Just a few years ago, mechanics got their business the old fashioned way – by word of mouth. Nowadays, the internet is flooded with directory services, customer ratings and review sites. As a result, tech-savvy shops with big budgets for marketing and SEO may have sent your customers elsewhere.
Even if your repair work shines, maybe your customer service could use a bit of polish. Here are a few tips – many of them free, inexpensive, and plain old old-fashioned – to increase customer satisfaction in your auto repair business.
1. Say Hello
Time it Takes: 15 seconds/customer
This one may seem obvious, but it’s a great starting point. Ever notice how, the very moment you walk into most nice retail stores, a sales associate greets you? That’s not a coincidence. According to the Retail Doc, 80% of customers won’t return to a business due to perceived indifference from staff.
Now let’s flip this to a repair shop. Everyone knows repairs can be a pain, and they can be expensive, too. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. When they arrive at your business, ready to pay out hundreds of dollars, does someone say, “Hi there, I’m Joe. I’m finishing up this job, and will be with you in just a moment,” or is your customer left alone in a waiting room, wondering how long it will take to be acknowledged, while everyone is occupied in the garage? Of course the latter can be a fact of life, but a quick hello and a smile, even if you can’t help straight away, may make for a loyal customer.
2. Share the Knowledge
Time it Takes: 3 minutes/customer
Most drivers’ version of ‘vehicle maintenance’ probably doesn’t entail much more than gassing, going, and changing the oil. When things go wrong, it’s safe to assume most of your customers aren’t aware of what that means. What if you devoted two minutes per customer to explain the work you’ve done. Why does an air filter need to be changed, and how often? Why isn’t it safe to drive on tires with damaged sidewalls? What happens if a timing belt is neglected? Better yet, take an extra 60 seconds to walk your customer into the garage to show him/her the worn items you’ve replaced, or items that will need attention in the future.
3. Get onto Facebook
Time it Takes: 10 minutes/day
Openbay is an online company, so it makes sense that we’re on Facebook, right? Sure. We’ve been astonished to realize how few auto repair shops are on Facebook – we love to link to our outstanding service providers on social media. But there are many more compelling reasons why you should get onto Facebook, too. Here are a few:
- If you don’t, someone else will. Odds are your business already exists on Facebook, maybe even with your customers, or competitors commenting about your business. If you don’t claim your profile, nobody’s there to speak about who you are, what you do best, and to interact with customers.
- That’s where your customers are. According to Pew Research, 72% of internet users are on Facebook. If your current and potential customers were all heading to an event in your town, why wouldn’t you go?
- If they like you, they’ll spread the word – the average Facebook user has 130 friends. If you do great work, tour word-of-mouth endorsement can travel a lot farther these days.
4. Ask for Customer Reviews Online
Time it Takes: 30 seconds/customer
Many of us claim we never leave reviews online, I bet most of us would admit that they regularly persuade us to make purchases. We spoke with one Openbay shop owner, who confessed that he didn’t ask for reviews often enough. Why did he think that mattered? Because, he said, “if I don’t ask for a review, they’ll give me a 4-star review, and if I ask for a review, they’ll give me 5-stars.” Let your customers know that you value their feedback, and have an eye on progress, and they might just reward your business with a great review, or be more forgiving of a minor mistake.
Another shop owner once asked us to leave him a review on his Openbay page, as well as on his Google+ page. Why? Because he was trying to overcome a customer-review website, which was apparently holding back his 4- and 5-star reviews, unless the shop paid a monthly fee to unlock that great customer feedback. Tell your customers what works best for you.
5. Ask for Referrals
Time it Takes: 30 seconds/customer
Just as asking for your customers to review your business online shows that you care, so does asking for a referral. If we worked with a great small business (auto-repair, or otherwise) whose manager asked us to send friends its way, we would be more inclined to support that shop’s efforts to grow. When your customers know that they’re valued – not just for their business, but for that of their networks – it makes people feel special. Maybe they’ll even wind up referring you to their 130 Facebook friends!
6. If You’re Curious, Listen and Learn New Things
Time it Takes: 15 minutes/day
This item was a last-minute addition, inspired by The Humble Mechanic’s recent early morning Facebook post (pasted below).
We were impressed to see that this shop foreman sets aside time each morning to read surveys. When was the last time you’ve done that? Even when they might send you laughing, or wondering “WTH,” there’s often likely valuable information in there, and opportunity for you to improve. If you aren’t exposed to this level of the business, and are curious, ask for access to customer surveys and reviews, and if you take the time to learn how your business is perceived, you might have the chance to help improve your customers’ experience.
7. Explain What’s in the Future
Time it Takes: 1 minute/customer
We used to have a great mechanic who regularly breathed life into our less-than-great car. His shop was really well located – right on Route 17 South, in New Jersey not far from Manhattan. Did he need more business? No way – he probably had cars limping into the bays all day long. But why were we loyal to him? Before we left his shop, he’d always take a minute to explain what would come next – within the next 5,000 miles, we’d need to replace a couple of tires; around 100,000 miles, we’d need a new timing belt, and so on.
That helps for a couple of reasons – customers will feel better informed about their vehicles’ needs, and it will also help them to budget. A recent study showed that 62% of Americans didn’t have $500 of emergency funds set aside for items like car repair. While it may not be significant to you, because you’re in the business of automotive repair and maintenance, those costs can hit an individual, or worse: a family, hard. Let them know what’s coming down the pike, so your customers aren’t forced to choose between car repairs and Christmas (as shown on this ABC World News feature on car repair).
8. Talk (or text) Their Language
How often do you call a customer, to confirm his/her vehicle is ready for pickup, only to get voicemail? To some of your customers, calling and leaving a voicemail may be akin to sending someone a fax – it simply should not be done these days. When you do leave voicemails, are your customers checking them? Some people hate voicemail, as we confirmed in this humorously titled NPR piece, “Please do not leave a message.”
Consider employing technology, such as Openbay, which enables you to message with your customers. Text to ask them a question, send a photo to confirm you suspicion of worn parts, or even share a video to demonstrate the issue you’ve been able to replicate. If your customers want to speak in an online, or mobile language, and you give it a try, odds are you’ll find it’s far easier than you might have feared.
Image credit: Nadia Morgan, Flickr