On-the-Phone Hero

Sept. 20, 2023
Customers have many options when choosing a repair shop. Make sure their first call to yours eliminates the competition.

There’s a running joke in pop culture that essentially says nobody uses their phone as a phone anymore. And there is some truth to that with 85% of Americans having some form of smartphone, the average phone is being used less for phone calls and more for internet browsing and keeping up to date on social media these days.  

However, the art of the phone call is still vitally important, especially in the sales and service industries. Data from Salesforce shows that more than 90% of all customer interactions happen over the phone.  

Most of the time, your first interaction with any customer is going to be over the phone, and that first point of contact is critical in establishing a good foundation for what could hopefully be a long-term relationship.

Ashley Wright, service manager of Premier Auto in Worcester, Massachusetts, says that making sure a customer can feel relaxed and confident from the moment they call your shop goes a long way in building trust in you and your team.

“A customer needs to be able to hear that, when you answer the phone, you're excited that they're calling, that you're happy that you're the one they chose to call,” she says.  

The first call with a customer is crucial, and if you nail that, you’re well on your way to having a satisfied customer.

Honesty and Transparency

Customer expectations have changed dramatically over the last several decades. David Avrin, customer experience consultant and author, says someone that calls your shop most likely has already done research into your store. With the prevalence of smartphones, it’s easier than ever to look up a dozen options for auto repair close to them.  

Because of that, Avrin says you shouldn’t spend your time during that initial phone call trying to sell your shop as the best to them.  

“They assume that everybody is good, that everybody has the credentials and that everybody can do the work,” Avrin says. “Quality is no longer a differentiator—it's the entry fee. Quality gives you permission to do business in the marketplace.”

Modern auto shop customers are prioritizing speed and convenience above everything else. On top of that, Wright says auto shops as a whole already have a less-than-stellar reputation due to decades of some shop owners trying to pull a fast one on customers and charge for services that they don’t need.  

And if those weren’t big enough hurdles already, most customers calling your shop are already not in the best of moods because they have to spend valuable time and money that they might not have on a car repair.  

“If a customer calls and their car is making a horrible noise, they're scared. They're thinking worst-case scenario,” she says. “It's our job as service advisors, managers, whoever is answering the phone to be able to say 'I'm so sorry you're going through that. We're here to help.'”

Wright says she keeps it as simple as possible when she answers the phone and tries to take as much off the customer’s plate as possible. Letting the customer talk through their concerns and taking down as much basic information as possible helps them feel like they’re being listened to, and that goes a long way in establishing trust.

“They're already feeling stressed and worried,” Avrin says. “(Be the person) who says they're going to hang with them to the end and get this fixed ... to make them feel at the outset that they have an advocate, not an adversary.”

To help with that, Wright says the first call they make to a customer once a vehicle is in their shop is only ever about the issue the customer initially mentioned.

“If it's an issue with brakes, we only talk about brakes during that call. That way, a customer doesn't think we're trying to sell them all of this other stuff and that we're really focused on their concern,” she says. “Of course, if something major is wrong, we also advise them to get that fixed – their safety is our primary concern. But transparency is key.”

And transparency throughout the process goes a long way. Calling with updates and follow-up lets customers know that they’re not forgotten about. Wright’s team sends out digital inspection reports via text to customers so they can see for themselves where their money is going.

“Just being honest with the customer is huge, whether it’s that first phone call or the last,” Wright says. ”You're just there to solve their problem.”

Live Up to the Hype

As Avrin says, quality is the entry fee. No amount of concern or comforting phone calls will make up for poor service. But most shops these days don’t provide poor service and customers know that. That means having both high-quality service and fair, transparent dealings with customers where they feel valued and cared for is essential.  

If your shop is able to talk to people on the phone in a positive way that lets them know that your shop will do what it can to help them, it can quickly build into a reputation.

That, Avrin says, is essential.

“Once someone calls you, you've already passed the first test, which is the online search. When somebody calls you, understand that that is precious,” he says. “Now your job is to live up to what they already think about you.”

That’s not always easy, but both Wright and Avrin say empathizing with your customer can help provide a spark. Answering the phone with a smile and sounding genuinely grateful for the business goes a long way in establishing credibility, and listening to your customer helps solidify that relationship. In the end, if your customer has a good experience, it’s a win-win.  

Position yourself as their advocate and say that you'll help them,” Avrin says. “They've got no shortage of choices, but what they don't have is time. They don't have patience. They have a limited amount of money. They really lack the knowledge, and they don't want to get screwed.”

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