You’re a skilled mechanic and a savvy business owner who chose the exceptionally competitive automotive service business as your way to make your future. You’ve got a solid crew of ASE certified auto technicians, you know how to manage them, you provide them with the latest diagnostic tools, the service bays are clean and filled with top notch equipment, and in general, you’ve got a solid grip on your auto repair shop. But the challenges of doing business in this market space never seem to end do they?
Between the core services which used to revolve around plugs and wires but now includes software updates and CPU tuning, and the highly competitive nature of the auto repair service, you have to be on the lookout for anything that can give you a competitive edge.
It’s obvious you have focused on the service bays because that’s where the money is right? But have you ever viewed your auto repair shop waiting room as a profit center? What really goes on there? Is it just a place where a customer places an order, sits and waits, and then pays?
If that’s all that goes on, smart marketers will tell you that you are missing a massive opportunity to grow your business.
How Your Auto Repair Shop’s Waiting Room Can Build your Business
You already have a handful of titles like Business Owner, Boss, and Entrepreneur but the one you should be gunning for is My Mechanic. That can only be bestowed upon you by a customer, and your customer highly values that title. They brag about it. They’re happy to tell their friends how smart they are to have found a mechanic who knows his stuff and is trustworthy, transparent and reliable.
That title is gold.
And the best place to prime the pump in earning the “My Mechanic” title is your waiting room.
It starts with you and your staff realizing that everybody who steps into your waiting room has a lifetime value. The Millennial needing an oil change, the Baby Boomer wanting a tune on his ’72 Charger, the Gen Z customer needing new brake pads, even the kid who comes along with his mom, are all potentially long-term customers. More than that, they can refer new customers, post favorable reviews online, and become your advocate.
So, when you invite people into your “business home” you want to make it a welcoming, engaging, productive and even interesting experience. You want to connect with them on an emotional level that reassures them they made a smart decision trusting their ride with you.
Your waiting room is where you can make a first, and lasting impression. In other words, your waiting room is where you can plant the seeds for repeat business and free word of mouth promotion.
6 Ways to Optimize Your Customer’s Experience in the Waiting Room
You don’t have to be an interior decorator to know that your space has to be clean. If your auto shop waiting area is dingy looking, if the walls need a coat of paint, if you have old vendor provided posters scotch taped to the walls, and if your seating looks like it last served a rural Greyhound bus station, the vibe you’ll give off is slipshod, unprofessional, and uncaring. Not the best way to market your business.
So, here are a few ideas to boost your customer allegiance. Not all will be “size appropriate” for your auto repair shop but they may inspire similar solutions.
Who’s Working on my Ride? We like doing business with people we know. Too often the technicians in repair shops are just anonymous figures that a customer might glimpse in a service bay when pulling their car up. If you’re proud of your team, give them some space on your waiting room wall with a nice headshot. Avoid the selfie quality pics that adorn every other business’ “employee of the month” announcement and opt for a professional to handle the photography. Add a bio to each picture and include certifications, awards etc. and at least one fun fact like favorite car movie scene, or first car ever driven. You’ll increase the customer’s sense of engagement and you’ll stroke the egos of your team.
Use Your Counter to Build an Email List: There’s an old direct marketing saying that goes “the money is in the list.” Back then they were referring to mailing lists, today marketers are talking about email lists. If you or your marketing agency is using an autoresponder for email marketing, you already know the value of an opt in email address. If you’re not, you need to check it out but that’s a whole other topic. You can get a customer to opt-in to an email list at your counter. The simplest way to do this is to offer a promotion like free tire rotation or 10% off an oil change to new sign-ups. Some shops just use a printed form on a clipboard to capture a name and email address. A slicker way is to create a sign-up page on your website and have a tablet or other device on the counter, facing the customer, opened to that page and asking them if they want to get the deal. Once you have an opt-in email, you can market to them until they unsubscribe.
Aim for more than “about what I would expect”: When that vehicle owner walks in the front door, you want them to know they haven’t walked into a strictly transactional business. They’ve walked into your shop with your own unique story. Maybe you’re a veteran-owned or family-owned business. Perhaps you support your local community by sponsoring the youth baseball league. Take a cue from JoAnn and Chip on Fixer Upper and create an accent wall from shiplap. It’s relatively inexpensive and can be the eye-catcher customers will talk about. Photos, artwork, your kid’s science project, it really doesn’t matter. It just has to make a memorable impression on the customer.
But First, Coffee: When a guest shows up at your home, you probably ask them if you can get them a refreshment. Your waiting room is your business home so be as gracious ofa host as you are at home. While they wait, engage with your customers, make them feel welcome and comfortable. Opt for a Keurig to offer them a fresh cup, rather than having a pot sitting out for who knows how long. If you have a bar fridge, offer bottled water as well. For extra credit, provide a free snack. Quaker Chewy Granola bars only cost about 15 cents each at Costco or Sam’s Club. Cheap goodwill can go a long way.
Speaking of Coffee, Take a Cue from Your Local Cafe: Instead of providing seating in a line like every other waiting room you’ve ever been in, consider adding some table space. Table seating gives your customers an easy way to get some work done on their laptop while they wait. Go above and beyond by making outlets or a power strip readily available.
Free Wi-Fi: Your customer demographics will probably be a mixed bag, but the one thing that 90% of them will have in common (aside from needing their ride serviced) is they are connected. They have a smartphone in their pocket or are toting a laptop or tablet. They want to catch up on work or count the number of “likes” they got on Instagram. They need Wi-Fi to do that and you should provide it. Ask your Internet provider to provide a guest password so your internal network is protected and then mount it in a frame on the wall. Also, don’t let your provider foist off a password like Q538Lk84. Push for something clever like THNX4URBIZ.
The Automotive Services Association (ASA) agrees that auto shop waiting rooms are worthy of some attention. Check out the winners from ASA’s ‘Best Waiting Area’ contest for some inspiration. Some are a bit over the top, but they are all most certainly are memorable.
Why not take a minute now to stroll through yours and try to view it from a customer’s perspective? Better yet, chat up a customer and ask them what they think. If they answer along the lines that it’s about what they would expect, then you know you have work to do.
Looking for more ways to improve your automotive service business? Check out:
- Artificial Intelligence Is Proven to Improve Your Automotive Service Business: Here’s Why
- How to Recruit and Retain Better Mechanics in a Talent Drought
- Show, Don’t Tell: The Power of Video in Gaining Your Customers Trust
- How R&G Auto in Alexandria, VA Delivers a Five-Star Customer Experience
- It’s Summertime and the Living is Easy for Adirondack Tire & Service with the Help of Artificial Intelligence
- Organic Mechanics: How to Approach Car Repair with a Conscience
Coming soon to Openbay Overdrive:
- Social Media 101: Developing a Social Media Presence for Your Auto Shop, Small or Large
- Why Your Customers Hate Phone Calls and What You Can Do To Avoid Them
- How to Optimize Your Automotive Service Website to Win Search