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Leveling Up Customer Trust

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Should every customer be treated the same? For repair shops, or any other business, this is a question that needs to be answered. Should a first-time customer, a customer coming back for their third visit, and a 10-year customer go through an identical process?


Mark Seawell, director of advisor training for RLO Training, doesn’t think so. In fact, he teaches a system of customer levels to his shops to help them understand. 


Level 1: Rule-based trust


When a customer first comes into a shop, they are going to have what Seawell calls “low trust deposits.” Just like a bank account, the shop must build up its trust deposits before it should feel in solid standing with the customer. 


To build up credibility, the shop first must establish the most basic and fundamental level of trust, Seawell says, rule-based trust. 


“They need to know they have a right to an estimate, that they can get a second opinion and that they can say no,” Seawell said. 


From there, everything needs to be explained. Discuss the importance of the estimate and why it is conducted. Go through the estimate line-by-line. Make sure to be clear and go slow, allow the customer time to process and ask questions. Everything is about establishing that credibility on the idea that there are rules that the shop is following to ensure the customer isn’t taken advantage of. 


Level 2: Knowledge-based trust


This is where most of your customers will be, Seawell said. Only a few customers will make it past this point. 


While you still need to do many of the things you did during Level 1, like discussing the inspection and going through the estimate in detail, some of the processes that needed to be explained can be dropped. 


It’s what is called knowledge-based trust. The customer has had enough experience with you, has a knowledge of the shop’s behavior and has a pretty good understanding of what’s going to happen during the process. 


Level 3: Identity-based trust


The final level is rare to achieve, Seawell says. 


Customers who make it here with shops feel like you are an extension of your family. There’s so much trust that the shop can never do any wrong. This is the ideal outcome for every customer, Seawell says. 


“My rule of thumb: unless you get invited to their kids’ birthday parties, you’re not level 3,” he said. “Most of the customers are at that second level. The problem is that many of our advisors believe customers are at the third level,”


Too many shops can trick themselves into believing customers have reached this third level. This is when there are issues. The shop begins taking liberties during the process, not notifying of an inspection or not discussing the estimate in great detail. All it takes is one mistake and the customer drops all the way back down to Level 1, or worse they don’t come back to the shop. 


That’s why Seawell recommends staying conservative in estimating which level a customer is at. If you believe a customer is at a Level 3, treat them like they are Level 2 for several more visits until you can be sure they have reached that level. Similarly, treat your Level 2 customers like they are still at Level 1 for an extra visit or two. 


Always air on the side of caution, Seawell says, and don’t forget to turn inward and look at the shop’s processes. Sometimes customers aren’t leveling up because the shop isn’t doing a good job selling and explaining. 


“Every situation is going to be a bit different. So many times we look at customers coming into the shop and we are trying to understand what is causing them to not buy. We just need to turn around and look at our process. Make sure to brush up your sales presentation at least every 18 months,” he said. 


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