Here’s the second part in our series about increasing customer loyalty in auto-repair shops. Customers often spend hundreds of dollars at their auto-repair shops, and if you’re smart, you’ll keep that in mind with every interaction. Car repair and maintenance isn’t where most people would put their money, if they had a choice. If you can make the service experience more pleasant, that goes a long way toward making people feel better about your business.
We had surveyed a group of vehicle owners about things that they thought their auto-repair shops could improve upon, and #1 consumer complaint, which we recently addressed, was lack of communication.
The Problem: Time Sensitivity
The #2 most-voiced complaint we’d heard from consumers was about time, even if you get them a quote or estimate quickly. Time is precious, and when drivers must be without their vehicles for a day or two, that affects work and life commitments in a big way. Manage your time, and your customers’ vehicles effectively, and you’ll be rewarded with more loyal customers.
- Be more aware of my appointment.
- Finish the work within the time period.
- Have someone looking at the schedule. No one knew who I was or my appointment time.
- They need to start working on the car when it comes in, instead of holding on to the car for days before starting work on it. Having a car in the shop so long has a huge impact on our life.
- Better time estimate
The Solution: Communicate Realistic Exceptions
Just as with the blog about communication, many of the above complaints could have been solved with better communication. Here are some specific tips to help.
Don’t be an (Unrealistic) Optimist
There are two sayings that apply here: “Don’t try to put ten pounds of sugar into a five-pound bag,” and “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” You may want to give the customer a quick estimated completion date and time, because you don’t want to refuse the business, or because you think you might just be able to rush the job. In reality, if you have a certain percentage of drive-up business each day, or if you have commitments that prevent you from working late to finish the job, work that into your estimated completion times.
Another option is to give a best-case scenario, as well as one that’s more realistic, by saying something like, “We’ll aim to have your vehicle ready for 2pm. But if the vehicle ahead of yours has more complex issues, your vehicle could be ready as late as 7pm. We’ll make a point to call you at 1pm with an updated completion time,” and then mark your calendar, to make good on that promise. If you explain your schedule issues, and what you’re attempting to work around, your customers will be more inclined to sympathize with your scheduling challenges. Alternatively, if your job schedule is flexible, ask, “What’s the drop-dead latest time you’ll need this car before the weekend?” and work backwards from there, to determine whether you can accept the job.
If you present too-optimistic a view, you will wind up with more upset customers than you’d bargained for – after all, your optimism is holding their vehicles hostage. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes – they’re forced to make alternate arrangements while the car’s in the shop, so they’re counting on you to schedule your workload wisely. If you’re running behind schedule, and customers’ cars are waiting at the shop for much longer than planned, it’s fair for them to be upset. Do your best to avoid that.
Communicate Reasons for the Delays
If you had presented a realistic timeline for completion, but find yourself behind schedule, that’s OK. You’re human. But unless you explain what’s going on, your customers may jus think you’re ignoring them. Pick up the phone, or better yet, send a text or video explaining the reason for the delay. If the parts haven’t arrived on time, or if work on another vehicle took longer, just explain as much. The more notice, and the more explanation behind the reason the vehicle isn’t yet ready, the better.
Check the Calendar Over Coffee Each Day
Customers consistently indicated a wish for their shops to be more aware of their appointments. How can you do that? Make a point to review the calendar each morning, while you’re having coffee. If you know that Allison has booked a service for her Mini at 3pm, when she arrives, why not exceed her expectations, and say, “Hi, I’m Joe. You must be Allison, here for your appointment.” Then double check, “You’re getting a 50,000-mile service interval done, right? Anything else you’d like us to check out?” Sometimes things are lost in translation, so always clarify the service. Also, double checking goes a long way toward saving time. We had once requested a used-vehicle inspection, but the shop had thought we’d wanted a state inspection. Communication matters.
Taking the time to communicate effectively may be a pain for small repair shops, whose sole focus is repairing vehicles. But, so far, auto-repair customers’ top two complaints — lack of communication and better time management — are completely free to fix. If you can do these two things well, you might have just earned yourself a loyal customer.
Stay tuned to the Openbay blog for more ways to earn customer loyalty. If these points seem obvious for any well-running business, we agree completely. But the fact is that some auto-repair shops don’t seem to be covering the basics of communicating well with customers.
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