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A Winning First Impression

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Scenario No. 1: A customer walks into a dimly lit shop and goes to the checkout counter, which has papers spread all over it. The customer patiently waits behind the desk, not sure which of the customers there are waiting and who have already been helped. The customer has no choice but to play on his or her phone until he or she is finally greeted. For check-in, the limited counter space means they have to fill out their information awkwardly in the air. 

Scenario No. 2: Upon entry, the customer is immediately greeted, even though there is one person ahead of him or her. While waiting, the customer enjoys music and a TV playing informational videos behind the desk. Once it’s his or her turn, the check-in process is smooth and the customer has ample space to spread out any paper he or she may need. 

Which shop do you think the customer will come back to?

It may seem like a small part of the entire repair process, but the aesthetics of a shop set up the customers’ expectations for the rest of the process, with one being pleasant and the other chaotic. Even if the staff is pleasant and the repair is perfect, the first impression of a shop can make or break it. Never underestimate the importance of your check-in area and the lasting impression it can have on customers. 

Two shop owners share why they’ve set up their check-in areas the way that they have and how it’s helped them win customers. 

Easy Access 

For the customer, the front desk is where it all happens. That’s why special attention needs to be paid to the setup.

Randy Beeniga, owner of Foreign Accents in Greensboro, N.C., has a unique, round counter. The design of the desk allows those behind it to see customers and what’s going on in the shop. The layout lets the staff easily go back and forth between the front and the back of the shop. The desk progressively gets wider to a depth of 40 inches, giving customers plenty of room to set their personal items down on the counter and do any needed paperwork. 

Rick Hughlett, owner of Rick's Automotive in Springfield, Mo, also designed his front desk with the customer in mind. Hughlett was able to build his check-in counter from the ground-up and when he did, he took his past experience into consideration and designed a pull-out shelf for people in a wheelchair to use to do their paperwork after seeing many struggle with this in the past. 

Needed Distractions  

Checking in can often take time, so Hughlett makes sure to keep his customers occupied. How? 

“Something to occupy their taste buds and eyes while they’re waiting,” he says. 

The front counter at Rick’s Automotive always has a jar filled with branded suckers for kids. It turns out, it’s just as much a hit with the older generations. 

“Adults love suckers—it pacifies them for a little bit until they get to the counter,” Hughlett says. 

Behind the counter, Hughlett also installed a flat-screen TV that displays the different technicians at the location and how long they’ve been there, which helps create transparency with customers, along with a rolling news stream to keep customers informed and occupied while they’re waiting. 

Information to Go 

Both Hughlett and Beeniga keep their technician’s business cards at the front counter. 

“I’m big on promoting all my techs. Every tech has a business card with their picture on it,” Benniga says. 

Hughlett also uses this technique and says that it’s effective for handing to customers as they leave, because they often forget the name of the person working on their vehicles so it’s nice to have that information on hand. 

Hughlett also puts his shop’s latest award up front, to let his customers know that the shop is highly reputable. 

Personal Bubble 

With 1,400 cars per month, the desk at Rick’s Automotive often gets crowded, so Hughlett designed the counter with three POS systems and monitors and plenty of space in between so three customers can be checked out at the same time, if necessary. 

Personal space was one of the reasons behind the depth of Beeniga’s desk. 

“The depth I gave so customers can have more space on the counter,” Beeniga says of the up-to-40-inch depth of his circular check-in station. “It can be a workspace in the front and you don’t impede each other—you’re not breathing down one another’s necks.” 

A Clean Space 

Both of the shop owners agree that cleanliness is necessary when it comes to attracting customers. At 4 p.m. sharp on Friday, Beeniga shuts his shop down—no matter what—so the staff can clean. He has a checklist of items that need to be finished before the staff can leave for the weekend. 

“We don’t leave on Friday unless that list is checked. I won’t leave my shop with a mess,” Beeniga says. 

In addition to his Friday cleaning ritual, three entry-level employees are in charge of maintaining the cleanliness of the shop, which includes the front desk. Hughlett also has a dedicated employee that maintains the waiting area, including the desk. Above and beyond that, he utilizes a weekend cleaning service.  

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