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How to Handle the Price Shopper Phone Call

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One of the most debated discussions in the mechanical repair industry continues to be giving out prices to customers over the phone. And while some fear the price shopper, industry consultant and shop owner Becky Witt says it’s really an opportunity to build a lifelong relationship.

“If I’m going to make some type of a purchase, especially a major purchase, I want an idea of what it’s going to cost,” she says. “I don’t want to be embarrassed when I show up. I don’t want to get all excited about something that I thought was $500 is really $5,000 and I have no business shopping for it right then. I just want an idea.”

Witt even teamed up with her local university to conduct a research study on price shoppers and how consumers respond to the shop’s strategy for dealing with price over the phone. The answers were illuminating, she says, and inspired her to create a new process at her shop to deal with price shoppers. Witt describes the process and the simple steps any shop can take to deal with these calls.

as told to Anna Zeck

I think there is universal agreement that there are generally three reasons people call and ask for a price: 1) they’re price shopping and they’re going to go with whoever is the cheapest; 2) they’re your customer anyway and you told them they needed something last time and they don’t remember how much you told them; and 3) they’re unhappy with where they’re getting their car serviced now and they’re looking to see if there’s something else out there. What people really want is a friend in the car business. Most people have some kind of a decent relationship with the people who fix their cars. There has to be an element of trust because once I take your car apart, you’re a little vulnerable.

When someone asks how much something is, my answer always is, “What’s going on? What’s the car doing?” I have found that if they’re looking for another shop, now we’re going to start talking about what the car is doing. That’s going to give me a chance to demonstrate that I care about them. I’m not trying to rip them off for money. I’m trying to remedy whatever they’re concerned about. This is so simple that it just works like a champ.

My strategy from that point is to give them an estimate of what it’s going to cost to do the testing to really figure out what’s wrong. I’m not afraid to throw out a price if that’s what they want to know. When I tell the price, I’m going to outline what we do, how we do it, the parts we use, why we do it and finally, the price: “I’m going to focus first on a brake inspection that is $39, and then I’ll be able to tell you exactly what’s going on. At any rate, when I’m done, your only obligation is $39.”

Then we invite them in. I never hang up the phone without asking them to make an appointment. No matter how it goes, always ask, “Would you like to bring that in? We can get it in this afternoon.” When I did research on this question, the test callers said the majority of shops answered the callers’ question courteously, thanked them for calling and hung up. And they said when a shop didn’t invite them in, they considered that to be a sign of rejection.

If they’re truly just calling around for the cheapest price, they’re not going to want to engage in conversation. Typically what happens is that after I ask what’s going on, they reiterate that they’re just looking for a price. That’s a price shopper. They don’t want to talk. When that happens, that’s a piece of cake. I just say, “Let’s look this up.” We’re a member of RepairPal. It’s a fabulous resource because they seek out the best shops and when the site gives out a price for something, they give out quality parts and quality labor. It’s not going to be the $69 brake job that later costs $1,200. I say, “Let’s do this together and you can see the $300–$600 range of what’s a fair deal on a starter for this particular car. I’m right in the middle. When would you like to bring your car in?”

We’re not looking for a customer, we’re looking for a fit. We’re looking for somebody who wants what I’m selling. What I’m selling is the end of car problems as you know it. You can hear a smile in someone’s voice. I always thank people for calling. I’m going to convince you that I’m your friend. When you think of a price shopper, do you immediately think of a potential friend or a barbarian at the gate? The main thing is to not fear the price shopper phone call.

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