phone call pivotal in shaping the customer's overall experience. Evaluating whether you're effectively communicating during this initial conversation or simply running through routine transactional inquiries like insurance details is essential.” 

Here’s how to ensure your team is converting callers into customers from the moment they answer the phone. 

As told to Lindsey Gainer 

Actively Listen 

At Collision Advice, we emphasize the importance of TED — Trust, Empathy, and Direction — in every phone interaction. A proficient customer service team member excels in building trust, displaying genuine empathy, and providing clear direction to the customer. The ability to do this authentically and effortlessly requires consistent practice. 
The first crucial step in any phone call is to actively listen, and demonstrate a genuine understanding and validation of the customer's concerns and emotions. When a customer must reach out to a collision repair shop it comes as an unexpected and unwelcome event — it's not a situation anyone anticipates or eagerly plans for. People find themselves in these situations due to unforeseen circumstances, which results in them expressing a range of emotions…many of which are negative in nature. 

A skilled customer service representative (CSR) can discern and acknowledge these emotions during the initial phone call. They authentically empathize with the customer, conveying understanding and support. Moreover, they exhibit a high level of competence in their responses, assuring the customer that they are in capable hands. 

Respond Empathetically 

Handling customers who may be upset or frustrated can indeed be challenging. But we must keep in mind that while accidents and repairs are routine for those of us in the collision industry, they’re anything but routine for our customers. It's easy for us to slip into autopilot mode, simply providing information and making the conversation transactional, but it’s incredibly important to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes and show empathy for what they’re going through. A CSR needs to exhibit genuine care, maintain a calm demeanor, and demonstrate patience when navigating emotionally charged situations. 

Effective communication is paramount in this position. It's imperative that they continuously develop and refine their communication skills to be truly effective.

Display Warmth & Competence 

Research consistently shows that people prefer doing business with individuals they like and trust, which is why a CSR must strike a delicate balance between competence and warmth in each interaction. 
A commitment to ongoing learning and growth is critical here, as it enables us to learn how to adapt our communication style to be most effective with each customer. There will be occasions when we need to emphasize our competence, while at other times we should prioritize creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. The ability to gauge the situation and adjust accordingly is important. 

Ask the Right Questions, in the Right Way  

My repair shops had six key questions to ask every customer following an accident, however it's essential to remember that these questions are not merely boxes to check off. Instead, incorporate them naturally into a conversational and relational approach. While we require specific information from the customer to assist with claims and repairs, our primary focus should always be building a genuine relationship and determining if we can solve their problem. Through two decades of owning collision repair shops, I learned that we may not always be the perfect fit for every customer…and that's perfectly fine! 

Some of the questions we will ask the customer during the initial phone call include: 

  • First and foremost, is everyone okay?
  • What happened in the accident?
  • Is the vehicle safe to continue to drive? Ask direct questions to ensure safety.
  • Have they filed a claim?
  • Are they planning to file a claim?
  • Would they like our assistance in the claims and repair process? 

Many more questions will be asked during the repair consultation, but these give us the information we need during the initial phone conversation. 

Train and Focus on Consistency 

Based on my experience, the optimal training approach begins with the newly on boarded CSR collaborating closely with a seasoned team member who has demonstrated excellence in the role. A structured training path should be in place, clearly outlining the essential skills and knowledge areas to be covered. The training method should involve a progressive sequence, where the new hire first observes the trainer executing tasks and engaging in conversations, then actively participates alongside the trainer, subsequently takes the lead under the trainer's guidance and, finally, successfully completes training and begins working independently. 

Years ago, I came across a quote that has stayed with me over time: "What gets talked about gets prioritized." It raises the question: Are you consistently engaged in conversations about the customer experience? Do you maintain a steady commitment to training your customer service team, whether you have one associate or a group of ten? That is the key – consistent conversations.

To ensure an exceptional customer experience, the next crucial step is team auditing. Do you record phone calls for training purposes? Are mystery callers employed to assess your customer experience? Have you equipped your team with all the tools they need to deliver an exceptional customer experience, such as effective word tracks, dedicated practice sessions, and a culture of celebrating achievements? Do your team members have a clear understanding of what exceptional customer service truly entails? Have you or someone on your team showed them what that looks like? 

Another principle that deeply resonates with me is this: "What gets celebrated, gets repeated." Have you been celebrating your team's customer service victories? 

At Collision Advice, we offer Customer Experience training in various formats, both in-person around the country and through customized virtual training plans. I’d strongly encourage shop owners to visit to learn more if they’d like help in this area. 

The Bottom Line 

By training your staff to utilize an empathetic and competent approach, team members serve as guides for customers, alleviating their stress and concerns and helping them navigate the unfamiliar territory of collision repair.