COVER STORY: Win Fans for Life - BodyShop Business

COVER STORY: Win Fans for Life

By giving customers the ultimate service experience and treating them with gratitude, empathy and respect, you can earn their lifelong loyalty and increase your sales more than you ever thought possible.

Remember a time when you pulled into the service station and the charming gentleman walked right up to your window and said, “Fill ’er up?”
Many of us in the collision repair industry are old enough to remember such a time, but relay this story to the younger generation and they might think you were putting them on!

This service philosophy was accepted as the way it was supposed to be, and customers enjoyed every minute of it. They expected that service, and the station owners demanded it of their pump jockeys because they knew exceptional customer service was what set them apart from their competitors and drove their sales. After all, the service station business has always been one of the more commodity-driven businesses out there, so treating customers like royalty was one of the only things stations could do to stand out from the crowd.
Fans for Life

Collision repair facility owners are not unlike those service station operators of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. You operate in a commodity-driven environment and try to set yourselves apart from your competitors through your numerous DRP relationships (or lack of DRP relationships). But beyond that, it seems that individual shops still aren’t quite sure how to be different. Also similar to the service station business of 30 years ago, the key to filling up our service bays and cash registers is right in front of us – great customer service.  

We need to welcome customers into our collision centers, show them we appreciate the opportunity to earn their business, do an exceptional job at repairing their vehicles and make them FFLs (Fans for Life).
Greeting at the Door

The good service station operators of old hired the pump jockeys based on their appearance, ability to communicate and ability to develop a relationship with their customers. I should know – I was one of those pump jockeys! They trained us to take care of their customers from the minute those customers drove on their lots to the minute they drove off them. They also taught us that the margins in the gasoline business weren’t on the gas but on our ability to upsell customers on additional products and services. We said the fuel purchase was the “green fee” for us to earn customers’ long-term business and allowed us to work on the upsell to make our profits better than the competition’s.

These service station operators kept an eye on their business opportunities from the glass office in front of the stations. They made it a point to have us at the driver’s side window before the customers had the chance to turn their engines off or open their doors. It’s pretty hard to believe we greeted customers at their cars instead of waiting for them to walk in the door, isn’t it?

We can take many lessons from the service station industry that has devolved to nothing more than simple clerk positions at the counter. The collision industry is not there now but could be headed that way if it keeps treating customers like they do at the corner gas/convenience store. Our customers have to come in and engage us to understand or feel the culture of our business. Their perception of that culture starts when they approach our storefront or, more importantly, when they talk with us on the phone before they arrive.  


Our company embarked on some pretty intricate primary consumer research about a year ago to understand the dynamics, psyche and habits of collision repair customers. Some of the things we learned are:

• The greatest source of customers showing up at the doors of quality collision centers is “word of mouth” by family, friends or co-workers – not advertising or claims center representatives. The referral was more times than not an affirmation of how well they were treated and communicated with, and how convenient the process was for their already overburdened life schedules. It was not about the quality of repairs, as the average consumer can’t tell an excellent repair from an okay repair. The decision to come to a shop was based on that referral and, when they pulled up in front of the store, they had at least a predisposed belief that the shop would  repair their vehicle.

• Customers are not just at shops to get estimates. The typical greeting a customer gets when he or she walks into a shop today is, “Guess you’re here for an estimate.” But what really needs to be said is, “How can I repair your car today?”

• Approximately 60 percent of our customers (at least the ones who first bring in the vehicles) are women. But their expectations are rarely met at a typical shop, as most shops haven’t geared their thinking to address the needs and expectations of female customers. We also found that if we can meet female customers’ needs and expectations, we’ll far and away exceed those of male customers. The information led us to the conclusion that a good or bad experience by a female customer will result in 10 times more word of mouth discussion than that of a male customer.

 10 Ways to Lose a Female Customer by Jeanne Silver
Statistics show that approximately 81 percent of automotive buyers are female. Funny, though, it seems not much has changed in the way women are treated today in the automotive world. One question I often ask at my women’s networking meetings is, “Have you ever had a bad experience when making an automotive purchase?” The answer is almost always a resounding yes! For the first time in our history, women have money; they outnumber men in the workforce, and are the fastest growing segment of business owners. Wake up, men! This is an important part of the buying public, so here are my 10 things shops do wrong to lose female customers.

1 – Writing estimates instead of selling the job. Too often, estimators still write an estimate without qualifying the customer first, or they just write a sheet and send the customer on her way with an estimate – without a commitment to repair.

2 – Having an uncomfortable or dirty waiting area. I recently visited another shop and, upon entering, the smell of mold and “shop” hit me. The carpets were filthy, as were the walls and surroundings. Another shop always has the door to the bathroom open with the toilet seat up – not so female-friendly in today’s world where we’re all competing for the same customer.

3 – Treating her like she’s annoying or dumb. Many of my female customers tell me this is a concern because, at one time or another, an attitude or comment made them feel uncomfortable when asking a question or mentioning a concern about their repair.

4 – Unprofessional dress and conduct. Nothing turns a woman off more than a poorly dressed, unprofessional (or unclean) representative of your business. This is not only important in the customer service area, but also in the shop. Loud radios, catcalls and improper comments or jokes may be met with a smile, but will result in poor CSI when it comes to rating your shop on professional behavior.

5 – Being overly technical. Explaining an estimate is a wasted exercise, because most people don’t understand our terminology, nor do they care. A woman wants the car to look nice, she wants the paint to match and she wants it repaired safely. Explain the repair at the car with the customer and without the estimate.

6 – Over-promise and under deliver. If you tell her you’re going to touch up a couple of chips or buff off a scrape, do it. Put a line on the estimate at no charge, write it on the work order and mark it on the vehicle. Do what you say you’ll do, and mention that it has been done when you deliver the vehicle.

7 – Asking to speak with a spouse or male partner. Remember what I said about women having their own money, jobs and businesses? Nothing irritates a female buyer more than being asked to consult her husband, or updating him about the repair when it is, in fact, her vehicle.

8 – Being dishonest or taking advantage of their lack of knowledge. Women hate to go in for an oil change and be told that they need brakes or other maintenance. Ask permission to do an inspection before you do it. Likewise, if you don’t tell your customer up front that hidden damage is likely, finding after the initial estimate out will be an unwelcome surprise. Be proactive. Tell her the vehicle requires disassembly, and she’ll receive a complete estimate after disassembly rather than a half written one up front. There’s never a reason to be dishonest, and it only tarnishes the reputation of the entire industry.

9 – Poor follow-up and communication. The No. 1 complaint of customers is poor communication during the repair. Most shops don’t call their customers after repairs, even though it has been documented that customers would like a follow-up call after their cars have been delivered. Recently, a female client told me how much she appreciated that I cared enough to follow up, that it was a nice touch.

10 – Aggressive or condescending behavior. I recently experienced this one myself at a local dealership, and it’s hard to believe it’s still out there. I was making marketing calls with a female colleague. The owner of the dealership was aggressive, a bully, and told us to leave the property. The damage was done; I’ll never be a customer, and have spoken of the experience to many people in my very large local network. The lesson here: Never treat any “potential” customer rudely. And never call her “honey.”

Train your people to be female-friendly, and make your business and all of your employees reflect that in their words and actions. You’ll definitely see results and gain a larger share of this rapidly growing market.

Jeanne Silver has been a member of the collision repair industry for 30 years. She co-owns CARSTAR Mundelein, and speaks about marketing and small business both in her industry and community. She can be reached at [email protected].

One Hundred Grand

Many collision repair facilities track their closing ratios based on cars to the door. But one of the things we’ve discovered is that the closing ratio between the phone and the door, not cars to the door, is as important a number as any other you’ll track. As a result, our organization is currently running campaigns with built-in intelligence that help us understand the relationship between our front office staff and customers.  

We’re all looking for more cars to the door but lose sight of the fact that we can increase that number, even if only by one car a week, by the way we initially handle a customer on the phone. One car a week at $2,000 each is an incremental $100,000 per year. Is that worth knowing you’re handling the customer right the first time you have the chance?

But that’s not all. We’ve also determined that each individual customer we serve has the ability to drive $100,000 worth of work to our store over his or her lifetime…not just the $2,000 job we’re working on for him or her right now. We need to keep this fact in the forefront of our approach to customer service. The investment in delivering excellent customer service is minimal, but pays incredible long-term dividends.


Our organization believes that every single customer who calls and hopefully arrives on our lots should be treated with gratitude, empathy and respect – respect for the disruption to his or her life, respect for his or her investment in the vehicle, and respect for the need to make the process of getting his or her life back on track as easy and uneventful as possible. We should deliver no surprises and have a goal of earning them as
a FFL.  

I enjoyed every day I worked at the station as I do now spending time in our stores. My best days consist of getting to know our stores’ customers and helping them work through the process of having their cars repaired. We should all keep the image of the service station “pump jockey” in mind as we interact with customers every day, whether on the phone, in our parking lots or in our stores. If we can “fill ’er up” with a smile, we have the opportunity to build our business for years to come.

Bill Garoutte is assistant vice president of marketing for CARSTAR in Overland, Kansas. Prior to joining CARSTAR, Garoutte founded Elite Dent Alliance (EDA), a global hail catastrophe company that provides paintless dent repair services to the collision industry. He is currently serving his second term as chairman of the Missouri/Kansas Chapter of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS-MOKAN) and is also the co-chair of the Marketing Committee and co-creator of the Repairer Advisory Panel for Collision Industry Electronic Commerce Association (CIECA). He was also elected to the National Board of Directors of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) and chairs its Marketing Committee. He was recently elected to the Board of Directors of the National Auto Body Council (NABC) and chairs its Marketing Committee, while serving on the Ethics Committee of the Collision Industry Conference (CIC). He can be reached at (913) 451-1294 or [email protected].

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