Customers often have opinions on what they believe the auto repair business is like, but that doesn’t make it any easier to hear. And those perceptions can be difficult to change.
Hayley Horn, Interstate Batteries’ consumer insights manager, works directly with automotive surveys that reveal consumer data and detailed common misconceptions. Part of Horn’s job is curating surveys for customers based on generic questions or data the company finds relevant.
For Horn, she’s seen consumer opinions differ based on what generation they are part of. The baby boomer generation and Generation X view the world differently, she says, which often shows in survey results.
“The meaning and the importance of cars is a lot different [for generations],” Horn says. “What we’ve seen in surveys is consumers do trust their service professional more than retailers; retail implies that transactional relationship.”
For Erich and Lauralee Schmidt at Schmidt Auto Care in Springboro, Ohio, customer misconceptions range from how a repair is done to the technology used in a repair.
“The biggest thing that I see [misconceptions with] is the testing process for warning lights that require a scan tool,” Erich says. “The other thing we get push back on is maintenance work. [We hear], ‘The shop is just trying to get money from us.”
For the last 10 years, the shop has been dedicated to customers and providing stellar service. Today, 130 customers have rated their experiences at the shop, averaging 4.98 out of 5 stars with 96 percent saying they would recommend services to a friend, according to the shop’s website.
Horn, Erich and Lauralee discuss common customer concerns, as well as how to address those issues and leave the customer happy in the end.
The Concern: “You’re trying to sell me something that I don’t need.”
When a customer brings his or her vehicle into the shop, it’s likely that the customer does not believe any additional work needs to be taken care of during the visit. It’s important to not only educate your customer about the state of his or her vehicle, but also show evidence of your findings.
At Erich’s shop, every customer is given photos and videos that details the state of the customer’s vehicle. The photo and video evidence adds another layer of validation to the shop’s recommended repairs, Lauralee says.
“It basically states that there’s no questions about, ‘Do I need that?’” Erich says. “It’s visual, it’s right in front of your face, you know you need it, and there’s not really a question into the shop’s ethics at that point.”
The photos and videos also show that technicians are not being unethical to customers, he says.
“You’re not getting questionable things from your technicians’ inspection processes,” Erich says.
According to Horn, customers are interested in reviewing materials following an inspection.
“It is more compelling for consumers if [the shop] has photos and videos [of the inspection],” Horn says.
The Concern: “You only tell me about what’s wrong with my vehicle.”
Customers want the full update on how their vehicle is doing, Horn says. According to a survey with Interstate Batteries, customers are interested in seeing a longer inspection list compared to a shorter list.
“Eighty percent of customers are more confident [in the inspection] if there’s a longer list versus a shorter list,” Horn says.
To make customers more confident about the inspection, be transparent about what is covered and decide which items are the most beneficial for your customers to learn about, she suggests.
“I would say the thing with [a longer list] is prioritizing what you communicate,” Horn says. “Go line by line.”
According to Horn, it’s important to also highlight what items are in good working condition with customers. Additionally, update your customer on the progress of a declined service.
“[You can say], ‘We delayed this one, but it’s getting to the point where we really should take a look at it,’” she says. “There’s informing and there’s pushing; when it comes down to it, [say], ‘This is a safety issue, so even if it’s not me, somebody has to take care of it.’”
The Concern: “You’re trying to pressure me into a sale because I don’t understand what it means.”
Customers are often unaware of certain vehicle parts, as well as how they work inside the car. When talking with a customer, it’s important to provide a clear explanation of the process and answer questions your customer may have.
For Erich and Lauralee, the two put front-desk employees through training as well as trained them to focus on etiquette when talking with customers.
“We implemented [a script] so there was consistency across the board,” Lauralee says. “There was more than one person now handling the phones, so we needed a consistent message, so that’s why we really sat down and implemented [a script.]”
After Lauralee joined the business, her goal was to make the industry accommodating to women and families, and felt a script would help bring customers comfort while doing business with the shop.
“When a customer comes to spend money, you want the same thing every time,” Erich says. “It’s no different than going to Starbucks or Lowes or anything you would do on a weekly basis; you’re looking for that consistency and want to know what to expect because people fear the unexpected.”
When using a script, it helps to guide the conversation with the customer, Lauralee says.
“A client sometimes can steer you off track when you’re on the phone, so [the script] really hones back the message of what we need to get accomplished out of the phone call to clarify the rest of the repair,” she says.
According to Horn, customers want to know why certain repairs need to be done.
“We found that having a conversation with the mechanic [makes customers] more likely to fix things if the mechanic explained the results—they need context,” she says. “How they explain it is important.”
The Concern: “The only thing the shop wants from me is money.”
Although a customer comes into your business to get work done, it’s beneficial to reiterate your goal for the visit: to put them back on the road safely. When customers know they’re taken care of, the shop visit becomes a more enjoyable experience and ultimately builds trust for the business.
At Schmidt Auto Care, the shop puts a focus on creating educational opportunities for both women and millenials.
“When I came into this business three years ago with Erich, for me, I really wanted to talk to women in the industry because I don’t know anything about cars outside of what my husband tells me, and we have a very high ratio of women that come in here,” Lauralee says. “I really wanted to talk about education to women and to new drivers—we really hone that to our clients.”
In focusing on education, the business offers free classes to new drivers and is working to establish fun, light-hearted car care events for women to take advantage of.
“We have a very comfortable room for children and women, “Lauralee says. “We’re really taking the time to think about the different things that maybe a woman or a young driver needs.”
“We definitely gear towards that in many, many ways.”
Outside of the classes, Erich writes as an expert car care contributor for a magazine and has seen an influx of women coming into the shop, Lauralee says.
“We’ve gotten so many females to come back because they say, ‘You actually speak in layman's terms about car care and I understand,’” Lauralee says. “For us, education is very important.”