Turning Freeloaders into Paying Customers: This Simple Strategy Helped Us to Increase Walk-in Sales by 35 Percent - BodyShop Business
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Turning Freeloaders into Paying Customers: This Simple Strategy Helped Us to Increase Walk-in Sales by 35 Percent

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When your day is so hectic that your lunch consists of complimentary donuts from the local car rental company, the last interruption you want to deal with is a free estimate. Time is money. But don’t slash mention of the "F" word from next month’s ad copy just yet. With the proper system in place, today’s freeloaders are tomorrow’s paying customers.

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As a young shop, we find ourselves not only contending with established repair facilities and the lure of the "dealership," but also with insurance companies (like the one whose name rhymes with aggressive) steering customers to other shops. Needless to say, every lead counts.

Looking to capitalize on our prominent location, we were amazed at how easily two- to five-minute follow-up calls turned free estimates into lucrative jobs. Here’s a simple strategy that helped us increase walk-in sales approximately 35 percent.

Give it to ’em free. The goal at this stage isn’t to make a nominal fee for cranking out paperwork. Instead, you’re looking to influence the prospect’s mindset. We’ve all used this tactic on some level. For example, my mother always taught me to go Dutch on a first date. Why? Because nothing is free. At the end of the night, I didn’t owe him, he didn’t owe me – and there is no discussion over "closing the deal."

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The same principal applies here. Once you charge a customer, you’re on the losing end of the transaction. The prospect gives you a few bucks, you hand over the estimate and you’re both even. But you don’t want to be even – you want the keys.

Have them fill out a customer information form. By offering your expertise for free, the customer is obliged to fill out a basic customer information form while he waits. In addition to providing contact numbers, the form should provide you with the background data you’ll need for the follow-up call.

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Here are examples of the type of questions that can be included to help you know your customer:

  • "Would you prefer to have your car repaired here at our shop?" Considering, the customer fills out the form in your presence, the majority of people will answer "yes." This creates a great opener when making a follow-up call. For example: "Hello, Paul this is Doris from XYZ Autobody. How are you today? When you stopped by our office yesterday morning, you indicated that you’d like to have your car fixed with us. Do you have any questions I can help you with?" Most often the customer will be open to the conversation. After all, you’re following up on their interests.
  • "What is your No. 1 concern about the repairs to your vehicle?" Find out the hot button issue – time in the shop, quality of repairs, price. This is important information that will help you direct the conversation in a way that identifies with the customer. Most likely, he’ll not remember checking a box on a form. What he will notice is that you understand his concerns and are willing to treat him as more than a number.

The customer information form should arm you with enough background to make a non-threatening, follow-up call.

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Set aside a block of time in the morning and afternoon to make your calls. Though your intention is to close a sale, approach the call as a customer service checkup. This is your opportunity to show the customer that you’re friendly, approachable and prepared to solve his problem.

The majority of the prospects fall into one of three categories: 

  1. Customers who’ve already taken their car elsewhere. If this is the case, no problem. File away their address for future mailings
  2. Customers who are undecided. It’s your job to help them make the "right" decision. Remember, most customers scan the gibberish on an estimate for the only line they recognize – the total. By educating the customer and explaining the value of each procedure, you can build confidence and trust, winning over anyone concerned with quality over price.
  3. And don’t be afraid to find out about the other estimates they received. This is where knowing your competition can give you an edge. If a customer is leaning toward a lower estimate with the butcher shop down the street, start asking questions. Are they using OEM or aftermarket parts? Are they blending panels to ensure a paint match?

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Even if you’re unable to comfortably lower the price or add a service, customers are more likely to choose the shop that’s open and receptive. We’ve even found some customers will stop by with all of their estimates for a line by line explanation/comparison. At that point, all you have to do is make sure they leave in a rental car. 

  • Prospects who have money issues. Attempt to solve their problems by educating them on your payment options. Do you have deductible payment plans or financing? Do they have a major credit card? For cash jobs, can they pay a portion now and pay the rest when picking up the vehicle? If they were hit by another party, find out if they need assistance processing a claim. The idea is to get the car in your garage before they find another shop that will provide a solution. 
  • Never hang-up without closing the deal. You want to sign them up while the conversation is still fresh. Don’t give them an opportunity to say NO. Instead, have them verbalize a commitment by asking, "What time of day is best for you to drop off your vehicle today, 12:00 p.m. or 3:30 p.m.?" Even if the times aren’t perfect, they’ll usually volunteer a more convenient time.

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    Remember, sales calls are a numbers game. If a prospect sounds agitated by your call, explain that they have an open file and you’d like to know if you should keep it open or close it.

    As long as your approach is professional and polite, you’ll likely find a few winners in every batch. And once you find your rhythm, you’ll wonder how you ever let paying customers slip through your fingers.

    Writer Monica Wheeler is the co-owner of Classic CollisionWorks in Philadelphia, Pa.

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