Customer service that sets your shop apart

Jan. 1, 2020
Few, if any, businesses set out to offer bad customer service. Yet, everyone has had the experience of leaving a business with the feeling that its employees didn't know how – or didn't care – to provide good customer service.

Five key aspects of your business can guarantee customer satisfaction — and a steady stream of referrals.

Few, if any, businesses set out to offer bad customer service. Yet, everyone has had the experience of leaving a business with the feeling that its employees didn't know how – or didn't care – to provide good customer service.

For collision repair shops, there are five key areas that can make the difference in whether customers drive away feeling your shop really cares about them and has earned their future business and referrals.

Communicating with customers

Some customers may prefer to be updated on their vehicle's progress by phone, others by email or by being able to log-on to your shop's Web site for photos or a progress report. And believe it or not, some don't need to hear from you until their vehicle is ready. The key is determining which customers are which and acting accordingly.

John Webb can point to some serious financial costs of not communicating effectively in some way. Webb is vice president of CSi Complete, an Ohio-based company that provides customer satisfaction indexing (CSI) services for several hundred collision repair businesses around the country.

Among the key components his company tracks is whether collision repair customers would refer others to the shop they just used. Based on more than 90,000 of the company's customer surveys, Webb said more than 98 percent of those whose vehicles were completed on time and who felt the shop had communicated with them adequately will refer others to that shop.

Not surprisingly, this percentage starts to decline if the vehicle is not completed on time. It dips to about 94 percent if the car is one to three days late, 91 percent if it's four to six days late, and 86 percent if it's a week or more late.

What's more interesting is what happens to referral rates when the customer felt they did not receive adequate communication from the shop. Return that customer's car late, and there's only a 57 percent to 74 percent chance he or she will refer other customers.

"And even if the vehicle is delivered on time, only 83.8 percent of customers say they will refer others to the shop if they didn't feel they were adequately communicated with," says Webb. The lack of communication results in a drop in referral rates of nearly 15 percentage points, even with on-time delivery.

What's that mean in dollars and cents? Webb extrapolates the numbers and finds that poor communication will cost a shop about 16 referred customers for every 100 vehicles that shop repairs. At an average repair order of $2,100, that equates to about $33,180 in lost referral business.

Listening to customers

Whether you track CSI in-house or through an outside service using follow-up phone calls or survey cards, Webb says it offers shops a chance to turn an unhappy customer you wouldn't otherwise know about into an advocate for your business.

"It's a type of grassroots marketing campaign," Webb says. "Every one of those people you save from maybe being a little unsatisfied about something to being a champion for your business is someone you're going to get referrals from down the road."

CSI also can help a shop pinpoint complaint trends, in order to identify improvements and avoid similar problems in the future.

Fixing problems

When confronted with an unhappy customer, Webb recommends skipping the excuses. It's easy to fall into a pattern of trying to explain away problems. An explanation later is fine, but it shouldn't be the starting point. And, the explanation should never sound defensive.

While an apology is important, it's critical that the customer also feels empathy that you understand the position they are in. Make a suggestion for a solution and ask, "Fair enough?" Or ask the customer to define what they consider to be fair.

It's also vital that you empower employees to make quick decisions that make customers happy. One study found 95 percent of complaining customers would return if complaints were resolved on the spot. That percentage plummets if they have to wait or jump through hoops to get satisfaction.

Finally, give each customer a story to tell by fixing the problem in a memorable way. Make a concession they weren't expecting, or give or do something extra. The cost of giving something away is less than the cost of losing a customer's future business and the referrals they generate.

Building a 'service culture'

Help your employees understand what good service is by asking for examples of exemplary customer service the shop has provided. Then, vote on which example had the greatest impact, with the winner being rewarded.

Have your key customer service employees visit other shops to see how they handle customers. Or, have them call other shops, asking the basic questions that customers often ask. Discuss what they found out – good and bad – and how they can use that information to improve customer service in your shop.

Distribute customer comments – good and bad – to all employees. This helps keep customer service foremost in employees' minds, and helps them see what types of small details can have a big influence on customer service.

Using technology

Of all the tools shops can use to improve customer communication and service, certainly the most critical is still the phone.

"Of the people who don't feel they were communicated with, about 49 percent say that they had problems reaching the shop by phone or having their calls returned," Webb says.

To make sure his shop can always reach customers, Gary Boesel of Alpine CARSTAR Auto Body in Aurora, Colo., collects home, work, cell and fax numbers from customers and identifies the preferred contact number.

"We ask for an e-mail address as well, but find that only one out of probably several hundred customers will say, 'Contact me by e-mail,' " says Boesel.

Some larger networks, such as Fix Auto and CARSTAR, are beefing up contact options for their shops by using centralized call centers. Boesel says the CARSTAR call center allows him to forward his shop's phone lines on evenings, weekends and holidays. So no matter when someone calls, they talk to someone who takes a message, helps arrange a tow or rental car, or contacts the caller's insurance carrier.

Train your staff to leave complete and concise messages for customers. Just leaving a name and number says nothing about why you are calling. If they know what you need, they may be able to provide it by fax, e-mail or voicemail if you are not available when they are.

Keith Greenblat, general manager of Auto Collision Center in Daly City, Calif., says his shop uses a system that allows customers to see daily, updated photos of their vehicles, via the shop's Web site.

"I've found it's a good aid in explaining what you're doing, and as long as customers know what's going on, they feel more comfortable," he says. "And, having my e-mail address linked to the photos eliminates some of the phone calls."

Not every customer will leave your shop happy. But by taking the right steps you can increase the percentage of customers who do — and take care of unhappy customers while you still have a chance to turn things around.

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