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Speaking Their Language: Female Customers

Understand your female customers and you’ll not only make the repair process less intimidating, you’ll gain their loyalty, too

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Not that long ago, a body shop was considered
no place for a woman. Women rarely had reason to go there (vehicle
maintenance was believed to be a man’s job), and shop owners –
hanging calendars of semi-clad women on shop walls – did little
to encourage female customers.

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Times have changed, and today, women contribute
a large part to the American economy. They have careers, are savvy
consumers and own their own vehicles. More importantly, they have
become the principal caretakers of the vehicles they drive.

Despite can-do attitudes, many women still
feel a lack of confidence each time they walk into a repair shop.
Women are loyal consumers – think of the women you know who drive
endless miles and hours to other trusted service professionals
they’ve been going to for years – but you have to understand them
to gain their trust. If not, you’ll lose them to the competition.

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The Women’s Movement

Unless you’re still watching reruns of "Leave
It to Beaver" and "The Brady Bunch," you know American
women are much more than housekeepers and PTA members. In fact,
62 percent of all adult women in the United States today work
outside the home. They earn 52 percent of the accounting degrees,
40 percent of the law degrees and 36 percent of the medical degrees
received each year.

And working women are driving women.

The principal buyers of 47 percent of all
cars and light trucks sold in the United States, women spend $30
billion each year on new vehicles. For businesses whose customers
have long been mostly male, women represent the greatest potential
for growth.

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But to target women customers, you must first
realize the distinct difference between them and their male counterparts.
Men and women communicate, think, react and, most of all, buy
differently. Their motivations differ and so do their rationales.

Many women have little knowledge of vehicle
repairs and, therefore, find a trip to any automotive-repair facility
somewhat intimidating. They fear "being taken for a ride,"
ridicule, condescension and even harassment. Building their trust
is the key to building your female customer base.

Building Trust

Consider the following scenerio:

A woman walks into a body shop in need of
repairs on her sedan. Before she even walks in the door, she fears
she’s about to be ripped off and treated like a child. With that
predisposition, she opens the door and notices four male technicians
standing at the counter watching her. At this point, it’s too
late to turn around and walk out the door unnoticed – though it’s
exactly what she wants to do. Instead, she tries not to look vulnerable
and approaches the counter.

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Now, you’re probably thinking, "Come
on, it’s not that hard to walk into a body shop, tell whoever’s
at the counter what you want and get it – even if you are a woman.
My male technicians would never harass her. She’s overreacting."

The question here isn’t whether she or any
other female customer is overreacting. It’s what you, as a business
owner, are going to do to dispel those perceptions – as unsubstantiated
as you may think they are – and to gain the loyalty of a strong
consumer group.

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Make female employees visible and accessible
to female customers
. A greeting
from a woman receptionist or estimator will make a female customer
feel more comfortable right from the beginning – especially in
a place predominantly inhabited by men. Your male employees could
be Boy Scouts in technicians’ clothing, but to a woman entering
your body shop, four technicians lined up at the counter to greet
her is intimidating, to say the least.

If you’ve got a female painter or metal technician,
bring her out to talk to the customer if she has time. If not,
take the customer back to the shop, show her around and nonchalantly
point out your female techs. If you have a customer viewing area,
just point her in the right direction and let her see for herself.
Making female employees visible and accessible gives a fellow
female a sense of trust. It also lets her know she’s not the only
woman in the building.

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Once you’ve analyzed the vehicle damage
and written an estimate, offer to explain the repair to her
.
Because more women than men are unfamiliar with automotive mechanics,
this may help put your female customers at ease. Explaining why
a repair is necessary, rather than telling a customer "it
just has to be done" is good business no matter what gender
the customer is. It will also help establish trust.

But, if your female customer accepts your
offer to explain the repairs, be careful. It’s important to talk
to her on her level – not on a 4-year-old’s. Speak simply and
concisely – don’t throw out terms that will only make her feel
stupid if she admits she doesn’t know what you’re talking about
– but don’t be condescending.

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Some men don’t have the time or the patience
to hear all your reasons for a repair, neither do some women.
So, if a female customer declines your explanation of the estimate,
don’t insist on walking her through it anyway and say: "It’s
good you know about this technical stuff so when your husband
asks you what the mechanic said, you can smile and tell him everything.
That’ll make him happy." A condescending statement like that
will erode any relationship that has been established. Instead,
respect her decline and ask if she’d like to schedule an appointment
for the work.

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Understanding Needs

Not all customers are created equal, and to
gain the loyalty of any market segment – such as females – you
have to understand them and alter your business practices to serve
them.

Understanding the position of female customers
and speaking their language will make the repair process much
less intimidating and will establish a trusting relationship.
And once a female customer trusts you, once she knows she won’t
be taken for a ride and can walk into your shop without feeling
intimidated, she’ll be a loyal customer.

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Writer Melissa Green is managing editor of
BodyShop Business.

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