Toot Your Horn: Last Impressions Count - BodyShop Business
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Toot Your Horn: Last Impressions Count

How frustrating it is to order parts, negotiate with the adjuster, monitor repairs, “throw in” minor repairs and perform a road test only to have a three-year-old door ding become the topic of discussion when the customer picks up his vehicle. It doesn’t have to be this way. Present the repaired vehicle to the customer your way, and you’ll walk away the hero.

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First impressions are obviously important, and I find that first impressions in the collision repair business are largely made up of words, demeanor and a display of knowledge and courtesy.

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But the last impression is also important. In fact, it’s one of the most important sources of new and repeat business.

Last impressions consist mainly of a real, tangible object — the repaired vehicle — and how it’s presented. It’s the act of pulling back the curtain to reveal the resurrected vehicle — shiny, healthy and back to how the owner remembers it before the accident. You’re the hero. You’re the one who made it happen.

How do you present the vehicle in such a way to ensure that you’re the hero? It’s easier than you may think.

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What Not To Do …
It’s common to want to display a finished vehicle prominently in front of your shop, eagerly waiting for the owner to arrive. After all, you’re proud of the quality repairs that were performed and can use a finished vehicle as an enticement for new business that drives in.

Most of the time, however, I elect not to have the owner view the finished vehicle before I greet him. Why? Because this is a valuable time period when I tell the owner how happy I am with the repairs, remind him of my exceptional warranty and chat with him about his family or other things we have in common. Some customers offer payment at this time, but I decline until they’ve seen their vehicles and are completely satisfied.

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Many times through the office window, I’ve seen a client meticulously examining his repaired vehicle before I could get out there with him. Too often, he’s not even looking at the repaired area on which we worked but at the opposite side or some area of prior damage. I’d even say that some customers think the repairs can’t possibly be correct, that there must be something wrong and that they’re going to find it. In a lot of cases, I’ve found myself explaining and defending something I wasn’t responsible for rather than boasting about my facility and the finished product.

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How frustrating it is to work that hard to estimate, order parts, negotiate with the adjuster, monitor repairs and technicians, "throw in" minor repairs, perform a road test and detail a major repair only to have a door ding the vehicle had for three years become the topic of discussion when the customer comes to pick it up. The door ding may enter the delivery discussion, but the process shouldn’t start off with it.

Presenting the Vehicle — Your Way
Consider the following scenario: Keep the finished vehicle in the rear lot or somewhere out of sight. Greet the client when he arrives to pick it up, and page a predetermined employee to bring the vehicle to the office area or front lot. (This arrangement may or may not be possible depending on the layout of your property or building.) It’s important for this employee to have a relatively clean uniform (not jeans and a Led Zeppelin T-shirt) and a seat cover. You might direct the employee to remain close by while you present your repairs, which is helpful for the frequent last-minute details or to assist with final requests from the owner. A benefit is that when a promising or conscientious employee is exposed to the client and his expectations, the employee’s work usually improves.

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Having this employee available would permit you to continue your presentation without leaving the client alone to perform his own examination. In my mind, the vehicle owner is no more qualified to examine a finished product than he is to write a damage report.

You might begin by having the repair estimate in hand, pointing out each item and verifying repairs using layman’s terms. In some instances, I’d have the old fender or hood handy to show the client how bad it really was. Note: My real purpose in showing an old part is because I believe that many clients silently wonder if some parts were really replaced. Always remember our industry’s reputation, deserved or not. This step is my way to erase any doubt and to instill further credibility.

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After the estimate is explained, you can proceed to what I call the "toot your horn" areas. A client doesn’t have to tell me how thorough we are because I’ll tell him. "We cleaned the entire vehicle and removed some old road tar from the rocker panels. I also cleaned the interior — ashtrays, floormats and all. Oh, and look here, I removed that old dent while I was working on the car, no charge."

Frequently, some old damage is in a blend area that I would have done anyway, but I want credit for it. "Hey, I touched up the rear bumper cover for you, too. By the way, I noticed some old surface scratches around the key cylinder and polished them out." (I went looking for minor "toot your horn" items while the vehicle was in the body bay.)

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"I also personally road tested your vehicle," which is true, "and checked every light, not just the ones in the repaired area." I might as well check all of them, since the odds are good that I’d get blamed for any light that didn’t work anyway, related or not. So why not just repair things — as long as they’re minor — and take credit for it? This step also helps prevent that profit-eating monster, "The Comeback."

Play Offense
By presenting the vehicle my way, I wasn’t forced to play defense. Negative items certainly come into a delivery process, no question about that, but I’ve found that the negativity was less prevalent when I directed the process.

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Any shop owner or manager should be proud of his accomplishments in properly repairing a collision-damaged vehicle, but don’t keep it inside; let it be contagious. Display your pride and excitement to your customers, and tell them about the extras you performed for them. The delivery process is your stage to do just that. The odds are good that as the customer is tooting his horn and waving good-bye that he’ll be back if you took the time to torn your own horn.

Writer Richard V. Brigidi handles site development for CollisionMax, a collision repair company with multiple locations specializing in insurance claims on late-model vehicles.

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