by Chasidy Rae Sisk
For an auto body shop to sell repairs to consumers, the collision professional must first sell the potential customer on the shop itself.
Tragically, that sale often presents the largest hurdle in the process. Why? Often, shops struggle to convince customers that they’re the right repair facility because the average consumer perceives automotive shops unfavorably!
“The average consumer views the collision repair industry in a negative light,” believes Micki Woods (Micki Woods Marketing). “Many feel that shops are trying to scam them, and there is general mistrust related to many different factors. The most common are bad past experiences, a lack of understanding that leads to assuming the worst and horror stories from friends or family.”
“I agree with most industry experts that the public’s perception of the industry is negative, largely due to years ago when shops had a history of being less than professional and, in some cases, less than honest,” suggested Lee V. Rush (Sherwin-Williams). “We’ve also seen negative media coverage of our industry which perpetuates that perception and gives the consumer a negative impression of shops, collision repair and our industry as a whole.
“The high cost of repairs feeds the lack of trust as consumers see an estimate and refuse to believe we’ve given them a fair price for simply bumping into someone,” Rush continued. “Combine that with the fear of not really understanding what we do, and we can see why many customers are reticent about trusting shops. We continue ‘enjoying’ that reputation, whether we deserve it or not, and to be fair, it’s not just our industry – lawyers, car salesmen and mechanical shops contend with a similar stigma.”
Maylan Newton (Educational Seminars Institute) sees it a little differently.
“The public doesn’t view the industry in any direction until they need work done on their car. Then, their thought process trends toward negativity because of how the industry is portrayed in the press in general.”
“I don’t think the average consumer actually views the collision industry either way,” John Shoemaker (BASF) agreed. “Collision centers fall under the same category as a funeral home; most people don’t know anything about them until they need one and find themselves scrambling to find the right shop, generally based on the recommendations of friends or neighbors. The only ones who have an opinion are those who’ve needed a repair in the past – and their opinion will be based on their experience with that particular shop.”
The impetus for improving the public’s perception of the collision repair industry lies firmly with the shops. Marketing plays a vital role for any business desiring to increase profitability, but shops can also utilize these tools to improve the overall image of collision repairers and the industry at-large…before a potential customer even steps foot in their facility.
“Collision centers need to market their value,” Shoemaker stressed. “Every collision center does or offers something different than the one down the street, and they need to capitalize on that difference as a way of promoting value to a consumer. Most importantly, shops need to foster word-of-mouth referrals by making each customer’s experience the best possible.”
Woods concurs that “the best kind of praise comes from other people! I recommend each shop solicit frequent and recent testimonials on the major review sites (Google and Yelp), so prospective customers can hear directly from other consumers.”
Social media frustrates many of us, yet it’s another valuable tool that shops can’t afford to ignore when it comes to correcting the industry’s perception from a distance.
“Showing your employees’ faces on social media, your website and elsewhere online creates a stronger feeling of connection to your shop for the consumer,” Woods advised. “If shops can show that they are involved in the local community, consumers will feel the shop is part of their ‘team.’ Shops that participate in local events and support local organizations can showcase their involvement by posting photos to social media and tagging the places or organizations they’re partnering with. This is a great method for building brand awareness.”
“It’s important that shops project a positive outlook on these platforms and in all forms of advertising; we need to promote the finished product,” Newton emphasized. “Customers don’t want to see damaged cars; that’s negative imagery. Any kind of traffic accident or body damage is traumatic, and we want the customer to stop thinking about that trauma. Positive imagery of happy families driving away in their repaired vehicle helps shops move away from the negativity and guide customers to focus on what the shop will provide, about how the collision repair facility will make them whole by restoring their safe, reliable and dependable transportation.”
Although Rush agrees that a shop’s online presence requires significant attention for shops eager to “wow the consumer,” he feels that shops need to pay attention to the first point of contact before the customer enters the shop – which often occurs through a phone call. He offered a tip: “Smile before you answer the phone or make the call; customers can sense your mood through the tone of your voice.
“First impressions are powerful and critical. It may be our 20th call today, but it’s the customer’s first call to us…and it’s our only chance to make a strong first impression. We need to portray an overwhelmingly high level of professionalism within a few seconds when we answer the phone because that’s often how we ‘meet’ that customer. Body shops have come a long way when it comes to developing proper greetings and scripts because they realize they need to explain their process and training, as well as develop an emotional connection, in just a few minutes. What’s different from your shop’s script than the shop down the road? We need to consider that to make sure we’re standing out from the competition.”
Collision repairers know there’s a need to interact in a friendly and professional manner with their customers, but in order to have that opportunity, they must come into the collision center. Phone skills offer a great start, but what happens when the customer drives up to the shop?
“Image is very important, but most shops fail to realize that it actually starts about a mile away from the shop with your signage,” Newton pointed out. “Signs should look professional and clearly indicate where the customer needs to go.”
“We need to be conscientious of the first impression the customer receives when they pull up at the facility, too,” Rush added. “Many shops don’t have many parking spaces, or they may lean parts against the counter as they unload a delivery truck. As industry professionals, we’re desensitized to the way this looks. It doesn’t seem out of place to us, but for most consumers, this makes them uncomfortable. We only have a handful of touchpoints with each customer, and managing the aesthetics of the facility can ease their mind from the onset of the process. Cultivate a showroom – and I use that word intentionally – that doesn’t look like a ‘body shop.’ Doing these things allow shops to create a first impression that drives customer confidence and trust more than anything else.”
Of course, the most effective means of building a relationship and garnering trust comes down to the good ol’ fashioned, tried-and-true method of human interaction, and shops have multiple opportunities to correct consumers’ perception of the industry when they’re on site.
“Immediately greeting the customer on-site creates a first impression too,” Rush noted. “They’re typically walking in with a lot of emotion and not necessarily much logic, so how they’re treated as soon as they walk in drives their emotions, their response and their feelings about the business. Uniforms communicate a certain level of professionalism as well. We’re past the days of customers believing the shop’s employees will take care of them; they expect a $70,000 vehicle to be repaired by professionals, and professional uniforms create that impression pretty effectively.”
“Body shop customers are dealing with a traumatic experience that they rarely encounter,” Newton observed. “Are they greeted by friendly, smiling professionals who help them resolve their problem? Even though they’ll only be in the shop for a short amount of time, we want them to be comfortable while they’re there, so make sure the shop is clean and smells good. Staff should be professionally dressed, and always offer customers something to drink while waiting for the paperwork. Dealing with insurers and supplements poses challenges for the shop, but the goal is to make it as painless as possible for the customer – when their burden becomes the shop’s burden, they’ll feel the shop is taking care of them, and that’s how we make customers happy.”
“Shops need to separate the repair from the customer and start taking care of the customer really well,” Shoemaker indicated. “Any collision center can take care of a repair, but having the right people in place to tend to the customer’s needs has to be primary. If you make the customer feel comfortable right from the start, the experience will stay positive through to delivery of the repaired vehicle.”
“Nothing beats a collision center team that actually cares,” Woods insisted. “Consumers can feel whether their presence is a bother or if the staff is there to care for them. Find people with warm, friendly demeanors to answer your phones and greet your guests. Writers should be explaining and informing the guests throughout the process, so they feel like they are part of the process, which will create a more trusting relationship. Team members who go out of their way to run that extra mile mean a TON to guests, especially those who were originally leery of body shops in general.”
It’s important to continue building that rapport throughout the process as well.
“No matter how frustrating the repair cycle might be, we have to manage the customer’s experience and expectations,” Rush recommended. “Consistently update the customer on the regular cadence of progress. Providing regular updates makes it less detrimental if you do have to call them with less-than-favorable news. Conversely, if the shop only calls with bad news, that’s the only experience they have…and it’s negative.”
While shops can do many things to improve the perception of their individual businesses, it would be ideal if the industry in its entirety collaboratively made some efforts to promote collision repairers’ professionalism, extensive training and hard work.
“It would be great to be more informative as an industry,” Woods stated. “Transparency lessens distrust, and a desire to help our customers – versus focusing only on selling to them – would be a nice switchup.”
“An organization should provide information to the consumer about what to do at the time of an accident and what to look for in a collision center,” Shoemaker proposed. “Plus, they can help a consumer understand the value of an OEM-certified shop as well as assisting them with locating a qualified shop.”
“We don’t have a national organization that advocates for us,” Rush lamented. “A lot of regional organizations do a great job in specific markets, but nobody is pulling together a public service announcement to promote the level of expertise needed in this industry or the great career opportunities that exist within collision repair. This contributes to the skilled labor shortage we’re experiencing as well.”
“Associations for collision and automotive repairers need to create general industry advertisements,” Newton claimed, referencing egg commercials that negated claims that eating eggs led to high cholesterol. “It wasn’t about a specific brand; they promoted eggs in general. Our industry doesn’t have a general plan to market the good things we do. Associations should be managing that as a way of improving our image.”
Many collision associations strive to do exactly that, and WMABA consistently maintains its position as a forerunner in its efforts by offering a webpage dedicated to providing shops with resources to educate consumers. Learn more at
Newton proposed that associations could also collaborate to promote the industry through a nationwide campaign indicating that their members are quality repair facilities worthy of trust.
“Most industry entities don’t have enough brand recognition to make a difference, but if bigger organizations advertise the industry, it creates brand recognition, and from there, member shops will enjoy increased credibility. Most associations have standardized codes of ethics that we should be advertising to promote what we do and remove the negative stigma from the industry as a whole.”
Funding for such a campaign comes with its own concerns, but Newton believes shops must recognize the need to contribute to such an endeavor.
“McDonald’s franchises in Southern California alone have a $100 million marketing budget, but if shops across the country contributed just $100 each month, we could create TV and radio ads that would promote associations as the guiding light toward shops doing jobs correctly.
“The world is changing, and we need to change with it,” Newton continued. “We can’t keep thinking like we did five or 10 years ago. We need to promote individual shops and our industry as a whole, and associations have a great opportunity to build trust and then direct consumers to their website to choose who they’ll do business with.”
Because, ultimately, the customer relies on the individual shop, no matter how they reach the facility.
“People talk about the experience, not the repair,” Rush reaffirmed. “We want to meet more than their minimum expectations; we should be looking to create a memorable and differentiating experience. While 80 percent of companies believe they provide superior customer service, only eight percent of consumers agree. Who’s right? The customer is because it’s their perception, and that means we need to do a better job of managing it by reviewing our business from the customer’s point of view, so we can establish better processes to improve their experience.
“Quite frankly, it’s up to us,” he emphasized. “Each customer’s experience and overall perception of your shop is based on their interactions with it, from first contact to vehicle delivery. All these touchpoints determine how that customer views you…and quite possibly, the entire industry. We’re the best people to help ourselves.”
Changing the public’s perception of this industry may seem like a daunting task, but the opportunities to improve our image are endless. How will you positively impact your customers’ impression of collision repair?
Want more? Check out the August 2022 issue of Hammer & Dolly!