Why you stink at selling maintenance to women

Nov. 18, 2020
If you search your shop database over the last 10 years, you will find a dramatic increase in the number of women you are serving — unless your (negative) reputation precedes you. 

This month’s article was written with the help of ATI Performance Coach Charlene Parlett.

What does your customer base look like? If your answer is mostly men, then you’re missing a huge opportunity! Decades ago, this was not the case. It was not as common to have women customers in a greasy shop, let alone making auto repair purchasing decisions. However, with more than half of women in the United States working outside the home and accounting for 47 percent of the workforce, they are quickly becoming the primary customer and target audience for auto repair shops nationwide. In fact, women control 85 percent of purchasing decisions, so if your shop does not cater to their preferences, they’ll likely pass you by or overlook your services entirely.  

If you’re missing the mark on attracting women customers and you want to change that and keep them coming back, then the following article by ATI Performance Coach Charlene Parlett is a must-read:

I was revisiting an article written in 2007 by one of my fellow (male) colleagues. The article was about how the market had changed from 30 years ago, when cars broke down more often and the stereotype of an automotive technician was a guy in a greasy shirt carrying a greasy rag in a greasy paw with a pinup girl calendar on his toolbox. The 2007 article focused on selling maintenance to women since most shops were seeing a shift to more women customers. It talked about having a more clean, professional image, taking down those offensive calendars, and remembering to oblige our female customers with “guidance and structure in our maintenance programs.” 

To be honest, it made me cringe a little reading it. I grew up around technicians and blue-collar working guys, so I’m a little thick-skinned when it comes to male biases toward women. But in today’s environment, while the wording was never meant to create offense (and probably didn’t in 2007), we are living in a new world where the majority of your female customers are the breadwinner for their family, they are much more tech savvy, and they can Google faster than you can talk. As a nation we are also much more sensitive (enlightened?) to how we may offend someone with our words and behavior. Try telling a woman today that you are going to provide her with guidance and structure, and she will most likely give you a few choice words and walk out the door. I don’t really care about your tech’s calendar and I probably won’t catch it if you call me hun or darlin (especially in the deep south since we call everybody, both men and women, hun and darlin). I know the difference between calling me “hun” because it is a local friendly expression and patronizing me. So does your customer. As women, we learn to sense sexism coming our direction early on. I believe in many cases there was no intent to offend, but perception is reality. Since your shop’s reputation can be decimated by a few clicks on a smartphone, you need to listen up, hun. 

Automotive repair and service as an industry has made strides in embracing diversity. More young women are considering the trades as a career choice, and there are some rock-star women technicians out there. Almost half the shop owners that I work with every week are women, and the same holds true for service advisors in those shops. If we can continue to support the value of diversity, the industry will continue to be a microcosm of the modern world. More than half of women in the United States work outside the home, accounting for 47 percent of the workforce. They are gaining ground in all industries, earning higher level management positions, and outpacing men in education and investing. The number of women-owned businesses has grown by 114 percent in the past 20 years.  

Women control 85 percent of purchasing decisions. If you search your shop database over the last 10 years, you will find a dramatic increase in the number of women you are serving — unless your (negative) reputation precedes you. I challenge you to check how many of those women came back for a second visit — or hit the road after their one and only experience with your shop. And while you’re at it, take a look at your online reviews and see how many were left by women. We’ll get into why all of this is important in a moment. 

Women buy based on different criteria than men (if you really want to know about the scientific research on the differences between the male and female brain you can find plenty of it). When we teach service advisors our seven-step sales process and discuss the different buying personalities, it’s not by chance that women fall into certain buying personalities more often than men and vice versa. Let’s talk about what the top priorities are for most of your female customers. 

  1. Be relatable. Women put their trust in people, not brands (unless of course it’s Heinz ketchup because duh what other ketchup is there, really?). Would your wife/sister/daughter be comfortable inviting your service advisor to a group gathering? Does the service advisor make your customers of all genders feel welcome? The majority of service advisors (that includes you, Mr. or Ms. Shop Owner who think you have to do it all) are great at checking cars in, creating estimates, and ordering parts; they are not great at building customer relationships. Automotive service is not a one-and-done purchase; the goal of every interaction should be to build that trust and rapport, so customers look forward to seeing your smiling face again in the future. Women consumers are more loyal to great service vs. a brand or price. 
  2. Treat her like the guy in the suit. Both men and women tend to treat a man in a suit with an air of importance, respect, and appreciation. We don’t talk down to him, talk over him, or ignore him. The most common complaint for women customers is feeling patronized or treated like a child. Guess what? Your male customers don’t know any more than your female customers do about modern automotive technology. Assume that woman is smart and successful. Take time to educate and explain the recommended services. Extra bonus points: if she is the customer and has a male friend or relative with her, direct your conversation to her, not him. She is the decision maker. 
  3. Let her talk. Here is where a difference in gender behaviors comes into play. In general, men will interrupt you to ask questions, give their opinion, offer a different perspective, and nobody thinks twice about it. Women, however, were taught that interrupting is rude and will wait and wait and wait for you to stop talking. So stop talking. I see salespeople lose sales all the time because they keep blabbing on and on when it’s clear the buyer has something to say or has already lost interest.  
  4. Give her something to brag about. Female consumers rely on research and reviews more than male consumers do. They trust Facebook reviews and YouTube testimonials more than your best marketing efforts. They will tell their friends about the customer service experience you provide, good, and bad.  

What about marketing? You should work with a marketing professional to help you create marketing that appeals to women. Most women (and men) don’t care about that super cool Multimatic DSSV Suspension you just installed. Flooding your website and Facebook with photos of torn-down engines and broken ball joints does nothing to give customers a sense of what it feels like to walk in your door. They want to know if you are going to treat them with respect and value. Do you offer pick-up and delivery service? Do you sanitize the car before and after you touch it? Do you offer a loyalty rewards program? They want to know how you are going to make their life easier by reminding them about services due and if you will be able to get their vehicle back to them in time for soccer practice, or BNI, or a board meeting uptown. 

A play area for the kids? Not really needed in today’s world. What will make a difference for that smart and successful woman consumer? A fantastic cup of coffee, free WIFI, a clean waiting room, something besides Jerry Springer reruns on the TV, and the latest issue of a few magazines (stop being cheap, you can get them for pennies per issue on Amazon) will say you value her time and want to provide a great atmosphere while she is with you. 

And yes, you do want more female consumers in your door. Lots of us. Because women literally hold the purse strings to the $188.5 billion that the US consumer spends on auto repair and maintenance. Don’t make me pull out my walking boots… 

About the Author

Chris (Chubby) Frederick

Chris “Chubby” Frederick is the CEO and founder of the Automotive Training Institute. ATI’s 130 full-time associates train and coach more than 1,500 shop owners every week across North America to drive profits and dreams home to their families. Our full-time coaches have helped our members earn over 1 billion dollars in a return on their coaching investment since ATI was founded.

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