More than a Handshake and a Smile

March 1, 2015
How Donna O’Steen and husband Mark make customer service the backbone of their shop

There are a lot of things Donna O’Steen and her husband Mark find challenging about today’s collision repair industry, such as higher expectations from insurers and customers. 

The couple, which has been running O’Steen’s Auto Body in Jacksonville, Fla., since 1986, doesn’t let challenges stand in their way, though. Donna truly believes that building a more enjoyable environment for employees leads to satisfaction among customers and business partners, creating a full circle of harmonious business practices that lead to greater success.

What was the first thing on your priority list when you opened your shop?

Donna: We pride ourselves on our customer service. Our motto is, “Treat every customer like our first customer.” We have to please them. We’re on a small road off the highway, and people come to us by word of mouth. People don’t come down here to shop, they come because they’re looking for us. You can’t take for granted you will have business tomorrow, you can’t just rely on insurance companies to feed you work. You rely on yourself, and you have to treat every customer right. 

In what ways are you able to harbor a positive shop culture that cultivates repeat customers?

Mark: Our office is full of personality. Inside the waiting room are wooden rocking chairs that customers can sit in while they wait and fill out forms. We have a front porch full of rocking chairs for them to sit on and do paperwork. We have a showroom full of antique classic cars, bicycles, and old barber chairs. The atmosphere in the office is unlike anything else you see in the industry. It makes people feel good, it creates a wholesome atmosphere. We have a record player that plays old music. People come in and beam and say, “Oh, I had that bike when I was a kid.” … I think it  gives you a wholesome feeling. Younger customers like this. They go on websites and look at reviews and we stay up to speed on that stuff. We have a lot of younger customers who went here with their parents. They were kids who played in the shop who grew up and take their car in now. 

I think it’s truly just family values, and showing we care about our customers. Customer service, for me, I prefer to just to do things with a handshake and a smile—we can’t do that anymore. We look out for the customer’s best interest—that’s the lifeline of the business long after the DRPs are gone. 

Do your employees share these attitudes?

Mark: Yes. All of our employees have a nice smile. If we have one bad person it messes up the whole bunch. We don’t just hire anybody. We don’t have a lot of employee turnover, most of our techs have been with us for over 10 years. 

Donna: My goal is to have everybody work together … We are owner-operators. We see every bump in the road unlike some owners, that’s a good and bad thing for us. We are here everyday, if we have a good day its really good, if it’s bad it’s bad … We are all in a stressful environment dealing with [challenges]. I try to have an environment where we’re not yelling. I think a lot techs come and they seem abused. We’re not yelling and screaming at employees and they welcome the change. I think when people come to us their personality changes. We have had to let great techs who didn’t fit the model go, and hope we find the next person. We have had to make that choice about techs who fit our model. 

FenderBender Awards Insights feature past FenderBender Award nominees. To nominate an inspiring collision repair professional, or for more information click here.

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