by Alana Quartuccio
There are many important factors that go into running a successful automotive service or collision repair business. It may start with a motivated staff of skilled, talented professionals producing quality work, but it doesn’t just end there.
It all comes down to what happens between the time the customer drops off the car and picks it up. Keeping customers happy, satisfied and trusting you enough to come back to your shop lies in the relationship and communication your business develops with them along the way. This is especially important when snags come along by way of backordered parts or insurance company disputes.
In the words of Mike Anderson (Collision Advice): “There is a saying that when there is no communication, negativity will always fill the void.
“The thing is, we have to communicate with the customer,” he suggests. “If a part is on backorder, don’t just call them and say the part is on backorder and you’ll let them know when it is in. When the customer doesn’t hear from you for a couple of days, they start having anxiety, and they think you forgot about them. We have to do what is called a no-update-update. For example, call Mrs. Jones and say, ‘We have nothing new to report. We are still trying to work this out for you; we just don’t want you to think we forgot.’”
Recently, AASP-MN News featured “Minnesota’s Top 10 Auto Repair Shops” (see grecopublishing.com/aasp0723coverstory) and “Minnesota’s Top 10 Auto Body Shops” (see grecopublishing.com/aasp0823coverstory) where we highlighted the shops that customers raved about the most online and via social media. The message was loud and clear that customers prefer to work with those businesses who take the time to frequently communicate the process along the way. Good communication results in happy, satisfied customers. AASP-MN News followed up with some of the top shops named to find out what their communication process looks like – and how it helped lead them to the top!
AASP-MN Collision Division Director Travis Doyle (Arrowhead Auto Body; Hermantown) says effective communication right off the bat is key in keeping their customers satisfied.
“When a customer drops off their car, we’ll pre-coach them right from the start with the estimating process. Once we get the car disassembled and the repair plan together, we determine all the parts and components needed to fix the vehicle. If there is any indication that a part could be on backorder, we call the customer to let them know right away so it won’t be as big of a surprise if it winds up causing a delay.”
Doyle’s shop uses Podium to text their customers regularly, even if there is not much to report. “It’s giving them a no-update update. If we called the dealer about a part and there is no ETA, we will let the customer know that we still don’t have the part.” In a case where a vehicle is drivable and not waiting at the shop for a backordered part, Arrowhead Auto Body will be sure to text that customer weekly to touch base even if there is no ETA.
“Radio silence is a bad thing,” states Will Latuff (Latuff Brothers Auto Body; St. Paul), who wholeheartedly agrees the no-update update method is key in keeping customers happy.
Even if there is no update, the standard at Latuff Brothers is to contact customers on Tuesdays and Thursdays, every week. The shop believes it’s important to communicate any issues up front.
“If something comes up during the repair, we lean into it right away and contact the customer,” Latuff shares. “Waiting is not optimal. If it’s something simple, we can communicate the details over text, but if it’s a bit more involved, we will be sure to call to convey the information with a more personal touch.”
Changes in technology are really helping to shape the way automotive businesses communicate. These days, shop owners are finding that customers prefer to be contacted by text messaging.
Jamey Mauer (Advanced Auto Repair; St. Cloud) moved over to an auto repair marketing tool known as Kukui about a year ago. This system links to the shop’s NAPA TRACS operating system and has the ability to send out messages to their customers regularly. For example, if a customer hasn’t been in contact with the business for 12 months, the system can automatically send out an inquiry and can also follow up with a note after a vehicle was in for repairs.
Mauer admits he was nervous about introducing the system at first, wondering how customers would respond to such interaction, but he’s been pleased to hear nothing but positive things.
“On the first day we put this system into action, we had it send out text messages at 11am. By 11:10am, I was already responding to texts from customers who responded with great feedback,” relays Mauer.
He’s found that customers prefer receiving texts about their vehicles. “Sending updates via text has been widely accepted by our customers. It gives them a chance to review and respond at their convenience if they are in the middle of something else.”
Another great tool Mauer’s shop has implemented comes from AutoServe1, a digital vehicle inspection platform that allows for photos and even videos to be shared with customers, which helps communicate the issues found with the vehicle by giving them a visual.
“We’ve received huge amounts of positive feedback from customers about the transparency and accountability that comes from the thorough inspection that we do. We give them the full picture of what is happening to their vehicle. If we find something beyond what they brought it in for, we give them the option to select what they want repaired.”
Following up with customers is very important, according to Mauer. Not only does it help generate business for the shop, but also can truly help customers. For example, by getting them back in the shop for their next oil change, you have the opportunity to uncover something that could have left the vehicle broken down on the side of the road if not attended to.
Tom Gleason (Pro-Tech Auto Repair; Corcoran) also promotes the importance of getting a clear message to the vehicle owner right at the start.
“If a customer comes in with a drivability problem, we’ll inspect the vehicle first to get a complete picture of where the vehicle is at the present time,” he explains. “So, let’s say the vehicle needs a valve job and you find another issue that needs to be addressed but don’t tell the customer about it until after the fact; they likely won’t be happy about that as they may not have chosen to spend the money on that repair if they had the whole picture up front.”
“We just try to under-promise and over-deliver,” adds Tom’s son, Dan Gleason (AASP-MN’s Mechanical Division Director).
The Pro-Tech team will also be sure to let their customers know if issues arise throughout the day that will delay the repair by calling them before the day’s end to ensure they can make the necessary arrangements for transportation. Pro-Tech also has a fleet of loaner cars they can provide to their customers so they can go about their day while their vehicle is being repaired.
The Gleasons’ shop also makes use of a digital platform which delivers photos and videos to customers. They’ve found this communication tends to really “raise the trust factor immensely” as the customer can see what their mechanics see.
Communicating to the customer about the status of their vehicle is one thing, but another important aspect of writing the repair story is obtaining information from the customer when they bring their car in. According to Latuff, it’s simple: just ask them.
“Our front-end estimators gather the basic information from our customers. Everyone that comes in our door has a story to tell, and you just have to ask them about it. Having that conversation with them is taking care of their needs.”
As part of their intake process, Latuff Brothers will ask their customers what their preferred form of contact is. They’ve also found most customers prefer text messaging. Giving customers the opportunity to be involved in decisions about their vehicle is important to them, as he’s found from experience. “A lot of shops may assume it’s ok to proceed or that the customer is on board with things. It’s their car, you have to ask them. People respond well when you include them in the decision making about their car.”
Sometimes, there are negative situations that just can’t be avoided, but one thing you can’t avoid is the customer, so communication ─ even if it’s not good news ─ has to be relayed.
“Whether it’s negative or positive, honesty is the best policy,” states Galen Carlson (North Country Auto Body and Mechanical; Hugo). “I have high standards for how we do things. One thing my crew has learned is I won’t do anything that involves playing games. If one encounters an upset customer, let them blow off steam and tell them what the situation is.”
Carlson has one person in his office dedicated to customer contact. He’s advised that person to “tell them the truth, even if it’s negative. Take it and tell them we are doing the best we can. Most people will be understanding.”
What it boils down to is keeping the customer informed. As Tom Gleason puts it, “I don’t think you can ever over-communicate. People appreciate it immensely, and I get a lot of comments when I follow up with a call or send a thank you card.”
Want more? Check out the September 2023 issue of AASP-MN News!