Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Keeping Customers Happy, by Robert Spitz, Management Success!

Robert Spitz
Snr VP of Business Dev
Management Success!

What does it take to keep customers happy or at least satisfied enough with your service to return and maybe even refer their friends? The basic rules are simple:

  1. Fix the car right the first time
  2. Treat the customers fairly and with respect.

Here are some other important steps to take to make sure your customers are satisfied.

Think Like a Consumer

First, to figure out how to keep your customers happy, you have to think like a customer. Although most repair shop owners and employees are not consumers of vehicle repair services, they are consumers of other goods and services. Ask yourself what you consider good quality service. When you purchase something, what do you expect from the product and from the company that sold it to you?

Survey Your Customers

Good customer relations start with knowing what your customers need and want from your business. Have you ever surveyed your customers to find out what they really think about your business and about auto repair in general? It is deadly to operate a business without knowing for sure what your customers think and what they need and want. Simply assuming you already know can cost you a lot of money. So, go ahead and conduct some simple surveys of your customers. You might have an eye-opening experience.

Surprisingly, customer surveys conducted by Management Success! clients show that price is not the number one concern of most auto repair consumers. Their number one concern is getting the problem with their vehicle fixed completely; their number two concern is paying for unneeded parts or services.

Communication and Talking in "Customereze"

Since most of your customers know very little about their vehicles, they need to know that the auto repair business they deal with can be trusted. The key to earning their trust is consistent good service supported by good communication. This means you have to pay attention to your customer and not have your mind on forty different things when he or she is talking to you. Never assume anything! When you really listen to what your customers have to say, you are showing a high degree of care, which is high on the list of reasons people bring their vehicles to the independent shop in the first place.

Next, you have to answer questions with words that customers will be able to understand. Do not try to impress people with how much you know by using technical and industry-related jargon.

Your customer will not understand what you are talking about and will actually start to dislike you! For an example of how this works, watch a foreign language movie without subtitles and see how long it takes you to begin feeling uncomfortable.

Keep Customers Informed

There are some key points in keeping customers informed while servicing their vehicles:

  1. Explain to each customer what repairs his or her vehicle needs and what your procedures are to accomplish these repairs step-by-step.
  2. Make sure the customer understands what you say. Be clear about what you can do and what you cannot do.
  3. Have the customer sign a written estimate and give them a copy.
  4. Assure the customer that you will let them know if there will be any changes or additional work that needs to be done before you perform that additional work. Customers hate “the five o’clock surprise,” (i.e., charges for service they did not agree to). This point is extremely important, and it is law in many states.

A wise service writer makes it a regular practice to check the status of each repair job throughout the day. So when customers call for an update, the service writer can reassure them that things are under control and let them know if their vehicle is going to be finished that day or not. Remember to give the customer plenty of notice.

Do Complete Vehicle Inspections

One of the last things a shop owner wants to hear from a customer is the infamous "ever-since-ya:" "Ever since you worked on my car I have this rattle in the back!" "Ever since you worked on my car every dog in the neighborhood chases my car!" You try to explain how changing the fan belt has nothing to do with these problems, but your pleading falls on deaf ears. There is just no winning some of these arguments. Avoid the "ever-since-ya" by doing a complete vehicle inspection and then going over your findings with the customer, regardless of the problem the vehicle was initially brought in for.

Prioritize for your customer the various repairs or services the vehicle needs. This is your opportunity to be the professional you are, guiding your customer into good vehicle maintenance. It is time well spent. Your customers will notice and appreciate your care and professionalism.

Quality Assurance

Have you ever had a customer come in at the end of the day to pick up a car only to find the problem they brought it in for is still not handled? That is a “special” experience for a shop owner, especially when it is late and you are the only one there. To avoid such special moments, you must have a system in place that checks each completed vehicle against the repair order to ensure the repair has been fully completed before the customer gets there. If your shop fails to do this kind of quality assurance on the vehicles it repairs, your customers become your quality assurance department, rather than becoming loyal customers! Sometimes, quality assurance is just the simple task of walking around the vehicle to make sure there are no flat or low tires, no grease smudges, the fluid levels are correct, nothing is leaking, and, most important, that the problem the vehicle was brought in for is handled!

Going the Extra Mile

The secret to success in business is to exceed your customers' expectations. Most shops do a lot of little things for their customers that the customer is not made aware of. These are lost Public Relations opportunities for the shop. There are several effective ways to make sure your customers know about the extra things you do.

  1. Tell them when you have done something extra for them.
  2. Write it on the Repair Order with a 'No Charge' in the price column.
  3. Create a good-looking brochure that outlines the extra special services that you provide and give one to every customer.

It really doesn't take that much to make a customer feel special and well-cared-for. Simple things like a shuttle service or fresh coffee can make a big, lasting impression. You might also be surprised at the effect friendly service with a smile has on your customers and, ultimately, on your sales figures.


Keeping customers happy is not difficult if you pay attention to the details and take the time to make sure your customers' questions and concerns are handled professionally. Above all, always strive to fix the car right the first time and to treat the customer fairly.

Good luck on your road to success!
Robert Spitz

MANAGEMENT SUCCESS! Controlling the Front Workshop