Building rapport, connection with customers is key to better selling

Jan. 1, 2020
Spend enough time with the customer up front so you can build trust, set expectations and exchange information.

In a sales skills class I teach, one of the first things I say is that your goal should not be to become a better salesperson. Your goal should be to learn how to become a trusted advisor. You want the vehicle owner to trust you as someone from whom they seek advice rather than just someone selling them something.

Mike Anderson

I use two triangles to help explain one key to doing this. The triangles represent time spent with the customer. The wide end of the triangle represents maybe 20-30 minutes, while the narrow pointed end represents zero. For most shops, the small end of the triangle is at the top. The customer comes in, and the estimator heads right to the car to get the VIN, production date, etc. They focus on the car, not the customer. They don't stop to build a rapport with the customer.

The same thing happens at the time the customer drops off the car. They get the customer in and out quickly. So by the time the car has been dropped off, the shop has really spent very little time with the customer.

But then what happens? We discover a taillight is out, or we don't have the key for the locking wheel lug, and we have to call the customer about that. It's a negative experience because we're calling someone with whom we really haven't built any rapport. Yet now we're starting to fill up the triangle as we spend more time with the customer that way – by playing phone tag.

Then we find the car is going to be done a day later than we expected. The old saying goes, "There's no atheists in foxholes." I always say there are no atheists when a customer has to be called about a delay. We all pray to get voicemail so we don't have to talk to them directly. It's more time spent, and more of a negative interaction.

Then the customer shows up to pick up the car and is concerned the paint on the plastic bumper cover doesn't match the rest of the car. So we have to spend the time showing them other cars on the lot to explain that that's a common situation. By then, they don't trust us much, and are going to look over their car with a magnifying glass – before trying to pay you with a $1,000 personal check that you didn't tell them in advance you can't accept.

Instead of that situation, I suggest turning the triangle upside down. Spend time with the customer up front, so you can build a rapport and exchange all the information you each need. For example:

  • Ask how the damage occurred. Customers often like to tell their story, and it's a good way to find out if there were other passengers in the car (which might lead you to check for damaged seatbelts or interior inertia damage).
  • Review your payment policies with them.
  • Make sure you have the radio presets and any auxiliary keys you may need.
  • Explain things like the plastic parts paint match issue.
  • Check for burned-out bulbs right then, so they can see for themselves and feel you're looking out for their safety.
  • Walk them through the repair process to outline the sorts of things that can occasionally result in delays.

Most importantly, find ways to connect and build a rapport with them. If they have softball equipment in their car, you can talk about the softball league you're in. They may have a bumper sticker about their kid's school, and you can mention that's where one of your employees is sending their child.

People buy from people – people that they trust. You can't build that rapport and trust by rushing them through an automated process. And that occasional call to a customer about a delay isn't nearly as bad when it's to someone whom you've gotten to know a little bit.

The key to thinking about the triangles is that you pretty much spend the same amount of time with the customer either way. It's just a matter of whether you spend it up front, building a rapport and setting their expectations, or spend it after the vehicle is in process when you're explaining things to a customer who feels no connection with you.

Mike Anderson, a former shop owner, currently operates COLLISIONADVICE.COM, a training and consulting firm. He also acts as a facilitator for DuPont Performance Services' Business Council 20-groups.

If you have a business issue or question you'd like Mike to address, email him. [email protected]