The Art of the Follow-Up

Nov. 19, 2021

Nailing a follow-up phone call can make the difference between a one-time and lifelong customer. 

SHOP STATS: Wayside Garage Location: Seaside, Calif. Owner: Stacey and Samuel Diaz Staff Size: 11 Shop Size: 3,139 square feet  Number of Lifts/Bays: 5   Average Monthly Car Count: 200  ARO: $858  Annual Revenue: $1.5 million

Stacey Diaz is always a bit surprised at the reaction she gets when she follows up with a customer after his or her vehicle is serviced. 

“It’s really something not many people do in our industry, or in business in general,” she says. “So they are surprised, in a good way, that we are calling just to say thank you.”

Diaz, owner of Wayside Garage in Seaside, Calif., requires her staff to call every customer three days after a visit to the shop. It’s no small task, as the shop services roughly 200 cars per month, but it’s one of several elements that she employs in her shop to make sure customers understand how much their business means to them. In doing so, Diaz has been able to increase ARO and revenue while maintaining strong relationships with her customers. 

Bob Cooper, president of Elite Worldwide, preaches a similar message. Every shop should follow up with their customers anywhere between 24 and 72 hours after their visits. And it should be done with a phone call.

“We’ve learned a lot about customer care calls throughout the years. One of the discoveries is that digital methods, like texting, are good, but nothing will beat human touch,” Cooper says.

So what are the best practices to follow-up conversations? What should be said and what should be avoided? Ratchet+Wrench spoke with Diaz and Cooper to find out. 

Decide who should call.

This is a common issue that Cooper receives regarding customer follow-ups, and there are pros and cons to all possibilities. 

Diaz has the service advisor that originally worked with the customer call. The service advisor is told at the beginning of the day by the shop’s customer service representative who he or she needs to call that day. 

Cooper believes that’s a viable option, but cautions that service advisors may not relay negative comments, for fear it reflects poorly on them. For Diaz, she is able to avoid that because the shop is small. There isn’t much space to slack, so it is evident if someone hasn’t done their calls for the day. 

Cooper recommends the owner to do the follow-up calls, especially if it’s newly implemented. He has also seen lots of success hiring a longtime, retired customer to do the calls. He or she can speak on the customers level and often are less intimidating to the customer. 

Don’t make it a sales call. 

Three days after a customer visits Wayside Garage, the service advisor that worked with him or her will call. Diaz gives her advisors one explicit direction: It is not a sales call. Unless the customer brings up potential additional work, her advisors are not to push for it. No setting up future visits or reminding them of work that didn’t get done. That’s for a phone call for 30-60 days later. The message given to the customer during this interaction is simple: Thank you for your business and your trust in us. 

“It needs to be genuine. We’re not calling them to make sure the car is okay,” Diaz says. “We just do it to say thank you.”

Cooper advises a similar approach. There should be no sales talk. The customer should be under no impression that the follow-up is being made for any other reason than to make sure his or her experience went well and to express appreciation. In doing so, Cooper recommends asking one question: “How did we do?”

Asking that one question helps cure an issue that Cooper sees too many shops doing, especially dealerships.

“Their fault is they are asking questions that are important to them, but it should be questions that are important to the customer,” Cooper says. 

Asking “how did we do?” allows the customer to go in any direction he or she wants. If he or she wants to talk about how good the experience was, that’s great. If he or she wants to tell you why it was bad, this opens the door. By asking anything else, the shop is steering the customer toward an answer it wants to hear, Cooper says. 

After asking that question and either working through concerns or thanking the customer for the compliment, the service advisor should end the call with two questions, Cooper says. First, “do you have questions for me?” and secondly, “is there anything else I can help you with?” 

This is when you will most often get into scheduling additional work. But again, that should come only if the customer prompts it. 

“This isn’t rocket science. It’s caring about people,” Cooper says. 

The Not-So-Dreaded Voicemail

Stacey Diaz, owner of Wayside Garage in Seaside, Calif., says about 80 percent of the follow-up calls end up going to voicemail. But that’s OK, she says. Continue to outline your intended message. Express gratitude and let the customer know you can help anytime if he or she has questions. Some will call you back, most won’t, she says. 

For those that you never hear back from, don’t call again. There’s a fine line between thoughtfully checking in and becoming a pest.

“Even though the argument is that we care, if they had something to say, they would tell you. We don’t know what’s going on with them, don’t take too much of their time,” says Bob Cooper, president of Elite Worldwide. 

Give customers the floor. 

While almost all of the shop’s calls are met with responses of positive experiences, the shop needs to be ready for that not to be the case, Diaz says. If a customer expresses his or her dissatisfaction with the work that was done or the experience in the shop, hear the customer out. Understand what went wrong, apologize and make it right. 

“It can go both ways. Sometimes they’ll talk about little things that weren’t correct. Then it goes into, how can we get the vehicle back to fix it,” Diaz says. 

Cooper sees this scenario has one of the most beneficial scenarios for a shop. While hearing that your business failed to meet customer expectations is not pleasant, this gives the shop an opportunity to correct it and increase its CSI scores even higher than if there was no complaint. 

“Customers expect everything to be flawless. So when it is flawless, they aren’t wowed. But if a mistake is made, they expect a bad recovery. So if the shop does a good job with a mistake, that’s unexpected,” Cooper says, “and will often lead to even more appreciation.”

The point? Give the customer the opportunity to be critical and be prepared on how to correct it. Having a plan to address a customers’ complaints is pivotal in retaining customers. 

Nail Down the Logistics

It can be easy to forget some basics that will make the follow-up experience better for the employee and the customer, Cooper says. 

First, make sure the phone call is coming from a quiet room, not from a hectic shop floor. Make sure the employee is well prepared with the customer’s information and that the employee calling is personable. 

Personalize the message.

The follow-up procedure at Wayside Garage doesn’t end with just the phone call. Every customer also gets a handwritten note. The shop’s customer service representative writes every letter, including details about the car and service that was completed. She puts the letters in the mail on the same day that the service advisor calls the customer. 

It’s just part of Diaz’s philosophy of making the customer feel valued. But sending a thank you note isn’t the only way to personalize the experience. During the follow-up phone calls, shops should make sure to have the customers’ file on hand. Before calling, the employee should know the customer’s name, the car they drive and service they received. They should also be familiar with the vehicle’s repair history. 

It sounds simple, but not every shop does it, Cooper says. 

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