Winning customers for life

Jan. 1, 2020
The most important aspect of customer service is acknowledging its importance and making the effort to achieve it.

ALL OF US like to be treated as if we are someone special when we patronize any business. Even if we aren't VIPs, it's nice to feel like we are. Has there been any time that you can remember where you were treated with that type of service? If you have, I'll bet you remember the experience. When you remember that feeling, you just want to go back again, don't you?

Wouldn't it be great if you could create that feeling with your customers in your shop? It's possible, and, in fact, many companies are realizing one of the most important keys to continued success is to do just that. In fact, most insurance companies are focusing on the claims experience as a way to earn and retain their policyholders. It has become important to insurance providers as the market becomes increasingly competitive.


A prime example of a company that has taken this aspect of customer service to the highest degree is Walt Disney. Nearly all of us have been to a Disney park. Many of us, multiple times. Why? It isn't cheap. It's hot, and there are long lines for attractions. However, the parks are spotless, the service is great and you just feel good when you go. In short, you get treated very well, and you love the feeling. Disney does such a great job, everyone wants to go, even Super Bowl winners. Obviously, these parks offer much more than great service, but it is a cornerstone of their business, and the key is they know this.

That's step one, knowing that customer service is an important part of your business.

In an earlier article, I discussed mostly the front end – greeting the customer-type aspects of customer service to help win or capture the job. What happens after you win the repair, however, is even more important. In reality, winning repeat customers is very much a common-sense approach to operating your business. It's taking what you would want, as a customer, and enhancing it and making it part of your repair process. Yes, I said process. You cannot wing it and expect to consistently produce great results. You have to develop a process and follow it.

Quality repairs are part of great customer service for sure, but you cannot only fix cars and expect to get stellar results. You have to fix the people, the vehicle owners as well. Psychology plays a big part in making your customers feel comfortable leaving you with one of their most important and expensive possessions – their vehicles.

We aren't going to teach psychology in this article, but we will address the tangible things that you can do to affect great service. I suggest you read all you can about this subject, especially in articles and books that address the psychological aspects of the process. Mastering this is important.

List it

To begin this process, the first step is to list what you think are the most important aspects for your facility to follow in your attempt to achieve stellar customer service. The list doesn't have to be huge to start, since the process should always be fluid and adaptable to change – a living document, as I call it. As an example, one item on my list is to mandate common courtesy during conversations with my customers, whether in person or over the phone. Always say thank you, you're welcome and things like that.

Recently while I was eating at a fast food restaurant, I said thank you to the employee taking my order at the window. The employee didn't just say you're welcome back to me, she said, "It was my pleasure." That is so simple, but so impactful. Now, I know it was a corporate directive for the employee to say that to me, and obviously this was part of her training, but I loved it. I use it now in my shop as well. It's just a small thing, but when added in conjunction with all the other small things we do, it becomes part of the overall experience.

Back to the list. I suggest starting slowly, and adding to the list as each aspect becomes easier to perform consistently. Here are some examples of things that you could include on yours:

  • proper check-in procedures
  • consistent updates throughout the repair process
  • setting realistic expectations
  • discussing payment issues
  • shop appearance
  • employee appearance

Most of these seem like no-brainer items, but again, they can easily be overlooked. Remember, you won't always be the one speaking or interacting with your customer. It may be an employee more often than you. If you don't initiate some sort of specific standard of operation, will the employee act as you would in your stead?

Develop it

Once you have built your preliminary list, you will have to start to develop a process that integrates that specific aspect of your program into a daily routine. Again, keep your process simple, it doesn't have to be complex to be effective. This list is not in sequential order. It would have to be at some point, but this is essentially brainstorming, so worry about the order in which you do the processes later.

The first item on my list is proper check-in procedures. I think this is an important aspect of customer service by setting a professional tone from the beginning of the repair. By checking in, I mean looking over the damage on the vehicle with the customer at the time of drop off. Not only will this process refresh you with regard to the damage on the vehicle, it will do the same for the customer, helping both of you get a thorough understanding of what is being fixed on the car and what is not.

It also allows you to note old damage, mileage, fuel levels, etc. You may even have a chance to write another estimate on some of the old damage, potentially getting you another job. Essentially from the very start, the process forces you and your customer to be on the same page before a wrench is even turned on the repair.

Consistent updates can be achieved by setting up proactive call dates for every customer. I like to call every customer in my shop, at least twice a week, generally every Tuesday and Thursday, for status updates. If I have 20 cars in the shop, we divide all of the customers between the shop's office staff of four. We hold a production meeting in the morning and discuss among ourselves the progress of every vehicle. Once the meeting is adjourned, everyone on the staff is on the same page and capable of providing update information to their select customers.

We mandate that the calls are made within an hour of the production meeting, essentially guaranteeing every customer in the shop will get called early in the morning about what is happening with their particular repair. With email and texting becoming so much a part of our culture today, you might want to incorporate these methods into your process as well. We do in my shop for those who want to be contacted in that way.

Setting expectations about the length and scope of repairs is very important. One of my favorite movies is Dan Aykroyd's "Coneheads." In the movie, Mr. Conehead chastises his mechanic for not completing the repairs on his car in the "predetermined time coordinates," thus throwing off his schedule for the rest of the day.

The same thing can happen in real life if we are not honest with a customer about the disposition of his or her repair progress. Telling a customer what they want to hear isn't going to help satisfy them when they show up to pick up their vehicle and it isn't ready. Make sure that your communication regarding repair times is honest and as accurate as possible.

Payment is always a tricky subject, but it shouldn't be. Clearly explain your payment policy to your customers as part of the estimating process before the car is dropped off at the shop. Would you be angry and embarrassed if you took all of your friends out to eat and attempted to pay the bill with a credit card the restaurant would not accept? If that happened, would you ever go back? Be proactive about method of payments, as well as what needs to be paid at what time, so that everyone involved is on the same page.

I have mentioned this many times in the past, but the appearance of your shop is extremely important when winning customers for life. Even if your shop isn't the most modern facility around, it can be the cleanest. Cleanliness and neatness go a long way in setting a great first impression.

I recently spoke with a customer who was recommended to us for an estimate by an insurer. The customer was hesitant with his prized brand new car, because he didn't know us and wasn't sure he could trust his insurance company. I invited him to visit. I clean my shop on a regimented schedule, so it's seldom messy. Keeping your shop clean costs very little, but not keeping it clean can cost you plenty in lost revenue or opportunities for repair.

When the customer came in and saw the shop, he was elated. He immediately felt comfortable and was happy he listened to his agent. Without ever seeing our work quality, he trusted us based on first impressions. He rewarded us with a $4,000 repair, based on our appearance and our communication skills.

Employee appearance and demeanor is just as important. Clean, neat and courteous employees are all part of the overall experience you are trying to provide your customer. Remember, your staff must be genuine. Most people can detect phony behavior. Your staff and how they interact with your customer is a reflection of your company.

Recently, I worked with an elderly customer who didn't show up for a repair appointment because she felt one of my staff did not call her back in a timely manner. She had called us before we were open and left a message on our machine. As sometimes happens, we didn't play the messages right when we opened. This customer waited by the phone for almost an hour for us to call back, and when we didn't, became frustrated. I know this stuff, and I still sometimes don't get it right! Needless to say, we now check our messages at predetermined times as part of our process.

Obviously, there are tons of other items that you can place on your list as you develop your processes. Items like telephone etiquette, delivery process and repair quality all need to be addressed. There is no one thing in particular that will propel your shop to achieve stellar customer service and win customers for life. However, doing all the little things as you grow your program will, without question, set your shop above all the others available for your customers to choose. It isn't price alone that entices consumers; it's the overall experience, coupled with value and quality. The most important aspect of customer service is acknowledging its importance and making the effort to achieve it.