An auto body shop is like a day care center. People want their children well taken care of, and they want their cars well taken care of.
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Getting back to the basics was the focus of the San Diego Chapter of the California Autobody Association meeting on May 22 at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse Restaurant on Harbor Island in San Diego.
Presenter Robert Rick, VP of Sales and Consulting Services for Gates Business Solutions in Wisconsin and DuPont Performance Coatings Executive Facilitator for DPS Educational Series, addressed approximately 50 attendees with the topic, “How to Improve Some of Your Best Business Practices.”
“Think of a customer’s car as their baby,” Rick said. “Their cars are important to them and their second most expensive purchase.” He likens auto body shops to day care centers because “our cars are loved ones too.”
Rick, 52, has more than 30 years experience in the automotive industry with knowledge in all aspects of collision repair consulting. His animated style and energetic delivery kept the members engaged as he quickly went through several points to help auto body shops improve their business practices. Specifically: how to improve the check-in process, improve communication with customers, increase customer satisfaction feedback and improve cycle time and customer-pay services.
Rick opened his presentation with a tough question: “Do we know it all?” and spent the next 45 minutes taking his captive audience back to the basics with three main points: 1) set expectations; 2) slow down; and 3) stop talking body shop lingo.
“We are very confrontational with our customers,” Rick said. Often, shops don’t think about how they come across to customers, or that they may be answering the phone with their bad mood showing.
The front office person answering the phones and fielding customer calls doesn’t always know the answers, such as when the car should be brought in, how much time it will take to repair a car, or the status of the repair. What if the person answering the phone has a bad attitude, is unfriendly, or doesn’t even want to answer the phone?
“How much is that phone call worth?” Rick asked. “Are you losing jobs because your front line person doesn’t know how to bring in the business?” A good test Rick recommends is that a shop owner or manager ‘shop’ his own business. “Go to lunch with a friend, have your friend call the shop and turn on the speaker phone so you can hear the customer service the front line people are giving,” he said. Front line people need to be trained to deal with customers.
In addition, he said, “We talk industry jargon with our customers and we intimate them with our lingo. We need to talk a language they can understand, usually at a third- to fifth-grade level. And we need to slow it down. A lot of us talk at lightning speed in our own lingo. We understand each other, but the customers don’t understand us.”
Following up with the customer is a great communication tool. Rick suggested shops “act like a doctor’s office” and call to confirm appointments and other details, such as claim number, repair authorization, damages to be repaired, and the status of the repair. Taking a few minutes to make follow-up calls will save shops time in the long run, he said, explaining it takes more time to receive a call than to make one. Several steps might be involved in a call that’s received: call comes in, receptionist puts the caller on hold, the appropriate person needs to be located, that person may not be prepared to take the call, receptionist takes a message, the repairer calls back later, leaves a message, and the customer calls back and the cycle is repeated. Whereas, it only takes a minute or two to make the call or send the text or email. The lack of keeping the customer adequately informed of the status of a repair is the No. 1 failure of CSI (Customer Satisfaction Index), Rick reported.
Perhaps one of the best ways to communicate with your customer is don’t mislead them. Avoid giving an estimated time of completion. Customers rely on that information and make their plans accordingly. The number one question customers ask is when their car will be ready. Shops know this and yet they still wait for the customer to bring it up, rather than address the issue head on. Rick advised shops not wait for the customer to ask, but instead give the customer the appropriate expectation from the beginning and this will increase customer satisfaction by the job completion. Rather than guessing when the vehicle will be finished, Rick advised that repairers should take down cell phone numbers or email addresses and make phone calls or send text messages or emails to give status updates on the repair. “Don’t make promises on a finish date, but make promises to call to give an update,” he said. The best time to reach customers, he said, is between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. and gives the customer plenty of time to make arrangements to pick up the vehicle.
“We cause our own bottlenecks,” Rick said. “Body shops need to take control of their own schedules. Set up the expectations up front, and then do it.”
A proper check-in takes about 10-15 minutes, and without it, time and money are wasted with follow-up calls, work being stuck in the stall, verifying repairs and delivery issues.
“Stop asking customers ‘When do you want to bring the car in?’ and take control of your schedule,” Rick said. “Tell them when the best time is to drop off their car and tell them how much time you need for the check-in process. When a customer is checking in a vehicle, they don’t know what to expect. If we tell them ‘just bring it in,’ we aren’t setting the proper expectation. They think they can just bring it in, drop off the keys and leave. But, instead, we need 10-15 minutes of their time to do the paperwork, go over the financial information, discuss transportation needs and any other check-in procedures. But the customer doesn’t know this, because we told them “just bring it in” instead of telling them we need 15 minutes of their time at check-in.”
Letting customers know that they will need to spend 10-15 minutes at the shop when they drop off their car saves the shop time and money, makes a huge difference in the back end, and increases customer satisfaction when the job is complete.
Another important step all shops should be taking is spending a few minutes at the car with the customer to verify the damage, note mileage and fuel level, take digital pictures of the dash, make an interior inspection, check dash lights, power seats and windows and look for burn holes or windshield chips. In addition, ask the customer to remove personal belongings from the car and trunk, and check to see if other work could be done or if there is other unrelated prior damage. This minimizes the opportunity for people to take advantage of body shops. This is also the time to check to see if there are any “production stoppers,” such as security codes or special wheel lug sockets that may needed.
How many body shops toss the keys to the customer and tell them the car is parked out front? Body shops that do this miss a great opportunity for customer service and getting higher customer satisfaction ratings. Make the delivery an event! Before the customer arrives, tell them on the phone how nice the car looks and how well the repairs went. It sets their expectations. When the customer arrives, go out to the car with them (before the paperwork) and show off the work you did. “Sell the sizzle! Give ‘em the ‘wow factor,’” Rick said. “You’ve earned the CSI, so ask for it.” Ask the customer that if they should receive a survey call, will they give the shop a good review?
Rick advises that shops should begin the repairs keeping the end in mind. Don’t wait until the end of the repair to ask for the customer’s opinion.