Consumers rely increasingly on reviews and ratings from online sources, even more than traditional advertising. As a result, businesses have changed their traditional marketing mix and put more resources into cultivating their digital footprint, responding to online reviews, and putting programs in place to encourage customers to write positively about them.
In the auto repair industry, auto body repair shops have been late to the party. Smaller shops have traditionally relied on local print advertising and radio, if they advertise at all. Larger shops rely on the wisdom of corporate headquarters, and co-op advertising which often does little to highlight the particular advantages of the local franchise.
In this environment, particularly where one bad review can be a disaster for a small business, shops are finding it necessary to up their customer service game. The days of greasy waiting rooms with stale coffee, “I’ll call you when it’s done” timeframes, and over-budget bills presented without notice are over. Small shops require a coherent customer service strategy.
Creating this strategy often runs counter to an independent shop owner’s business model, where the focus is on the work itself rather than the process of bringing in and retaining customers. A shop owner may well take pride in their auto restoration capabilities, but mechanical skills will do little when customers don’t know you exist, or worse, have read a lukewarm review of your shop.
These five basic customer service rules will help propel that small, independent shop into the mainstream, and fill the waiting room with repeat customers.
- Something as simple as making the work area, as well as the front office, neat and clean is the first step. What does your shop equipment look like? Old, used, beat-up? It may work well, but if it’s faded, covered in grease and is sometimes used as a soft drink stand, customers will get a poor impression. Check AutoBodyToolMart’s shop equipment section for new equipment.
- Waiting room? Dress it up! Old, uncomfortable chairs, bad coffee and most importantly, no WiFi? It doesn’t matter how good of a scratch-and-dent man you are, you customers will still walk away unhappy. It’s time for an upgrade.
- Engage with your customers on social media. Yes, people will talk about you. Take it as an opportunity for a conversation. But even if somebody has something negative to say, don’t see it as a call to battle. Studies have shown that even when a negative comment has been made, if the shop owner has taken time to respond and make it right, people reading reviews will see it as an overall positive.
- Yes, you really do need a Facebook page. Not all businesses do – but you’re local, and you need to reach a local audience. Put one together, post useful information to it regularly, and use it as an opportunity to talk directly to your customers and prospects.
- Know what your customers want before they realize it. You don’t have to be a psychic – but you can still accomplish this goal with technology, and it’s surprisingly affordable. Predictive analytics is the wave of the future. There is no need for multi-million dollar software projects; small companies can still engage in predictive analytics using simple spreadsheets and database tools, publicly available information and basic analysis.
A critical mistake also frequently made by small shops is falling prey to the fallacy of high-touch customer experience. There’s no doubt that personal, human-to-human contact is always part of a good customer experience, but relying on it exclusively is ineffective and outdated. For almost all small businesses – auto body shops included – the sales cycle starts long before you even know who your customer is. Customers are far more educated than before, and by the time they pick up the phone to call you, they’ve already done their due diligence. They have looked at online reviews, they have checked social media, and they have done the same for your competitors. They know what prices should be, what your competitors charge, and what type of coffee the shop down the street has in their waiting room. In fact, the customer who just walks in the door may well know more about your competition than you do.
Understanding this dynamic, customer service really begins before the customer walks in the door, by setting a tone, seeding the landscape with information, and facilitating a positive dialogue over social media.
The auto body shop business has reached a tipping point. The shift in customer service means shop owners have to re-think how they present themselves to the public, how they think of the customer experience, and how to relate to each person who walks in the front door.