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Last month, I wrote about a AAA survey that said 66 percent of drivers believe auto shops don’t deserve their trust. That stat might make you want to defend yourself, but this isn’t about you. It’s about the drivers you serve. If  you want to earn their trust, then you need to meet them where they are. 

This month, let’s look at the No. 1 cause of driver distrust, according to that survey: Drivers think auto professionals  recommend services they don’t need.

For now, let’s ignore the fact that most drivers don’t know what they need and consider what creates this perception.  You won’t be able to relate with your customers until you take a walk in their shoes. Empathy is a really big deal!

Here’s a hypothetical: A driver rolls into your shop, because it’s time for a routine safety inspection and oil change. That will cost anywhere from $30–$50 depending on your pricing, promotions, and what blend of motor oil is used. One of your technicians does a safety inspection and identifies a bigger problem; they need a critical repair that costs $300 to $500. 

Say your customer was prepared to spend $50 to $100 today. They might have even saved this service for a time when it fit their budget. The service advisor delivers the bad news to your customer. Imagine the thoughts that could run through their head: 

“How will I afford this?”

“I’m already behind on rent.” 

“So much for taking a vacation.” 

“Wait a second. How do I know I even need this service?” 

People only have so much disposable income. When one of your service recommendations puts a driver in a bad situation, they might draw the incorrect conclusion that the shop is more interested in making money than helping. 

Let’s discuss some good ways to manage the situation. First, you need to make sure drivers know you only recommend services that benefit the health and longevity of their vehicle. How can you do that? Explain the purpose of safety
inspections to them. 

When a customer asks for an oil change, your crew doesn’t simply fill up their tank and send them home. That would be a total disaster, because car care is more complicated than that. Instead, you inspect their vehicle for hazards that could cause them to wreck, breakdown, or get stranded.

“We’re not looking for sales opportunities. We’re looking for safety hazards!” There’s your mantra. People are visual creatures. Keep a binder on the desk or hang a poster in your lobby that reveals what your crew looks for during a safety inspection. Find an example of what I use at my auto shop at

For bonus points, create a postcard-sized flyer of “specific services” and ask your service advisor to give one to every customer who comes in for that service. The flyer should provide a summary of what the service is meant to accomplish, a short list of ways it benefits the driver, and a brief explanation of when and why the service is necessary for safety.  

Second, be conscious of the fact that most people are strapped for cash. The average American doesn’t have $1,000 in their savings, according to a 2015 Google Consumer Survey. If your auto shop offers a credit card or payment installment plan, make sure to mention it. (The more pressure you can remove, the better!) Be honest about how urgent a repair is. Tackle the most critical repair now and help drivers plan ahead for less essential ones. 

Third, drill your staff on the importance of communication. Drivers think a recommended repair is “unnecessary,” because they don’t understand how it benefits their vehicle. Whose fault is that? The answer is the auto professional who failed to explain why the repair was beneficial. Take out your binder, point to the poster, or go one step further and walk the customer to their car, show them and explain exactly how you’ll fix it. Be real and let them know you are happy to answer questions until they feel good about their investment. 

If your shop follows these three suggestions, you will be leaps and bounds above the competition. Perhaps you’ll earn business from some of the 75 million drivers who don’t have an auto shop to call home.

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