by Chasidy Rae Sisk
Do your customers understand what’s involved with repairing a vehicle and running a shop? Do they know how heavily shops invest their time, energy and funds into training, tools and equipment? They may appreciate having safe, reliable transportation, but do they actually recognize the complexity of today’s vehicles?
Last month, AASP-MN News talked to consumers to find out exactly what they know…and the initial results were underwhelming to say the least (check it out at bit.ly/AASPconsumer). Yet, after a brief educational session, many consumers developed a better grasp of how much training, effort and expense goes into automotive and collision repair.
Education really is key. When repairers invest the time into educating their customers, those vehicle owners better understand what is happening when they take their car in for repairs. How are Minnesota shops instilling this knowledge in customers? A few industry professionals shared their strategies and successes.
“The majority of our educational efforts occur shoulder to shoulder with the customer,” disclosed Will Latuff (Latuff Brothers Auto Body; St. Paul). “Whether we conduct an e-estimate or if we talk to the vehicle owner in person, we engage in a dialogue about the car, what we’ll need to do to fix it, what steps we’ll take and why it’s important to conduct the repair. We also explain the value and quality we offer as a certified shop.”
AASP-MN Board member Dan Gleason (Pro-Tech Auto Repair; Corcoran) agrees that a well-informed consumer becomes a customer who is equipped to make a good decision.
“We adopted digital inspection about three years ago, and going from a paper checklist to the digital version which includes pictures and videos has been a huge benefit. We can mark up the inspection, show them where a component is broken or no longer connected and explain why it’s important to fix. They don’t necessarily understand what that part does, but they can see it looks bad, and they know they don’t want it on their car. Without making that connection, it goes over their head and doesn’t make sense.”
Collision repair facilities contend with an additional aspect of the repair process that they must explain to customers.
“With us, education about the repairs is conducted during the estimating process, one-on-one at the shop; all in all, 99 percent of our education takes place directly with the consumer,” Dawn Weitzel (Bodywerks Auto Body Repair; Elko) noted. “If customers later call the office with questions, they mainly ask about the insurance process, which is more confusing to them. Some have even called in tears after being treated rudely by insurance company reps. It’s my job to try to reduce their stress, so I do what it takes to help them.”
Knowledge is power…and sometimes the consumers’ knowledge empowers shops. Latuff shared an anecdote:
“My brother, our front estimator, walked a customer through an estimate to explain what we would do and why it needed to be done. That conversation reinforced that we’re the experts, and as a result, the customer became an ally – they know we’re on their side, so they’re on ours when it comes to simple discrepancies like labor rate disagreements. Educated consumers go to bat for us.”
Social media tends to be an important tool for both mechanical and collision shops to attract, retain and educate consumers.
“Everyone is on social media, constantly walking around with a phone in their hands,” Gleason acknowledged. “We publish blogs and articles on our website about the types of repairs we do, things to look for and industry trends. To educate consumers, we have to find out where they are and meet them there in a way that’s attractive enough for them to want to learn more.”
“The best way to educate customers is to find the most effective means to deliver what consumers need to know to make a good decision,” Latuff agreed. “We use social media to attract customers and educate them upfront by creating awareness related to our OEM certifications and other repair considerations, drawing them into the shop to ask more questions.”
Today’s consumers may have a lot of questions – a phenomenon Gleason blames on a cultural and generational shift.
“My dad and his friends used to putz on cars in the garage. The old gearheads could open the hood, change their fluids or even adjust the carburetor, but the younger generations didn’t really do that while growing up. They didn’t have the opportunity to hang out and change spark plugs with their pals. Now, cars have evolved to the point where it’s rare for the average consumer to possess the ability to tinker with their cars, and few have the passion to learn how.
“As that knowledge gap gets further and further apart, it has grown so immense that most people fear being taken advantage of because our industry has such a bad reputation,” Gleason continued. “How can you convince someone who knows nothing about cars to buy into what you’re selling, whether that’s maintenance or safety items? They need an automotive professional they can trust.”
At the same time, not all consumers are created equal when it comes to their knowledge about the automotive world. Some customers know absolutely nothing other than where to add gas and how to make their car go. Others have a little basic knowledge and may even be able to check their fluid levels with assistance.
Then, there is another kind of consumer – you know the type we’re talking about! – those consumers who talk to a neighbor or do a little research online and decide they’re the experts; they learn just enough to be dangerous and make selling to them that much more difficult. Which consumer is the easiest to educate?
“Customers who really don’t know anything are the easiest because you’re not trying to break down false information or dispute what they’ve read or heard,” Gleason indicated. “It’s difficult to convince someone who spends too much time on the internet that we’re doing what’s best for them and their car even though the internet may say something different. We have to combat their preconceived notions, so it tends to require a longer conversation.
“Conversely,” he continues, “we work on a lot of different cars, so occasionally, a customer will share something they read on a forum that may actually be a valuable suggestion we can implement to make the process go smoother. If it makes sense, we’re not opposed to trying it.”
“Ninety percent of our customers either have basic or no knowledge whatsoever,” Weitzel contributed. “They understand that our job is to return the vehicle to them with high-quality repairs. Often, internet researchers are paying for repairs out of pocket. There’s more discussion time with this person because typically they’re looking to make cuts in the repair process. When possible, we’ll provide options to save money, but we’ll never cut corners or fix a car knowing that the person won’t be happy with the result.”
Latuff doesn’t “see much difference between these types of customers. Mike Anderson [of Collision Advice] taught us a lot, including that consumers are looking for empathy, direction and trust. Regardless of how much the customer knows – or doesn’t know – acknowledging their emotions and needs can open the opportunity to educate them on what they need to know. People are more afraid of making the wrong choice than of spending money, so we’ve learned that by taking the time to address consumers’ fears and beliefs, bridge that gap and build trust, they’re more likely to hand their keys over; that’s the biggest win you can have with a consumer.”
“Creating a relationship with people who choose our shop is imperative. I give my cell phone number to customers so they can text with questions,” Weitzel shared. “Most people text rather than call. This is just one small way that we can make them feel that their time is valued.”
“Once you build that trust, they don’t always want to know more; they’re confident that we are going to take care of them,” Gleason concurred. “We build that trust not only by showing them the problems, but also by taking pictures of the things that are functioning properly, allowing us to tell them, ‘Your air filter looks great,’ which reassures them that we’re only trying to sell them what they need and alleviates some of their anxiety. Sharing this information lets them see what we see, giving us the ability to talk through the problems and come up with a solution with the vehicle owner.”
Digital inspections provide a competitive edge for many shops over dealership facilities. But that edge isn’t as sharp as it once was, since a lot of dealers have started to move toward that process because they understand its effectiveness for building trust.
“Dealerships keep taking their cues from us because we provide better customer service,” Gleason observed. “But as independents, we have the advantage of being smaller and more personable. Our customers aren’t just a number; they’re people. We know their names and have relationships with everyone who walks in our door. Educating them allows us to develop that rapport. Dealers can try to catch up with us, but this isn’t a gimmick – this is how we’ve done business forever because it’s just who we are.”
Education is instrumental in creating and maintaining relationships with customers.
“Once they interact with us and we educate them during the estimate, we’re able to really demonstrate the benefits of choosing an independent OEM-certified collision center over a dealership or non-certified shop,” Latuff stated. “It sets expectations and comes back to the trust factor. By openly communicating with customers, we assure them that we’re going to do the right thing. When we spend time talking to them about what that certification means and why we’re the right choice, we see consumers gain confidence to decide to fix their car with us…even when our estimate isn’t the lowest.”
“Teaching the customer about what we do helps get everyone on the same page,” Gleason added. “Keeping customers in the loop allows us to be more transparent, and giving them the information they need to make a good decision demonstrates that we were steering them in the right direction all along. Technology provides a lot of ways for us to educate consumers about their car, but most importantly, we want them to know we’ll always be here if they have questions.”
Consumer education can take many forms, but the way you choose to educate consumers is less important than making sure you are educating them. AASP-MN’s Consumer Tips offers a great resource for repairers to use in these efforts and can be accessed at
Want more? Check out the July 2022 issue of AASP-MN News!