How and When to Follow Up With Customers

Oct. 6, 2022

Shops have more ways than ever to stay in touch with customers, but what do they need and want?

Successfully following up with customers too often gets overlooked by shop owners who worry about every last detail of operations except for what should be the final communication of the transaction—checking in to say thank you and to ask how you can improve.

Knowing when and how to follow up with customers used to be a process shop owners primarily accomplished through personal relationships or by training employees when and how to engage with a person while they interact with the business. But times are changing, customers have different expectations and shops have to keep up with the times to keep customers happy.

The Backstory

Shop owners today often rely on customer relationship management (CRM) software, particularly the application UpdatePromise, to build consistency in their company’s repair process. A CRM also engages customers with photos that show their vehicle at each step of the repair process—something that helps the customer better feel connected to the process and to their vehicle while it is being repaired.

Kyle Wharff, president of Miramar, Florida-based Ace Sullins CARSTAR, said 95 percent of his customers prefer receiving a text message to getting a phone call updating them about the progress or completion of service.

But technology isn’t intuitive or flawless, and ensuring it’s being used the way it’s intended can present its own unique set of challenges. Wharff said you have to be on point when using an app or software for CRM management or the customer will receive the wrong information.

“It’s a great tool that a majority of the shops use for CRM because once you enter a drop-off date and the estimate shows a completion date in the system, you turn on automated text messages and it will push those messages out to customers as their vehicle travels through the phases of the repair,” Wharff says.

The downfall is that if you don’t stay on top of updating the system, it will send out whatever information it has and the customer might get the wrong completion date, or be alerted that their vehicle has moved a step in the repair process when it has not, he said. 

“It’s happened before,” Wharff says. “In one case the customer showed up to pick up his vehicle because he thought his car was ready when it hadn’t even entered the painting phase.”

The Problem

Relying solely on CRM solutions places a communication barrier between shop owners and the final chance for contact with the customer during the last part of the repair cycle, and there will always be problems that always arise that need to be handled with direct customer contact.

Ritchie Sheckter is a retired Florida body shop owner. He recalls a case where he had to deliver a vehicle to a municipal customer, which required an already-difficult rebuild, later than promised because a procurement order wasn’t properly recorded. 

“It was a municipal customer whose business contributed a large chunk of revenue and it was a new contract,” Sheckter said. “Regardless of how the vehicle got into the situation it did, and you never want a customer worrying about internal process, we wanted to make sure that their people did not feel any sense of worry or unease about our work and our process.”

The Solution 

As soon as he realized a mistake was made Ritchie contacted the customer by phone and explained the situation. He made sure to express gratitude, saying thank you, showing he personally cared, and demonstrating that he was committed to a professional relationship that valued that individual. 

“Making that phone call goes so far and I saw shop owners who would overlook it all the time,” Sheckter said. 

In this case, offering to discount the repair’s total was not appropriate, and sending automated updates showing where his vehicle was in the repair process wasn’t enough. The situation required a personal touch.

Sheckter took photos of the vehicle as it moved from station to station. He emailed them to the customer accompanied by a brief description of what could be seen in the photo. 

“I felt it was important that I, the owner, be the person to personally take photos and text the customer with pictures and updates showing where in the process his vehicle was,” Sheckter said. “He needed to know that there was a specific person paying attention to and handling his repair.”

The day the customer arrived to pick up the vehicle, Sheckter personally inspected the car to double check all requirements were met for delivery, and personally handed over the keys.

“This provided me with an opportunity for engagement at the point of delivery, or the end of the process,” Scheckter said. “I was able to again thank him for his business and make sure that the repairs and the final result met his standards. I also showed him the before, during, and after photos of the repair process and he came away with a better understanding of what it took to repair that vehicle. And that gives customers an opportunity to buy into your body shop.”

The Aftermath

Scheckter made it a point to again contact the customer with a phone call one week after delivery. He asked open-ended questions and gained further insight into his shop’s repair process and the customer’s unique experience from his point of view. 

“Following up with someone who perceived a negative outcome, at all in any way, also may help you realize where improvements can be made to your shop’s overall process, from a customer’s first interaction with your business to handing over the keys at the end,” Scheckter said. “It also sheds light on what that customer’s perception of the quality of service was, and you can bet that if one customer thinks something it's very likely that at least several other customers will have similar feelings about your service.”

The Takeaway

Deepening engagement with customers when there is an issue, providing personal one-on-one attention, being present for delivery to the customer, and following up that interaction with a phone call frames a simple approach to following up with customers and understanding how to get the most out of that process.

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