Benefiting from Negative Reviews

Aug. 1, 2019
Patrick O’Neill fine-tuned a process of responding to customer reviews that resulted in a 4.9-star rating for his facility.

For anyone looking at a body shop from an outside perspective, online reviews are a strong indicator of whether the business is reputable, or if it’s producing questionable work.

Patrick O’Neill says that a customer can be swayed to visit a shop simply because the staff took the time to respond to a negative review. In fact, responding to a negative review can not only show the customer that the shop quickly addresses issues, but it also illustrates that the shop cares about the service it’s providing, O’Neill says.

O’Neill operates Body Shop Express in San Diego, Calif., and is a consultant for Global Finishing Solutions. He used to operate eight body shops before he sold the MSO operation to Caliber Collision in 2012. 

In fact, O’Neill not only thinks it’s important to respond to negative customer reviews online, he also makes a point to bring that culture directly into his shop. For example, one day he had a couple customers backed up in the waiting room area. The shop was full, so the customers had to wait for a while for someone to be able to do an estimate. 

Instead of simply letting his customers sit in the waiting room and not acknowledge them, O’Neill made a point to pass by the customers and let them know that someone would be with them shortly. He said to them, “We want you to know we have not forgotten you’re here, and someone will be with you as soon as possible.”

One of the customers in the waiting room turned to O’Neill and told him now he knew why the shop received such high reviews: because O’Neill kept checking in on the customers and providing that extra point of contact.

Today, O’Neill’s shop has over 100 positive reviews on Google and has an average rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars.

The Backstory

O’Neill operated eight body shops over the course of 12 years before he opened Body Shop Express. During that time, he learned a lot about not only providing good customer service but also managing customer comments and reviews successfully. 

In 2012, he sold his MSO to Caliber Collision and then had a noncompete clause for the state of Arizona, where he had been working. He then got involved in gas catalytic drying systems and started consulting for GFS. Today, he owns and operates Body Shop Express alongside his son. 

During those first years, the shop was on Google sites and had a web presence with a website. Social media was just starting to take off, he says, and the shop gained a lot of online reviews. 

The shop was receiving hundreds of positive reviews. 

Two years ago, O’Neill came across a tool called Podium, which allowed customers to text the shop directly from the website and also help monitor the shop’s customer reviews. O’Neill found the platform through a collision repair industry network group of which he’s a member.

“We started using Podium as a source to drive the customer reviews,” O’Neill says. “We have apps through that program that allow us to connect with the customer digitally.”

O’Neill also started asking customers to leave reviews on more sites than just Google. Now, customers can leave reviews through Yelp or Facebook. 

The Problem

Even before opening  Body Shop Express, O’Neill noticed that if he simply had his managers respond to negative reviews that came in, they could really drop the ball because they didn’t have a standard response for those situations.

The shop was receiving positive customer reviews but, one problem that O’Neill ran into was the fact that the shop would still get the occasional negative review. He quickly realized the shop needed a process in place to respond to those not-so-great reviews.

The Solution

The minute the customer leaves the shop, O’Neill’s staff is able to push a reminder to the customer to leave a survey about his or her experience. Then, the front office staff will give the customer a physical copy of the survey, as well. The customer has the option to not reply, reply and send it back electronically, or even scan the paper survey to the app. 

Now, he  takes time every day to look through his emails and see if anyone left a review. He has found that the only way to stay on top of the reviews coming in to the sites is for one person to monitor them at least twice per day.  Otherwise, the staff is going to get bogged down with reviews or other tasks and forget to check them in their daily routines.

“Anyone looking at your business can see whether you believe in your shop and its work or if you don’t by the way you respond to customer reviews,” he says.

The main idea is to respond to the people posting the reviews in real time, O’Neill says. For positive reviews, his web manager will be the first point of contact and respond to those.

Breakdown: O’Neill’s Order to Responding

  1. Check with the team first. If you need to call the customer, check with your team to see what the situation was before calling. Then, personally call the customer.

  2. Let the customer express their concerns. Let the customer get everything out in the open because there is always something you can learn on your side.

  3. Empathize and explain the situation. Show empathy for the customer’s situation and explain that this does not typically happen. Let them know that it is the owner that is calling them so they can have that personal connection.

  4. Work to resolve their concerns. You need to do everything you can to resolve the customer’s concerns and note that you will address the issue in the shop with the team. 

  5. Offer to make concessions. Make up for your errors. If it is a repair issue, then resolve it and make the process easy for the customer. For example, pick up a car or provide a rental. 

  6. Apologize. 

The Aftermath

O’Neill realized another low-cost way to drive positive, genuine customer reviews, was to not sweat the small services for customers.

For instance, if a customer comes in with a small scratch or dent and the staff can take care of it, they’ll often just take the scratch or dent out, not charge the customer and just ask for a good referral.

Often, the shop gets customers coming in with something that can be easily buffed out or only takes about 30 minutes to fix like a loose bumper.     

One customer was using a rental car and had a scratch on it. He came into the shop worried about the bill that he would get once he returned the vehicle. O’Neill’s team took the car, sanded it and buffed the scratch out for the customer and just asked him to leave a positive review. The review he left was “fantastic,” O’Neill says.

“If you charge someone $30 or $50 for that type of service every time then those reviews will not be the ones you want to get back,” O’Neill says. “You can’t buy that type of genuine advertising."

The Takeaway

“If you do get a negative review, you want to reply back to them and let the public see that you are taking action,” he says. 

O’Neill will often respond and offer the customer a solution to the situation or just offer to change something for them. 

Body Shop Express does get negative reviews on occasion, but O’Neill says they’re not typically about the work that was done on the vehicle but about some aspect of the customer service provided.

He says to make sure to not just respond to the negative reviews in hopes to turn them around but respond to the positive ones to show the shop’s appreciation. Say, “Thank you for responding to us.”

SHOP STATS: Body Shop Express   Location: San Diego, Calf.   Average Monthly Car Count: 215  Staff Size: 19 employees (1 manager, 1 estimator, 1 CSR, 2 painters, 1 buffer, 7 body technicians, 3 disassembly and reassembly technicians, 1 detailer, 2 owners)  Shop Size: 13,000 square feet; Annual Revenue;$5 million 

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