I’ve spent the last couple of columns talking about time-saving investments in collision repair equipment and products and their payback math. I’ve been reminded recently that absolutely none of that matters if the work goes to some other shop to be repaired.
The part where Mrs. Smith (my proverbial customer) either telephones or appears in person only to find an indifferent at best and rude at worst human contact at your body shop makes all the difference. It matters little how quickly or effectively or economically the repair can be made on her car if she takes it down the road because your people gave off the “I don’t give a hoot” attitude. I’ve both observed and been the recipient of some really poor customer service lately, and as I vowed never to return to those indifferent vendors again, watched the same thing happen to all the people around me.
When the grocery clerk snaps at the customer two up from you in the checkout line, you form an immediate opinion about them. When the three folks behind the counter at the hotel desk can’t stop talking to each other long enough to acknowledge you, or the folks already ahead of you, you form an opinion about the hotel. But unlike the weekly trip to buy food or the occasional night in a hotel, the collision repair customer at your front counter is a once-every-seven-years opportunity, and they’re upset and distraught about their collision and skeptical of the repair process. Acting like Mrs. Smith’s problems are just part of your boring daily routine won’t get her keys.
The First Hurdle
I don’t care how many DRP certificates or how many weeks of backlog your shop currently has, if you don’t treat the next person through the door like they matter, they’ll not only assign their repair to some other shop, they’ll tell all their friends and co-workers about the jerks at your shop. I think all the humans on any body shop’s front line need to remember what matters – and it isn’t getting the last invoice filed or finishing the monthly report right this minute, or concluding the replay of last night’s activities. Please act like the customer matters. They have the authority; you have the collision repairs they need. Make them glad for their experience.
Having been in several body shops in the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to see really poor customer service in action. In every single case, it began with the men and women behind the front counter refusing to recognize customers within moments of their entry. All that’s required is a smile and an acknowledgment that they see you there. A “just-one-minute” gesture or, better yet, a verbal greeting, makes everyone (you included!) more welcome. I watched both men and women whose job it is to make the first contact with the potential customers who come through the shop’s doors not only ignore fresh arrivals but visibly act annoyed that yet another pesky customer was standing in their lobby.
It would help to remember that while we who work in collision repair have faith that the process will restore the vehicles to pre-accident condition, Mrs. Smith is both worried that her car will never be the same and that somehow the body shop will take advantage of her lack of expertise. A welcoming smile and an honest, “How can we help you today?” is the beginning we all need to feel comfortable leaving our second most valuable possession for repair.
The best customer service representatives I have witnessed always made a little small talk first. “How did your accident happen?” “What about that darn weather?” “How did you hear about our shop?” “Would you like some coffee?” Then they found a way to reassure the various Mrs. Smiths that all would be well. “Did you know we have OEM factory training to correctly restore your exact model?” “Our painter is a whiz at those silver colors; you’ll never see the repair.” “That I-CAR Gold certificate is proof of our extraordinary commitment to a safe repair.”
The poorly trained front-line folks (many more of them in my recent shop visits) not only looked grumpy but didn’t make small talk and didn’t reassure the customer. Instead, they immediately handed over a clipboard with a multi-page form for them to fill out. In two different shops in one week, I watched the customers (both women) be greeted with a “Yeah?” and an abrupt command to fill out these forms. In one case, the woman looked at the clipboard, looked back at the receptionist, handed back the clipboard and walked out the door. In the other instance, after the briefest possible exchange with the receptionist, the customer sat down with the forms, read the first few questions and left the paperwork on the dusty counter as she steamed out the door. Out of curiosity, I looked to see what both these Mrs. Smiths were driving and wanted repaired. In both cases, they were near-new sedans that had about $3,500 in damage on easy-to-match colors – just like my ideal collision jobs.
First Things First
It’s easy to assume that just having the job title also ensures people have the skills to go with it. The “receptionist” or “customer service rep” or “salesperson” in any shop must be good with customers. And in our business, these are people who are upset and skeptical. It’s much easier to sell golf clubs to someone shopping for golf clubs than to sell collision repair to someone who has had an accident. In my long tenure in our industry, I feel safe in saying that a customer-first attitude has to start at the top. If the boss doesn’t visibly treat Mrs. Smith like the lifeblood of the business, no one else will either.
Once the whole crew gets the message that Mrs. (or Mr.) Smith is really important, it’s just a matter of smiling helpfully, making eye contact and clearly recognizing that they’re waiting and finally asking sincerely how you could help them. Here are a couple of proven collision customer welcoming tips:
- Put a mirror behind the counter and get the receptionist to look in it each time a customer approaches. Easy reminder to smile.
- Twice a week, buy a fresh flower arrangement and place it on the front counter. Conversation will ensue. “Is it someone’s birthday?” Mrs. Smith will ask. “No ma’am, we’re just trying to brighten your day with some flowers.” A surefire small-talk topic.
- If Mrs. Smith must fill out any paperwork for your shop in advance of her estimate, make sure she is asked to comply and not told to comply. Keep the paperwork to the absolute minimum until the actual assignment.
- Tell your story in print. From the big sign on the wall to the one-page handout every estimate leaves with, say exactly why your shop is her best choice.
- And…the perpetual No. 1 customer service issue: CLEAN. Dusting, vacuuming and keeping the glass sparkling is clearly harder than it appears, as I’m still in lots of dusty waiting rooms!
Remind all your employees who will have any contact with the shop’s customers to smile, speak first and act like they’re glad to have the business.