If collision repair shops receive lots of cars, they get even more phone calls. There are lots of reasons someone phones a repair shop—a quick question or to seek advice—but most often the call is out of necessity because the caller has been in an accident.
Should that caller be quickly put on hold, that potential customer could turn into a dial tone. The team coordinator for customer service relations at Paap Auto Body, in Coles County, Ill., Malinda Calhoun-Hurt, says compassion is key.
A customer relations savant, Calhoun-Hurt is new to the automotive industry—she joined Paap Auto Body in January—but a veteran on the phone. Her previous position as an executive assistant working at an area chamber of commerce gave her the professionalism, business tools, and human resource experience that she needs to shine as an administrator.
One of the first lessons she learned transitioning into the collision repair industry was that regardless of who calls, first and foremost, you want to make sure everyone is safe.
“Some people have never been in an accident before, it can be scary and they need to know you’re there to help,” she says.
She built on that first lesson, asking techs lots of questions and conducting her own research after calls. With knowledge and comfort came confidence, and now Calhoun-Hurt has a way of operating on the shop phone that puts callers at ease, all while ensuring they remain up to date and informed about what’s happening to their vehicle.
Answer with care.
There are cardinal rules for answering phone calls that bear repeating: answering with a smile is always the right move, Calhoun-Hurt says. Customers can detect boredom on the other end of the line just as easily as they can detect frustration. And answering with a smile is not only inviting, but also calming, especially when someone is in a stressful situation.
Clearly stating your name and the name of your company is also common practice when answering a call. It’s equally important to learn the customer’s name. By repeating their name, they know they are being heard and cared for on a personal level, she says.
Once you introduce yourself and make sure the caller is not in immediate danger or needing medical assistance, says Calhoun-Hurt, it’s time to get to work.
Keep customers informed.
Calhoun-Hurt says she does a little bit of everything in the front office at Paap Auto Body. She begins her day by printing out a report that shows the state of all vehicles the shop has on site. This allows her to see how far along the repairs are for each car, so she can give customers not only prompt updates, but accurate ones.
“I follow up with customers about every day or so,” she says, “I want to make sure they know what is going on with their vehicle and let them know we haven’t forgotten about them.”
Many who call Paap Auto Body are dealing with their first accident. Calhoun-Hurt says filing a claim can be both daunting and tedious for people who are already shaken by what’s occurred.
“I really try to help them through the process in whatever way I can,” she says. “They file a claim, I help them get an estimate, I help them figure out how they’re going to pay for the repairs or if they are turning it over to insurance, I contact the company for them to see what their processes are.”
Most of Calhoun-Hurt’s day is spent on the phone and that’s why she says it’s important to be transparent with customers. She says giving regular updates to customers and insurers is no small task, but it reassures all parties that they’re a priority and that their work is being done.
Avoid putting customers on hold.
Sitting on hold can be frustrating. At Paap Auto Body, Calhoun-Hurt says she does everything she can to streamline the call process and avoid missteps that could cost the shop business.
“I try to answer all questions to the best of my abilities before transferring them to anyone. It can get frustrating being transferred a ton of times,” she says.
Recently, she picked up a new system that allows her to learn along the way.
When customers call with questions that Calhoun-Hurt doesn’t know how to answer, she walks over to the best-equipped person in the shop and asks them to explain it. Once she understands it inside and out, she calls back the customer and relays the information. Not only does this save time for the shop workers on the floor, but also the customer’s time. In turn, customers get the best possible service by having complicated topics broken down by someone trained in communication.
“When they ask a question I don’t know [the answer to], it helps me with the next customer,” says Calhoun-Hurt. “If I transfer them, I never find out the answer.”
Don’t phone it in—easy changes for improving your calls with customers:
Instead of: “Can I put you on hold?”
Try: “Do you mind holding while I check on that?”
Instead of: “I’m not sure, I would have to transfer you.”
Try: “I’m not sure off the top of my head, but I can find out for you.”
Instead of: “No, sorry, we do not provide that service.”
Try: “Unfortunately, we do not offer those services, but I can get you in contact with someone who does.”
Instead of: “I’m not sure what you mean…”
Try: “Could you rephrase that for me?”
Instead of: “Can I call you right back?”
Try: “I am going to find out; can I call you back in X minutes?”
Instead of: “Talk to you next time!”
Try: “If there’s ever anything I can do to help you, here is my email address.”