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Customer Relations: Is the Customer King in Your Body Shop?

In the day-to-day “busy-ness” of our jobs in the shop, we often forget who our true master is – especially because we serve many.

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Micki Woods is a marketing and business development specialist for the automotive industry. She used to own her own body shop and was on the management team of one of the largest auto body shops in Los Angeles County. She now speaks, teaches and emcees events across the country. Visit Micki’s website at mickiwoods.com or email her at [email protected]

Is it the insurance company who is dictating our rate of pay and judging our cycle time? Is it our boss who signs the checks? Is it the dealership’s manager who agrees to send work our way and needs that car back within hours? The pressure is heavy to get our job done right, and we frequently find ourselves under the gun to get the job done quickly. At the end of the day, we have to remind ourselves and our team that none of these relationships and pressures would exist if we didn’t have the customer.

Real Talk

When traveling, why do you like to stay at four- or five-star resorts if you have the choice? Is it because they’re so much nicer? That’s definitely part of it, but I would hazard to guess that the main reason most of us like to stay at nicer hotels is because of the way the staff makes you feel. They could have the nicest décor, softest pillows and most amazing amenities, but if the staff is inattentive and doesn’t take extra care of you, I bet you those wonderful things won’t mean as much. High-end hotel chains, restaurants and stores all know that the key to earning a customer’s loyalty is how they treat them. Why are we any different?

Maybe your shop’s waiting room has folding chairs and wallpaper from the ‘60s. Your guests will care far less about those things if you make them feel like they’re king – like they are your first priority. And again – they are…aren’t they? That customer is your biggest mouthpiece. No matter who refers others to your shop, no referral is stronger and more powerful than a past customer with a real-life experience to share. None!

Don’t Tell Me – Show Me

Some of my shops truly understand and get that the customer is king. I know this based on their actions – not because of what they tell me. They will fight with the insurance company on behalf of their customers to have repairs done properly with the right parts. They will take the time to talk with their customer when the customer is dropping off their vehicle in a concerted effort to become invested in this person versus treating them like one transaction in a thousand. They take the time to remember the customer’s name and excitedly greet them when they come back to pick up their vehicle. They’ve already looked over the vehicle before pick-up so they can confidently hand over the keys to the customer and do a final walk-around at delivery. It’s genuine, it’s real and it’s a culture the shop has created because the owners truly care. And that makes the managers truly care – which makes the writers, CSRs, techs and detailers really care. It’s pride in their shop and happiness to be serving that customer, no matter the length they have to go to.

I’ve also seen shops that are so caught up in the body shop rat race that they’ve lost their way. They’re so busy fielding insurance concerns and pushing the car through the shop as fast as possible to hit deadlines that they lose sight of their true purpose: to serve the customer. At these shops, the customer’s best interests are actually of the least importance. It may sound crazy, but this situation is more prevalent than you may think. And if you’ve spent any length of time in this industry, I’m sure you’ve witnessed it firsthand.

Look in the Mirror

This may seem intense, but it’s a challenge from me to you: I ask you to take a look at yourself first. Who are you most concerned about when a car comes to your shop? If the answer isn’t immediately, “The guest driving that vehicle,” then it’s likely that the rest of the employees in your shop would also not answer that way – proof that you’re missing the mark as a whole.
If your immediate response to the who-are-you-most-concerned-about-when-a-car-comes-to-your-shop question is, “The driver of the vehicle,” but you see your shop is not following that thought process, look at your next in line. What/who is their largest priority? Wherever the “buy-in” stops is where your problems begin. The solution may be consistent, hardcore retraining of your staff, or it may be something as drastic as replacing your employees. But you have to do whatever it takes to have everyone fully on board – and it will be one of those two options that will get you where you need to go.

How Do You Change?

I firmly believe that life is about perspective and it starts with you – whatever your status is at the shop. Shift your perspective and realize that the collision repair industry is a service industry that serves our guests. We are not a service industry that gets bullied by timelines, rental days, cycle time, parts procurement, etc. Those are components that go with the job, but they are not king. They might be the loudest and hardest to appease, but we as a body shop culture confuse the “squeaky wheel” as the “king of the wheels.”

Once we take the time to look at things through a different looking glass, we can change our processes and procedures to make things about the customer. This will affect all areas of our shop and allow us to start turning those CSI scores around organically. If serving our customer first and foremost is our goal, then our techs are more likely to repair something correctly the first time, our CSRs are more likely to greet customers more warmly, our writers are more likely to give accurate and frequent updates and we, as a body shop industry, are more likely to move away from the rat race and into a space that makes us more money and puts more happy drivers safely back on the road. As that goal becomes a reality, our shop and those in it will all have pride in what they do and who they are and we will continue to elevate ourselves in “the game.”

Thoughts?

Is this too “fairy-tale ending” for your blood? Is this doable? I know it is because I see shops achieving this customer-first mindset, but feel free to tell me why this wouldn’t work for your shop. I’d love to hear your opinion, because I truly care. And isn’t that what we want from the people we come in contact with? So, tell me – yes, YOU – why are you and your shop different and who is your king, if it’s not the customer? BSB

Micki Woods is a marketing and business development specialist for the automotive industry. She used to own her own body shop and was on the management team of one of the largest auto body shops in Los Angeles County. She now speaks, teaches and emcees events across the country. Visit Micki’s website at mickiwoodsmarketing.com or email her at [email protected].

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