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Preventing Customer Defects

Stop current customers from crossing enemy lines and heading for your competitor by keeping them informed and letting them know you value their business

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Today’s shop owners are constantly bombarded with messages about the importance of marketing and attracting new customers. While that’s a vital part of running a successful shop, owners and technicians should remember that their existing customer base can generate substantial revenue as well. Recent studies show that a 5 percent decrease in customer defections can result in a profit increase of 30 percent or more for automotive repair shops.

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But beyond doing quality, efficient work, how can shops keep those customers coming back again and again? With a large number of repair shops competing for the same business, owners must find different means of retaining their customers, and the following tips are just a few of the ways to help reduce customer defections and increase the size and profitability of your business.

Communication is Key
The most important impression a customer has of an automotive repair shop comes from interaction with the technicians repairing the vehicle. The technicians are sometimes your shop’s only representative when talking with customers, so it’s important to teach them proper customer communication techniques. The vehicle can be fixed right on schedule, but no customer will tolerate a rude technician.

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Technicians need to be polite and courteous at all times, especially when speaking on the telephone. Many times this is your shop’s first contact with someone, so don’t lose them before they even set foot in your shop. If necessary, have scripts that techs can use until they’re comfortable on the phone. Go over the many different situations that a phone call might involve so the tech can be prepared.

Technicians should also always remain calm, even when the customer thinks the solution is yelling. In these situations, tell technicians to try lowering their voices gradually, until it’s impossible for the customer to hear what they’re saying without lowering his own voice.

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Also, make the customer part of the problem-solving team. Discuss the problem with the customer and give him a voice in arriving at a solution. Preaching to the customer only creates a barrier that can foster antagonism and distrust. By being part of the process, the customer will be more understanding of a tech’s recommendations and what needs to be done.

Keep It Simple — and Honest
It can be intimidating for customers to enter an automotive repair shop. Most people are unaware of both the complexity of their vehicles, as well as the sophisticated diagnostic process needed to repair them. For that reason, it’s vital to communicate with the customer in terms he can understand.

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Always tell the customer what you know, not what you think they want to hear. By being straightforward and honest, you create a dialogue between yourself and the customer so he feels a part of the problem-solving process. Let him know exactly how long or how much a repair job might be, and then tell him that’s just an estimate. The customer should never be surprised by how long a job takes or how much it costs. If he feels cheated or under-informed, he’ll never come back.

Everyone feels more comfortable with documentation that clearly explains what work needs to be done and how much it will cost. Diagnostic printouts give an image of professionalism and efficiency, but make sure the customer understands what you’re talking about. Never fail to ask him if he has any questions.

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When asked to perform a general vehicle inspection, remember to emphasize positive findings, as well as items on the car that need attention. Give a priority to needed repairs and let the customer know what can wait. You’ll inspire trust and confidence if it appears you’re not forcing repair work on him.

Show Them You Care
Try to go the extra mile with customers. For example, always return the car cleaner than when it was left. For long-time customers, leave notes in their cars expressing your thanks for their business. Everyone likes to be appreciated.

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Clean shops and technicians also impress customers. Have waiting areas and restrooms sparkling at all times, and brew a fresh pot of complimentary coffee for early morning customers. By making your shop an inviting and comfortable place, customers will always remember where to go.

Another good idea: Offer customers incentives for coming back. A customer referral offer is relatively inexpensive but has a high perceived value by your current customer. Try offering a free, complete vehicle detail for customers who refer friends or co-workers who have repairs done in your shop.

Also, get involved with your community by sponsoring a Little League team or contributing your resources to a local charity. If people recognize you’re making an investment in their community, they’ll be anxious to help you succeed.

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You should also encourage suggestions from customers about improving the quality of your service. Act on those suggestions to show the customers you care what they think.

Sometimes it can also be helpful to take a step back and look at your business through the eyes of a long-time customer. Try to understand what the customer sees as he enters your shop and how he’s treated by your staff. By understanding where potential problems might be, you can have a head start in correcting them.

Don’t Let ’Em Escape
If you remember to let customers know they’re valuable to your business, always keep them informed and make them comfortable with the entire repair process, you’ll create long and successful relationships.

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If, on the other hand, you ignore your current customers figuring they’ll be back no matter what, you may be in for a big surprise. Without continued quality customer service, they won’t think twice about crossing enemy lines in search of better service. And in an industry as competitive as collisoin repair, they won’t be searching long.

Writer Philip A. Becerra Jr. is regional training manager, Southwest, for Snap-on Technical Training Systems, a division of Snap-on, Inc.

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