Running a Shop Customer Service Shop Customers

In Sales, Rely on Relationships, not Salesmanship

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Last summer, I was working in my front yard on a Saturday afternoon.  A passing pickup truck stops by the curb and the guy behind the wheel yells out, “Hey bud, did you know there’s a problem with your roof?” Confused, I look up at the roof, but remain silent. He steps out of the truck, hands me a card and says, “Call me if you want to have it inspected and I’ll give you an estimate” As he drives away, I notice the sign on the side of the truck, “Al’s Home Renovations.” I put the card in my pocket and continue my gardening; never giving it a thought. In fact, five minutes later my mind drifted off, and the conversation was forgotten.

An hour later, my friend Bill is walking up the driveway, carrying a six pack. As he approaches, he looks up at my roof and says, “Hey Joe, you do know your roof is sagging? You should have it looked at.” Immediately a little anxiety sets in. I’m not sure what’s wrong, but if Bill says something’s wrong with the roof, it must be true. Oh, by the way, Bill is an accountant.

You know where I am going with this? When Al the contractor said something was wrong, I didn’t give it much merit. But when my friend Bill the accountant pointed out the roof, I took it seriously.  Why is it that people will trust a friend over an expert? 

How many times has a customer told you to hold off on a service or repair that you know they desperately need? What about the customer that calls you back and tells you to hold off on the coolant service you recommended after they spoke to their uncle, who happens to be a shoe salesman? When you ask the customer why, they respond by saying, “My uncle says it’s not needed until 100,000 miles.” It doesn’t matter that the coolant is the consistency of mud, their uncle knows best. Shops battle this scenario on a daily basis, and it’s a major cause of frustration and lost sales.

On the other hand, if my friend Bill Six Pack needed a coolant service, would he question my judgment or call his uncle for advice? The difference is the emotional tie I have with Bill; anchored by the relationship we have.

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Customers will decline your recommendations for three basic reasons: they don’t believe what you are saying, they don’t trust you, or they truly don’t have the money. I’d rather have someone decline for financial reasons than the first two.

I often tell people, I am not a sales person. Oh, I do sell work, but I have adopted a strategy that develops the relationship over salesmanship. Strong relationships create that emotional tie, which helps to remove the natural tendency to mistrust. Without an emotional connection, people go through a mental self-audit and ask themselves, “Am I really making the right decision? Can I really trust this person, and is it really a good price?” We’ve all been there.

So, how do you create relationships and build trust? Treat customers like family and friends, not as transactions. If your high school buddy came to the shop, how would you treat him? You would have a big smile on your face, ask him a dozen questions about himself, his family, and talk about the good old days. That’s the way every customer needs to be greeted. Welcome customers into your shop as if you are welcoming them into your home. A big smile and open arms will do wonders to your sales.

Building strong relationships also requires that you convey the benefits of what you are trying to sell. This is especially true for first-time customers. If the customer sees no value, you will have a tough time selling. I cringe when I hear a service advisor walk up to a customer and say, “Mrs. Jones, your car could use a tire rotation today, can we go ahead with that?”

You’re not running a hamburger joint asking the customer if they want fries with their burger. That customer may have no idea what a tire rotation is, and may be too shy to ask. What the advisor should be saying is how the tire rotation will maintain even wear on the tires and extend the life of tires, which will save the customer money.

Start today to build solid relationships. Welcome your customers with a big smile and open arms. This strategy costs nothing, but I know you’ll love what it will bring to your bottom line. By the way, I never did call Al to take a look at my roof. I asked my buddy Bill for a referral. But you probably already figured that out. 


Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of autoshopowner.com. Reach him at jmarconi@ratchetandwrench.com.

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