Why A Great Shop Image Is A Must
It’s no secret that our industry has an image problem. According to a 2016 survey by AAA, two out of three drivers do not trust auto repair shops in general. Is it because two-thirds of shops out there are overcharging or recommending unnecessary services? No way. I’ve been in this industry over 20 years and while I’ve met a few who don’t make the cut, the majority are honest, hard working individuals.
So why are car owners feeling this way? These drivers have two needs when they seek out service on their vehicle. They have a physical need for a proper repair done in a timely fashion. I believe most shops are hitting the mark on this need. The second need is psychological. When spending an average of $400 or more per visit, they need to feel comfortable with that decision. This is where many shops are failing. How many of your customers are leaving your shop not visibly displeased but inside they have doubts about the work or the price? Often shop owners fail to realize how our image and service experience affects our customer’s wellbeing and their decision to return to our business.
About 10 years ago, I had an experience as a customer that stood out to me: I purchased a new cell phone that promised many new and amazing features. It did in fact deliver on those features but there was more; it was sleek and attractive to look at; it was easy to use; and the box it came in was a streamlined experience all of it’s own. It came in a high quality thick white box. Inside the phone was on display like a piece of jewelry. The standard packing material, clear plastic, and folded up small print was all missing. This was, of course, the first iPhone. Now you may or may not be an Apple fan but Steve Jobs did an amazing job of mindfully considering every aspect of the customer experience. When is that last time you experienced a “wow” moment as a customer?
It’s typical to become acclimated to our shop’s surroundings, and so we must examine our own bias. We may know our quality is good and might even say to ourselves, “We don’t need fancy couches like a dealer, our customers don’t want to pay for that.” I used to say it, and I was wrong. You may not need a better couch, but customers want and will pay for a better experience. Design and image matter in our industry, especially to our millennial and younger customers. Take time on a regular basis to walk through the experience of a new customer. From the first online search, to grabbing the keys at checkout. What is that experience like?
When I think about a customer searching for service in my area, I know trust is an issue. The majority of our new customers come from referral or online search. Our image includes what people are saying about us and that must reinforce trust. Having a tagline that says “trustworthy repairs” isn’t enough. Ask your existing customers to refer people to you and incentivize them to do so. You’re also going to have to ask them to review your shop online. A process for obtaining online reviews is critical these days.
Once they’ve found you the first thing they will notice is your shop’s name and logo, if you have one. If you don’t have a logo, get one now! People remember images. Think about Nike, Apple, Starbucks, or your favorite sports team. If you don’t know a graphic designer, there are online services and freelancers that can make the process easier. When it comes to the shop name, there’s a lot of room for flexibility. I’ve always been a fan of a word or name plus “Autocare.” Your name should make it easy for people to understand what you do. If you can make it memorable, even better. If you already have a name that doesn’t directly explain what you do, consider a tagline such as “Automotive Service Experts” that can be added to signage and your website.
Your website should be the centerpiece of your online marketing and hence your image. Keep in mind that your website needs to balance out your brand and design with it’s ability to convert leads. There aren’t too many original ideas out there so go ahead and check out the websites of successful shops to get some ideas. Black and white pictures can take a greasy technician or shop and make them appear more sophisticated. Avoid cramming too much information on the home page. In the information era, we are constantly bombarded with words. If your website is beautiful on it’s own merit, people will visit longer. Try to limit your homepage to basic info and calls-to- action. Create links to more information if visitors want to learn more or explore. Less is more.
After potential customers have heard good things about you and feel good about your online image, the next experience they will have is at your physical location. When driving down the street, how visible is your signage and is it obvious where they should park and enter? Fresh blacktop sealer, parking lines, directional arrows, and potted plants can all help make a great first impression and reduce stress before someone even walks in the door. Your waiting and reception area is one of the key components of your image. This is where customers are going to interact with your staff one-on- one. Think of a higher-end coffee shop. A good shop owner friend of mine summed up the reception area best when she said, “make it look not like auto repair.” So many waiting areas have old vinyl chairs, worn linoleum, advertisements on the walls, and the ever-popular visual timing belt display. Ditch the ads in favor of some artwork. Stores like Ikea have a plethora of modern furniture and art at reasonable prices that will appeal to all generations. Some creativity can replace a large budget when renovating a waiting area. I’ve seen modern counters made with corrugated roofing for the sides and either tile or poured concrete countertops. Interior house plants will help give a warm vibe to your space. Having your logo on an entrance rug and on the wall at the service counter will also help to reinforce your image as a reputable business that can be trusted.
The final key piece of your image is your people. This is a big one. We need to look the part of a professional if that is the image we are hoping to convey. Jeans, shorts, and un-tucked shirts are all examples of unprofessional looks. Service advisors should wear shirts with collars and lighter color clothing, which conveys a more friendly impression. Technicians fare better in darker clothing, which hides dirt and grease. Embroidery in lieu of patches also conveys a more professional image. Most uniform providers have this option. With staff, it takes more than just an image in order to win over an untrusting customer. In addition to honest work and a great image, sales training is required to teach staff how to convey a message of trust to customers (that’s a whole other article!).
Ultimately, we are responsible for improving our industry’s image and it starts with us individually. Take the time to consider the entire experience your customer has from start to finish. Does the quality of the experience with your shop match the quality of work being performed on their car? If you take care of the customer’s physical and mental needs, it’s a win-win for everyone. Some good news from the same AAA survey is that 64% of drivers have singled out a repair shop that they do trust. If your shop’s image needs work, get started right away. It may be that what’s on the inside matters most, but appearances are what’s going to take our industry to the next level. Help us do that.