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The Recipe for Referrals

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It’s sad when an auto shop does amazing work without being recognized. Word-of-mouth referrals can make or break your business. If you’re not doing anything to encourage referrals, you’re making a big mistake.

The public doesn’t have much faith in the auto industry—I’ve detailed this the past three columns, as part of this overall series. Bottom line: Many people worry about the possibility of being taken advantage of by a dishonest auto professional who doesn’t have the customer’s best interest at heart. In some cases, this concern is confirmed by personal experience. 

There’s no denying the fact that some auto shops don’t warn drivers before they charge them for services that weren’t requested. That hurts our reputation. It’s not right for people to assume every auto shop will treat them so unfairly, but they do. And now we all have to deal with a crowd of skeptics. Sigh! I hate it.

Hope clearly is not lost, though. Some people haven’t had a poor experience at any auto shop. They’ve just heard a story in the news about somebody who got scammed by a “mechanic.” Here are some simple fixes:


Direct your marketing efforts correctly.

You can easily change the perception of people. The human brain isn’t capable of clinging to a thought that clashes with evidence to the contrary. A politician gives a speech that paints his opponent as an oppressive war-monger. They respond by calling for a cease-fire in a foreign conflict that has dragged on for years. These ideas can’t coexist. It will take time for people to change their opinions, but it’ll happen. 

Actions speak louder than words. Acting in a way that clashes with the public’s perception is the fastest way to change the way they feel about you. You can follow the same playbook in your business.

People expect you to be vague about prices; surprise them by being 100 percent transparent. People expect your lobby to be dirty and disorganized; impress them with the cleanest and comfortable waiting area they’ve ever seen in an auto shop. People expect your team to have awful communication skills; amaze them with clarity and conciseness.


Don’t forget to demonstrate your expertise.

When people walk inside your auto shop, they’re searching for signs you can be trusted. It’s smart to hang any certifications you have from trade schools, training events, or industry associations like ASE and PPA. This reflects you take education seriously. Show people your credentials. Put them in a busy spot. This is a really big deal!


Stop thinking it’s “difficult” to earn a customer’s trust.

You don’t need to work harder. Work smarter! Drivers are willing to invest in repair and maintenance when they understand it improves their safety and well-being. Forget about sales skills. Focus on expressing the benefits of your services in a way people can comprehend. This is your secret sauce!

Repair and maintenance should be framed as an important investment that lowers the risk of having a car accident or breakdown. Nobody wants to get stranded in the middle of nowhere or be forced to buy a new car sooner than necessary. Teach your service advisers how to mention those pain points in conversations with customers. If you do, they’ll talk themselves into the purchase.

Here’s a good tip to implement with the skeptics: Offer to show them the problem so they can see it with their own eyes. Literally walk them to their vehicle, point out the part that needs to be replaced, explain how that will improve their safety, and offer to keep the old part so they can confirm the job was done as promised. Sounds like a lot of work, but it’s totally worth it.

Apply these tips today and people will be blown away by your transparency. They’ll talk about the honest and open auto shop down the street to their friends and family. You’ll end up with an insane amount of referrals. You might even have to hire help. (That is what I like to call a “good problem!”)

Trust isn’t given. You have to earn it. This is the best way to do it!.

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